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Tips for Booking Small Ship Cruises

By Heidi Sarna.

Small ship cruises are often bound for wonderfully far-flung places that involve complex flights and connections, hotel stays before or after the cruise, and things to figure out like tourist visas, possible inoculations, travel insurance, and what to pack. So definitely count on more planning going into the booking process than for your standard cruise or a trip to a Caribbean resort. But trust us, the extra effort is more than likely to be worth it.

“Small ships provide an ideal means for passengers to engage with the destination that is just not possible aboard a conventional cruise ship — better location in port, more personal service from ship’s staff and while ashore, and more educational opportunities,” says Steve Wellmeier of Poseidon Expeditions.

Like any trip, to book a small-ship cruise you can either use a travel agent to help you or you can book directly with the cruise line.

Either way, before you embark on a small-ship cruise, these 13 tips will help you navigate the options and plan what may easily be the trip of a lifetime.

1. First, figure out if a small-ship cruise is your cup of tea.

If you don’t like crowds, waiting in line or dressing for dinner, and seek memorable experiences way more than material things, then you’re small-ship material. If you love mingling with passengers from all over the world, learning about the destination through lecturers and local guides, prefer local folkloric performances to Vegas-style shows, and getting your feet wet and your hands dirty more than generic luxury, then a quirky small-ship cruise is clearly for you.

“Small ships get to places the others can’t reach and so it’s often more about the destination than the vessel, the entertainment or the number of restaurants,” says Powell Ettinger, director of The Small Cruise Ship Collection.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

2. Take some time to do your own market survey.

It would behoove you to do a bit of homework first, to see the full range of choices out there. QuirkyCruise.com is the prefect place to start your research. We have reviews of 53 small-ship cruise lines, with more in the works, that you can cross reference by the region you’d like to visit or by one of five types of small-ship cruises — oceangoing, rivers, coastal, sailing and expedition. It’s also always a good idea to ask friends and family if they’ve taken a small-ship cruise and what they thought of it.

3. Book directly with the cruise line IF you enjoy the details of trip planning.

Some small-ship cruise line websites allow you to book directly on their site, so if you’re the type who likes to book your own travel and is comfortable choosing a cabin, arranging airfare, deciding yay or nay on travel insurance, booking hotels stays and possibly arranging land tours before or after your cruises, then go for it.

“We have a very easy-to-use booking engine on Pandaw.com for both travel agents and the public,” says Sven Zika of Pandaw Cruises, adding that consumers who book direct on their website must make payment immediately, while travel agents can hold a cabin for two weeks without a deposit.

Many small-ship cruise line websites, however, are not equipped to process direct bookings, so in that case, browse their site to learn about their offerings then call or email them directly to get your questions answered.

“We offer an upscale niche product and the personal contact by phone to share details and specific information is very important,” says Julia Elba of Sea Cloud Cruises.

Booking a small-ship cruise is often a very personal transaction, parallel to the experience itself.

“When they call us, customers can ask questions and have them answered immediately,” says Joy Ackert of Ontario Waterway Cruises. “We are a family business so that first contact is the beginning of making our customers feel like they are going to be coming to visit with friends or family. It creates a very welcoming atmosphere prior to boarding.”

4. Contact a travel agent IF you’d like some hand-holding.

If you have a beloved agent that has helped you or a friend with trip planning before, they’re a great place to start. A good travel agent (and they’re not all good) will know the many options out there and work to match the best small-ship cruise for your personal needs and desires. A good travel agent can help you plan and book airfare, hotels and land-based touring to complement your cruise before it starts or after it’s over. One specializing in small-ship cruises is even better, such as the Small Cruise Ship Collection.

The pros and cons of using a travel agent:

Pros: Someone is guiding you throughout the process, advising and reminding you about things like visas and airfare. Agents may have a special relationship with the lines and may know which cabins are the quietest on a given ship or which itinerary has the best ports. A good travel agent is indispensable. “Even if a line doesn’t pay commissions, a good travel specialist responding to a client request who believes a particular small cruise line is right for that client and destination and budget would simply add their commission to the final price or charge a service fee in some way,” says Mary Kleen, a regional director for Worldview Travel.

Cons: If cruise line X doesn’t pay commissions to travel agents (maybe because they’re too small to justify the cost or have a large in-house sales force, such as Grand Circle Travel), your travel agent may not recommend X to you and only suggest lines that pay them commissions — makes sense for the agents, but you could miss out some great alternatives (see #2, do your homework).

5. For a package deal, book a small-ship cruise through a third-party.

Tour operators put the pieces of the travel package together and sell it, while wholesale travel sellers just sell the packages — for example, a Mekong river cruise bundled with airfare and hotel stays.

Poseidon’s Steve Wellmeier says that because of the more complex reservations required for small-ship cruises, for example to the Polar Regions when travelers naturally have a lot of questions, Poseidon relies on specialty tour operators and wholesalers to help sell their trips including Polar Cruises, ExpeditionTrips.com and AdventureLife.com.

6. Expect to pay more for a small-ship cruise than a standard big-ship cruise.

Most of the time (not all), a small-ship cruise carrying just a few dozen or a few hundred passengers will cost more than a mass-market mega ship carrying thousands of passengers. The small ship lines can’t take advantage of the same level of bulk discounts in procuring supplies, excursions, crew and various port fees.

“Small ships are a terrific antidote to the big ship experience: more and more clients find that they truly love the smaller vessels.  They are amazed by the more personalized service, getting to know many of their fellow passengers much more easily, and having the advantage of far more interesting itineraries where out of the way ports are featured.  From a travel agent’s point of view, it’s generally an easier sell for those reasons, but small-ship cruises are typically a higher-priced ticket as these vessels don’t have the economies of scale of the large ships,” says agent Mary Kleen.

7. In many cases, the price you pay for a small-ship cruise will be the same whether you go through a travel agency or book direct with the cruise line.

Many small-ship cruise lines covered on QuirkyCruise.com, especially the very smallest ones, will endeavor to offer everyone the same rates and discounts, no matter how you book their cruises.

Whether “rack rates or reduced online rates, it’s the same price for agents and public,” says Pandaw’s Zika.

8. Exception to above: The big European river lines often DO discount and sometimes exclusively to travel agents.

They have huge fleets, so they can offer volume discounts to travel agents who book a lot of their cruises.

Uniworld’s Arnelle Kendall says, “Our travel agency partners often have exclusive offers that we’ve negotiated with them that we aren’t able to offer customers that contact Uniworld direct, such as discounts on select sailings, shipboard credits, and special excursions, so customers do receive the best offer when going through a travel agency.”

9. Booking way in advance — a year or more — is a good idea in certain cases.

Unlike big ships with thousands of cabins, small ships have far fewer cabins to fill up, so with regions that have a short cruising season — Antarctica is just four months long, for example — it’s a good idea to book a year or more ahead if you really have your heart set on going on a specific date. Additionally, airfares can get booked up and may be more expensive if you wait until the last minute.

“If cabin choice is a priority, it is advised to book far in advance. Our upper-tier cabins are the first to book,” says Abercrombie & Kent’s Jean Fawcett.

Can you imagine?! Sea Cloud's opulent Merriweather Post Suite #1A * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Can you imagine?! Sea Cloud’s opulent Merriweather Post Suite #1A * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

10. Book last minute — a few months or few weeks before — IF you’re flexible … 

Booking last minute works if you’re flexible with where and when you go, the cabin category and the cost of airfare. There often are last-minute deals especially during the off-season if ships haven’t filled up. For example, European river cruises are often eager for passengers early or late in the season, and often Mekong River cruise rates tend to go down in March and April when the river levels are low and it’s very hot.

11. It can’t hurt if a cruise line is a member of a reputable trade group.

Some of the top travel industry trade organizations that small-ship cruise lines might belong to include The International Galápagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, Virtuoso (global network of travel agents, cruise lines and other suppliers connected to the luxury end of the travel industry), and CLIA (Cruise Line International Association, a global cruise industry trade organization).

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12. Nose around Trip Advisor and other ombudsman-like sites.

It’s not a good sign if the cruise line, tour operator or travel agent you’re dealing with has been consistently trashed on Trip Advisor or if multiple complaints have been filed with organizations like the Better Business Bureau.

13. Run for the hills if you see red flags.

Charlie Funk, co-owner of the travel agency Just Cruisin’ Plus for the past 35 years, says don’t do business with any small-ship cruise line that doesn’t accept credit cards and that requires full payment at the time of booking even if the cruise is a year or more away. In his experience, Funk says these two factors are early warning signs of cash flow issues, financial instability and impending bankruptcy. He cautions against patronizing a cruise line that imposes punitive cancellation penalties on the deposit rather than after final payment; processes credit cards on foreign banks and charges those foreign processing fees to the client; and fails to address complaints or problems in a timely manner.

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10 Best Small Ship cruises include the Sweden-based Juno

The 10 Quirkiest Cruises.

By Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

This list changes in accordance with the tides, our moods, the stock market, and the new and cool cruises we learn about all the time.

Currently, here are our picks of the 10 quirkiest cruises for those who really want to do something different.

Light Vessel Patricia

Trinity House

Trinity House is a centuries-old British organization that looks after lighthouses and buoys in the waters around England, Wales and the Channel Islands using its spiffy light vessel PATRICIA. This hardworking little ship that has had Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip spending time aboard offers comfy accommodations for 12 passengers.

Join for a week, or two, and observe the inspections and replacements of channel markers and fueling and repairing unmanned lighthouses dotting the islands and rugged coastline. Often the itinerary is not known until a week or two before departure and it may change at sudden notice. The cozy social life aboard is a big draw.

Visit the Trinity House site for more info.

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

Trinity House Vessel PATRICIA * Photo: Ted Scull

M/S Juno on Sweden’s Göta Canal

Göta Canal Steamship Company

Launched in 1874, the 29-cabin M/S JUNO is the world’s oldest registered ship with overnight accommodations, and its journeys along the 19th-century Göta Canal system are a fascinating way to experience small-town Sweden. One of our 10 quirkiest cruises for good reason, JUNO’s 3-night cruise between Gothenburg on the west coast and Söderköping near Stockholm on the east coast (a total of 382 miles) takes you through 58 locks, some single and some in stepped sets.

Charming cabins are like train compartments (bathrooms are shared!) and the dining room serves very taste set meals. Daily excursions include visits to old fortresses, churches and Viking sites, as well as the chance to bike or walk along the tow bath.

The whole experience is wonderfully old fashioned.

Visit the Göta Canal Steamship Co website for more info on this amazing cruise.

The Juno inches along the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Juno inches along the Gota Canal. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

New York to Chicago via 3 Rivers, 3 Canals & 6 Lakes

Blount Small Ship Adventures

(Rivers = Hudson, Mohawk and Detroit; Canals = Erie, Oswego and Well; Lakes = Oneida, Ontario, Erie, St. Claire, Huron and Michigan.)

Yes, they all string together to form a continuous and diverse watery route for Blount’s two super nimble ships to follow while sailing between two of America’s largest cities. Head north from New York to see stately homes with Hudson River views, stopping along the way. Slide under low bridges on the Erie Canal with inches to spare.

Break out into Lake Ontario and lock through the Welland Canal in tandem with giant ore carriers. Navigate the Detroit River with the US to port and Canada to starboard and on into Lakes Huron and Michigan, with pretty towns to visit. Then Chicago’s skyscrapers begin to rise above the horizon a good hour before berthing at the Navy Pier.

Visit Blount’s website for more info.

Blount's Grande Caribe at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Blount’s Grande Caribe at Chelsea Piers, Manhattan. * Photo: Ted Scull

Rembrandt Van Rijn in the Arctic

Oceanwide Expeditions

Cruising the poles may be thrilling and exotic enough, but exploring the Arctic on a sailing ship as explorers did centuries ago is out of this world and good reason to deem this one of our 10 quirkiest cruises. The 3-masted, 33-passenger Dutch schooner REMBRANDT VAN RIJN was built in the early 20th-century as a herring lugger and rebuilt in 1994 to operate as a pleasure cruiser in Greenland and occasionally Iceland.

Today it’s a comfy, cozy craft for coastal voyages, and if the wind dies, the auxiliary diesel engine kicks in to keep you on course and into fjords to see Viking ruins and wildlife or just let the sails luff and stay silent while amongst a pod dolphins or whales.

For more details, here’s Oceanwide’s website.

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

Rembrandt van Rijn. * Photo: Kees Beekman-Oceanwide Expeditions

M/S Katharina in Eastern Indonesia

SeaTrek Adventure Cruises

This 12-passenger Indonesian pinisi schooner has a sheer so dramatic, it’s an uphill walk to get to KATHARINA’S bow. The chunky ironwood workhorse bucks through the seas at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago with an Indonesian crew leading the way.

There are opportunities to snorkel in the middle of nowhere, laze on white-sand beaches, and experience encounters with exotic wildlife and tribal people you’ve definitely never seen before. The best itineraries are the ones with an expert lecturer on board.

For more info visit wwwSeaTrekBali.com.

10 best small ship cruises include SeaTrek Bali

The Bugis schooner Katharina takes the adventurous back in time. * Photo: Seatrek Sailing Adventures

High-tech Exploring in the Galapagos

Lindblad Expeditions

Since the 1960s, Lindblad Expeditions has been pioneering expeditions to the Galapagos and other far flung places, and in recent years enhanced by a partnership with National Geographic Magazine that brings top photographers and scientists on board. Besides the team of Ecuadorian naturalists, there’s an undersea specialist and a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor on board every Galapagos cruise.

But it’s the techy stuff that pushes the envelope: the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR carries aboard not only a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks and a glass-bottom boat, but also underwater cameras and a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that dives down 500 feet to film what lies beneath. After each long and exciting day of exploring, the staff produces an amazing recap of photos and videos for passengers to marvel over.

For more info, contact Lindblad.

10 Quirkiest Cruises include Lindblad in the Galapagos

National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. * Photo: Sven-Olof Lindblad

Aranui 5 in the South Pacific

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM)

Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime’s (CPTM) has operated passenger-freighters in the remote South Pacific Marquesas Islands for decades, and the Tahiti-based 254-passenger ARANUI 5 is the latest of them. It’s clear why it’s one of our favorites and makes our 10 quirkiest cruises list. Visit idyllic islands with perfect beaches while observing the workings of a cargo ship.

While the 5th ARANUI carries everything and anything the remote islands need, you travel in great comfort along with an international passenger list that is searching for the paradise that Paul Gauguin sought. Trips ashore head to cultural sites, observe local customs and enjoy a beach barbecue.

For more info, here’s the line’s website.

10 quirkiest cruises include the ARANUI 5 Passenger Cargo Liner

The Aranui 5. * Photo: Peter Knego

Russian Nuclear Icebreaker in the North Pole

Quark Expeditions

Standing on the site 60 Degrees North is made possible by sailing aboard 50 YEARS OF VICTORY, the world’s most powerful icebreaker.

When she is not doing duty keeping the Northeast Passage above Russian Siberia open to commercial traffic, she plows her way through thick ice to reach the North Pole, at one time only accessible on foot and then by air in ideal weather. As a bonus, you can have a bird’s eye view of the icy scene from a hot air balloon.

Click over to Quark’s site for more details.

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Mahabaahu on the Brahmaputra River

Adventure River Cruises (ARC)

India’s rivers are holy places, and a cruise on one is to see India in all its glorious contrasts. The Brahmaputra flows from high in the Himalayas of Tibet, down into India’s Assam valley in the northeast and finally into the Bay of Bengal.

Pandaw’s 46-passenger M/V MAHABAAHU traverses part of it, visiting tea plantations, tribal villages and the Kaziranga National Park to see the greater one-horned Indian rhino. The boat has 11 cabins with balconies (and the rest with large windows), a massage room and a small pool, but it’s India that will keep your attention. If you’re looking for something truly different, consider the MAHABAAHU, one of our 10 quirkiest cruises.

Go to Adventure River Cruises (ARC) site for more details.

Pandaw on India's Brahmaputra. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

Pandaw on India’s Brahmaputra. * Photo: Pandaw Cruises

RMS St. Helena to St. Helena Island

RMS St. Helena

Sadly, this ship is due to go out of service sometime in 2018. But up until then, it holds the title of one of the quirkiest ships out there. The 128-passenger Royal Mail Ship ST. HELENA is the very last in a long line of passenger, mail and cargo ships that connected the mother country to her dependents; in this case the remote and beautiful South Atlantic island of St. Helena, and intriguingly the last domicile of Emperor Napoleon.

An airport is nearing completion that will put the island residents within five hours of Johannesburg instead of five days to and from Cape Town, and apart from the convenience for the island’s population, it is hoped that foreign visitors will come in larger numbers for a holiday stay.

St. Helena’s remoteness was, for some, its principal attraction, coupled with a true liner voyage albeit rather minuscule compared to the QUEEN MARY 2, the only other true ocean liner afloat. So, if you act fast, there is still time to experience a unique combination — space available. For many, she will be missed.

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

The RMS docked at Cape Town in the shadow of Table Mountain.* Ted Scull

 

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How to Pick a Small Ship Cruise

KID-FRIENDLY (age 12+) small ship cruises

Thanks to sporty activities like kayaking, hiking and snorkeling, these lines are great for families during summers and holidays. 

Alaskan Dream CruisesAmaWaterways (Disney charter); AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Coral Expeditions; EcoventuraG Adventures; Island WindjammersLe Boat Lindblad Expeditions; Ponant; SeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Silolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionVariety Cruises

WILDLIFE-focused small ship cruises

These lines offer the most opportunities to spot wildlife relatively close up, whether in the sea, up in the sky or on the shoreline.

Abercrombie & Kent; Alaskan Dream Cruises; Aqua Expeditions; AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook CruisesCelebrity CruisesEcoventuraG Adventures; GreenTracksHapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide Expeditions; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark Expeditions; Silolona SojournsUn-Cruise Adventures

HISTORIC small ships (50 years +)

These ships are all more than 50 years old, though some have been rebuilt to varying degrees.

Hurtigruten (Lofoten 1965); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Juno 1874, Wilhelm Tham 1912, Diana 1931); GreenTracks (Rio Amazonas 1899); Hebridean Island Cruises (Hebridean Princess 1964); Oceanwide Expeditions (Rembrandt Van Rijn early 1900s and Noorderlicht 1910); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud 1931)

TRADITIONALLY-DESIGNED small ships

These lines’ ships are based on traditional ship-building styles, but are not actually old in age.

American Queen Steamboat Company (American Queen  19th century steamboat design); Island Windjammers (Diamant  brigantine schooner); Pandaw River Cruises (entire fleet  British colonial river steamer style); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud II  three-masted barque); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (Katharina & Ombak Putih  Indonesian schooners); Silolona Sojourns (Silolona & Sidatu Bua  traditional Indonesia two-masted cargo schooners); Star Clipper (Star Flyer & Star Clipper four-masted barkentine-rigged clipper ship, Royal Clipper  full-rigged five-masted clipper ship); Un-Cruise Adventures (S.S. Legacy  American coastal night boat); Variety Cruises (Galileo only)

Small ship cruises to ALASKA

These lines spend summers in the Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska.

Alaskan Dream Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; PonantSilversea Expeditions; Un-Cruise Adventures 

Small ship cruises in the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

These lines offer year-round (or nearly) cruises in the Galapagos (with reviews of more Galapagos-bound QuirkyCruise lines coming soon).

Celebrity CruisesEcoventuraG AdventuresGreenTracksLindblad Expeditions; Silversea Expeditions; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises in the CARIBBEAN

These lines all spend part of the year cruising the islands of the Caribbean; mostly the southern and eastern regions.

G Adventures; Island Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud Cruises; SeaDream Yacht Club; Silversea Cruises; Star Clippers; Swan Hellenic; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety Cruises; Windstar Cruises; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises going to CUBA

These lines offer cruises focused on Cuba, the hottest cruise destination on the high seas.

Abercrombie & Kent, G AdventuresLindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud CruisesStar Clippers; Swan Hellenic

Small ship cruises in ASIA

These lines have ships in Asia all or part of each year on river and oceangoing cruises.

AmaWaterwaysAqua ExpeditionsG AdventuresHapag-Lloyd Expeditions CruisesLindblad ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonantSeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Scenic CruisesSilolona SojournsSilversea ExpeditionsStar Clippers; Tauck; Vantage Deluxe World CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

SHORT small ship cruises ITINERARIES of less than a week

Below are lines that offer 1- to 5-night itineraries, ideal to tag onto a regional land trip.

Aqua Expeditions (3-4 nights); Australis (3-7 nights);  Captain Cook Cruises (3-4 nights); Gota Canal Steamship Company (1-5 nights); GreenTracks (3-4 nights); Island Windjammers (6 nights); Magna Carta Steamship Company (5 & 7 nights); Majestic Line (3-6 nights); Marine Link Tours (5 nights); Ontario Waterway Cruises (5 nights); Pandaw River Cruises (1-4 nights); SeaDream Yacht Club (4-6 nights); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (4 nights)

ACTIVE small ship cruises

These lines offer opportunities for water sports like kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, sailing, snorkeling and diving; on land, cycling and hiking.

Alaskan Dream CruisesAqua ExpeditionsBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritrime (C.P.T.M.), Coral ExpeditionsEcoventuraEmerald WaterwaysG Adventures; GreenTracksIsland Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonant; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark ExpeditionsSeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure CruisesSilolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

Cruising with NORTH AMERICAN PASSENGERS

These lines see an almost entirely North American passenger contingent.

Alaska Dream Cruises; American Cruise Lines; American Queen Steamboat Company; Blount Small Ship Cruises; Grand Circle Cruise Line; Island Windjammers; Marine Link Tours (mostly Canadians); Ontario Waterway Cruises (mostly Canadians); Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures

Small ship lines cruising UNUSUAL WATERWAYS

By design, most small-ship cruises focus on off-beat routes, but these lines particularly so.

American Cruise Lines (Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Australis (Tierra del Fuego); Blount Small Ship Adventures (New York State rivers and canals, Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Cross-Sweden canals); Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Philippines and eastern Indonesia); Le Boat (canals, lochs, lakes and tributaries of 8 European countries); Magna Carta Steamship Company (canals of Scotland); Majestic Line (Argyll, Western Scotland, Hebridean isles); Marine Link Tours (British Columbia fjords, inlets); Ontario Waterway Cruises (Ontario’s canals, rivers, lakes); Pandaw River Cruises (Upper Irrawaddy, Chindwin, Upper Mekong); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (eastern islands of Indonesia); Silolona Sojourns (eastern islands of Indonesia); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (Ottawa River)

Small ship cruises with multiple CULTURE-FOCUSED LECTURERS

While most small-ship cruises are led by an expert guide/lecturer, these lines carry multiple experts, often with audio-visual presentations about the destinations and related topics.

Lindblad Expeditions (Europe with NG Orion); Silversea ExpeditionsSwan Hellenic

Best small ship cruises to access by RAIL CONNECTIONS  

The following ports are served by multiple daily passenger intercity rail services  Amtrak for the USA and Via Rail for Canada. If a port is served by only one train a day, it is not included. A short taxi ride will be all that is required between the railroad station and the port.

USA Ports
Boston, MA American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Portland, Me — American Cruise Lines, Pearl Seas Cruises; New York, NY American Cruise Lines, Blount SSA, Pearl Seas Cruises; Baltimore, MD American Cruise Lines; Charleston, SC — American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Jacksonville, FL American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Chicago, IL Blount Small Ship Cruises, Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Louis, MO American Cruise Lines, American SB Co.; Portland, OR American Cruise Lines, American SB Co, Lindblad Expeditions, Un-Cruise Adventures; Vancouver, WA American Steamboat Co; Seattle, WA American Cruise Lines, Un-Cruise Adventures.

Canada Ports
Kingston, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Ottawa, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Quebec, QE Pearl Seas Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Toronto, ON Pearl Seas Cruises.

Absolutely STUNNING SCENERY to ogle from the decks of small ship cruises

All small-ship cruises go to some really attractive places, but these are the prettiest of them all.

Alaska Glacier Bay National Park; New York Hudson River in the fall; Argentina Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park; Antarctica — on a blue sky day; Austria Wachau Valley of the Danube River; France Burgundy along the Soane; Germany Moselle River in fall; Vietnam Halong Bay; Pacific Ocean French Polynesia and Fiji Out Islands; Norwegian Fjords Geirangerfjord; Greek Isles — Santorini; Alaska Misty Fjords; Thailand Phi Phi Islands; Malta Valletta harbor; Caribbean St. John; Caribbean St. Lucia; West Papua, Indonesia Raja Ampat Islands; Russian Far East Kamchatka & Kuril Islands

— TWS & HMS

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small ship cruises copyright

By Heidi Sarna.

Small ship cruises have big advantages and that’s why we and lots of other people love them. But for small-ship newbies who aren’t sure what to expect, here’s the lowdown.

It's easy to make friends on an intimate small ship. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

It’s easy to make friends on an intimate small ship. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

1. Expect to mingle with the other passengers.

Small ships are intimate and naturally more social than big ships.

There are only so many places to go on a small ship, so unless you hole up in your cabin, you’ll be in fairly close confines with your shipmates. Dining is usually at communal tables, where you’ll be seated with strangers (who if all goes well will become friends). If you’re on board with it, small-ship togetherness can be a wonderful thing.

Exceptions: The larger 200- to 300-passenger ships in QuirkyCruise.com’s Oceangoing category

A cozy cabin aboard the Juno canal boat in Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A cozy cabin aboard the Juno canal boat in Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

2. Expect tighter quarters and low ceilings.

Small ships are small, and that’s a BIG part of their appeal.

You won’t find soaring atria and multi-level shows lounges on small ships, because, well, they’re small and that’s the whole point. In some cases, if you’re tall, you may have to duck your head in stairwells and doorways, and may come close to grazing the ceiling in some cabins and public rooms.

Exceptions: The larger ships in QuirkyCruise.com’s Oceangoing category

Local belly dancer brought on board for a performance in Kusadasi, Turkey. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Local belly dancer brought on board for a performance in Kusadasi, Turkey. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

3. Expect basic entertainment, if any.

On a small-ship cruise, the main show is the destination.

After dinner there may be a local folkloric show (puppetry in Myanmar or swirling dervishes in the Med or story tellers on the Mississippi), and a night or two the crew may lead silly passenger contests and talent shows. The big act is the destination and mingling with the other passengers and the crew.

Exceptions: The larger small ships in QuirkyCruise.com’s Oceangoing section will have small-scale cabaret acts and mini casinos

4. Expect some of your fellow small-ship cruise mates to speak a different language than you do.

Small-ship cruises can be a floating United Nations.

Small-ship cruises tend to attract an international mix of folks from North America, Europe and everywhere else, and so commonly lectures and announcements will be made in multiple languages if there are a fair number of people whose first language isn’t English.

Exceptions: River cruises in the US and American-focused lines like Victoria Cruises in China

A medley of local vegetables in Myanmar on a Pandaw river cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A medley of local vegetables in Myanmar on a Pandaw river cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

5. Expect food and drinks to reflect the local cuisine.

Cloudberries in Sweden, tealeaf tempura in Myanmar, lager in Germany…

There will always be a nod to continental tastes to appeal to a broad passenger mix, but overall dining on small-ship cruises, unlike the biggies, means enjoying the flavors of the region you’re cruising in.

Exceptions: The galleys on larger ocean-going ships are often not as adventurous as those on the smallest river and canal boats.

Delicious local fare presented in a simple buffet spread. * Photo: Heidi

Delicious local fare presented in a simple buffet spread. * Photo: Heidi

6. Expect fewer options at mealtime compared to a giant ship.

There may be less choice, but food will be tasty, fresh and not mass produced.

There may be a breakfast and lunch buffet, or a combination of buffet and ala carte items, and usually dinner is served by waiters; on the smallest ships, there may one or two options for dinner (typically with accommodations made for vegetarians and other dietary issues).

Exceptions: The larger the ship, the more choices as the galleys are larger and there is more staff — check out the ships in QuirkyCruise.com’s Oceangoing section.

7. Expect to pay more than you would for a mainstream cruise.

Not always, but often small-ship cruises cost more because you’re getting a BIG experience. 

Cruise lines with fewer ships that carry fewer passengers don’t have the economies of scale the big guys do, plus when they’re cruising in super exotic locales like the Poles, French Polynesia, the Galapagos and Japan, there are more onboard experts, equipment and other extras that are naturally passed on to consumers.

Exceptions: Weeklong small-ship Caribbean cruises and some Asian river cruises tend to be quite affordable.

Excursions on small-ship cruises may entail using local boats. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Excursions on small-ship cruises may entail using local boats. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

8. Expect steep stairs, climbing in and out of small boats, and scrambling
up/down dirt embankments to get on and off the ship in some ports.

Getting your feet wet and your hands dirty is part of the experience.

Adventurous by nature, many small-ship cruises take you into remote places where there may not be docks or piers. River cruises in Southeast Asia, for example, often tie up to a tree stump and throw out a narrow gangway for passengers to use to go ashore.

Exceptions: The mainstream European riverboats and the oceangoing ships are the best small-ship options for folks with mobility problems.

Walking tour around the ancient Viking burial mounds in Birka, Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Walking tour around the ancient Viking burial mounds in Birka, Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

9. Expect shore excursions to be culturally rewarding.

Exotic culture, pristine nature and simple beauty don’t need to be dressed up with gimmicks.

Visiting remote villages in Cambodia or castle ruins in Germany or a nesting site for exotic birds in the Galapagos are par for the course on small-ship cruises; wonderful excursions, but the not the adrenaline rush you might get from zip lining or a Harley Davidson riding excursion offered by mega ships.

Exceptions: Small ships in QuirkyCruise.com’s Sailing and Oceangoing categories that have watersports marinas offer heart-thumping water-skiing and banana boat rides.

The more exotic small-ship cruises require multiple flight legs. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The more exotic small-ship cruises require multiple flight legs. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

10. Expect long, complex and/or pricey flights to get to where the cruise starts.

Getting to some of the world’s most fabulous places takes a bit of effort.

For instance, small-ship cruises in Antarctica require flying to Buenos Aires and then to Ushuaia, Argentina; for a Galapagos cruise, you must fly to Quito, Ecuador, and then to the islands; for a river cruise on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy or the Mekong between Cambodia and Vietnam, you must first fly to a major gateway like Singapore or Bangkok, and then another flight or two to via a local airline to get to the cruise embarkation port. All this flying takes time and costs a small fortune, but it’s worth it, trust me.

Exceptions: Small-ship cruises from major islands in the Caribbean (St. Thomas or Puerto Rico) or major European cities (Munich or Paris).

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by Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

A small-ship cruise, like any cruise, includes a lot of the basics in the fare — your cabin, meals and often guides/lecturers — but not everything. Because small-ship cruises are interesting and offbeat by their very nature, there are typically a few more details to factor into your budgeting than if you were off on a no-brainer Caribbean mega-ship cruise out of Miami. To eliminate any surprises, here are 12 tips to help you determine what’s included in the fare, what’s not, and what optional extras you might spring for to enhance your experience.

 1. Airfare. Usually it is NOT included. To distant locales like Antarctica, Galapagos, Australia or French Polynesia, airfare is a major factor even in economy class. Occasionally, lines will include airfare, especially for European riverboat trips that are not selling well or when there may be a charter flight thrown in (e.g. for Galapagos cruises, between mainland Ecuador and the Islands). The airfare, when included, will be economy, possibly not the most direct routing and usually not upgradable. If you want a specific airline or a better itinerary, the line may charge a fee to customize your requests. High-end lines occasionally offer discounted business class.

Flights are rarely included in the cruise fare. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Flights are rarely included in the cruise fare. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

2. Shore excursions. MAY or MAY NOT be included in the fare. While they may be included on many river cruises or on expedition voyages in the Galapagos, Arctic or Antarctica, shore excursions will often not be included on oceangoing small-ship cruises in Europe and many other places. A basic walking tour or similar might be included, but hot-air balloon rides or sightseeing by helicopter costing hundreds of dollars extra will not be.

3. Sporty activities. They ARE typically included. The use of equipment that’s carried on board the ship — from bicycles to water sports paraphernalia like paddle boards and snorkeling stuff — will typically be included in the fare, while scuba diving (gear and guiding) will not be. Kayaking may be included in locales other than the Arctic and Antarctica where closer supervision is required.

Kayaking right from the ship in Southeast Alaska. * Photo: Ben Lyons

Kayaking right from the ship in Southeast Alaska. * Photo: Ben Lyons

4. Alcoholic drinks. Usually are NOT included. With the exception of some of the higher-end lines and increasingly some of the river lines, wine, beer, and spirits are typically not included in the fares, or may be only included at lunch and dinner, or just at dinner. Typically across the board, coffee, tea and bottled water are included in the fares; and usually sodas, but not always.

Beer, wine and spirits are usually not included in the cruise fares. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Beer, wine and spirits are usually not included in the cruise fares. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

5. Cabins. Pricing is based on DOUBLE OCCUPANCY. Most of the time, small-ship cruise fares, like the big ships, are based on two people sharing a cabin. So, theoretically if solo travelers occupy cabins by themselves, they may have to the pay the price of two people (referred to as the “single supplement”), i.e. buying the whole cabin.

6. Solo travelers. There MAY or MAY NOT be special rates for you. The ship may have some single cabins, usually not many, and they sell out fast. Or, the line may offer discounted single supplements for occupying a double cabin such as 150% of the fare; 125%; or even waive the charge entirely, again usually if bookings are soft. Click here for an article about solo small-ship cruising.

7. Cabin sharing. If offered, it WILL save you money. A few lines will help solo travelers find a share with another passenger of the same sex. If you sign up for this and a share is not found, you may well get lucky and end up having the cabin to yourself for the per person double occupancy rate. Read the individual lines’ brochure/websites to see if this is an option.

8. Cabins for 3 to 4 passengers. Extra berths WILL save you money. Some ships’ double cabins may have a sofa bed or a fold out lower berth and/or fold down upper berth. It is quite a bit cheaper for additional passengers to share the same cabin than to buy a separate one. This arrangement is highly popular with families or young people on a budget.

A quad cabin, ideal for family cruising. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

A quad cabin, ideal for family cruising. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

9. Tips. They are usually NOT included. While not mandatory, in most cases they are customary, so do factor in gratuities for onboard staff and local guides/drivers ashore, which depending on your generosity and length of cruise, can add up to a few hundred dollars.

10. Special gear. It may NOT be included. For many expedition cruises in places like Antarctica, Arctic or Alaska, you’ll need special clothing such as raincoats, waterproof pants, boots and/or parkas. In some cases, these accessories may be included, but you still might want to supplement with some of your own.

Hiking in the Arctic. * Photo: Leika Akademie-Siegfried Brueck.

Hiking in the Arctic. * Photo: Leika Akademie-Siegfried Brueck.

11. Hotel stays. Usually are NOT included. In some instances, for example the Galapagos and throughout Asia, you’ll have to stay a night or two in a hotel before and after the cruise due to the timings of flights. However, some lines create cruise tour packages where the ship portion is bracketed by included hotel stays such as Prague at the beginning and Budapest at the end of a Danube River cruise or a Cambodian hotel and sightseeing and the same in Vietnam for a Mekong River cruise. When hotel stays and sightseeing are bundled into one price, then transfers between hotels and ship will be included.

12. Additional extras to consider. Massage and salon services, extra tariff dining and transfers between the airport, rail station or hotel and the ship via taxi, bus or train. Wi-Fi may or may not be included, and when it is, Internet speed is usually much slower than on land, and there may be gaps in coverage. Gradually, Internet accessibility is improving.

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Blue Lagoon Cruises

by Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.

See for yourself why small-ship cruises are the only way to go.

Small-ship cruises squeeze through narrow locks. The Gota Canal Steamship Company’s Juno on Sweden’s picturesque Gota Canal.

The 1874-built Juno passes through 66 locks between Gothenberg and Stockholm, Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The 1874-built Juno passes through 66 locks between Gothenberg and Stockholm, Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


 

Small ships carry aboard even smaller vessels for sightseeing. Un-Cruise Adventures takes passengers within feet of icebergs and glaciers.

Alaskan ice by skiff. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Alaskan ice by skiff. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures


 

Small-ship cruises invite you to climb the masts (if they have them!). Harness up and scramble to the crow’s nest look-out aboard Star Clippers 3 clipper ships.

You can climb the masts on Star Clippers cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

You can climb the masts on Star Clippers cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


 

Small-ship cruises put you in close contact with the local population. Coral Expeditions travels to Papua New Guinea.

Coral Discoverer off Manum Island, Papua New Guinea. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Coral Discoverer off Manum Island, Papua New Guinea. * Photo: Coral Expeditions


 

Small-ship cruises often carry kayaks on board. Paddle your way around the nooks and crannies of Alaska’s Inside Passage with Alaska Dream Cruises.

Alaskan Dream, a catamaran. * Photo: Alaska Dream Cruises.

Alaskan Dream, a catamaran. * Photo: Alaska Dream Cruises.


 

Small-ship cruises invite you to get your hands (and feet) dirty. Here passengers walk down the banks of the Mekong River in Cambodia to board a Pandaw river boat.

Adventure is in store for Pandaw passengers. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Adventure is in store for Pandaw passengers. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


 

Small ships are often historical. Silolona Sojourns’ stunning Sidatu Bua is a replica of a classic wooden Indonesian Phinisi from centuries ago.

The Sidatu Bua is a masterpiece like her sister. * Photo: Silolona Sojourns

The Sidatu Bua is a masterpiece like her sister. * Photo: Silolona Sojourns


 

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by Ted Scull.

Chinstrap penguins having a natter at Half Moon Bay, Antarctica. * Photo: Ted Scull

Chinstrap penguins having a natter at Half Moon Bay, Antarctica. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

The figures here, from this press release (in green), tell a lot.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) announced the numbers of IAATO visitors* to the White Continent for the recently completed 2015-2016 season. 

The total, 38,478, represented an increase of 4.6% compared to 2014-2015 period. The steady rise has been maintained since 2011-2012, and an estimated 43,885 visitors are expected for the upcoming season, however, this figure is still short of the peak numbers — 46,265 during the 2007-2008 period, the last season before the deep recession hit.

Okay, that’s a lot of figures to absorb, so now hear this. As many passengers sail from the Port of Miami to the Caribbean in a two- or three-day period as visit Antarctica in an entire year. Now we know where the mainstream goes.

Now let’s break down the figures even further.

The overwhelming number of visitors traveled to the Antarctic Peninsula, including 21.3% aboard ships carrying 500 or more passengers that made no landings.

.

Big ships are not allowed to land passengers; they just watch the ice float by hoping to see some signs of life. Small ships land everyone into the midst of all the action.

Only a tiny percentage (1.1%) of those who came by ship ventured into the continent’s interior, while almost all (98.9%) visit the Peninsula to make landings.

They encounter penguins of several types, walrus, and seals — all quite relaxed about having a few visitors come calling. This is not the straw market in Nassau or the maelstrom of humanity that descends onto the shores at St. Thomas.

Air/sea passengers flying from South America to Antarctica (instead of going by ship) form 6% of the total. However, this relatively small number increased by a third over the previous year.

These passengers chose to fly the Drake Passage and then immediately joined the ship. It saved time and avoided possible rough seas, though the drawbacks are the extra cost and the possibility of bad flying weather, not being able to land in Antarctica as scheduled, and losing time on the cruise itinerary.

You fly all the way from the Northern Hemisphere to the southern tip of South America. Now choose whether you want another cramped plane ride or let me get aboard my ship now. Forget about the dreaded Drake Passage, unpack, settle in, have a good meal, hear what’s exciting ahead from the naturalists.

U.S. visitors formed 35.5% of the total with Australians second at 11%.

While the U.S. accounted for over three times the number of Australians, its population is nearly 15 times that of OZ. Aussies have become remarkable travelers. I am married to one. They make very good companions, and we, thanks to my Aussie, are always on the move or contemplating one.

China’s 10.6%, now in third place, increased by more than 25% over the previous season; then the British totaled (8.4%), Germans (7.4%) and Canadians (4.8%).

Chinese penchant for cruising is skyrocketing worldwide, along with bragging rights. Antarctica is a big brag.

Then a last congratulatory statement by the organization that sets the rules and standards for its members.

IAATO, over the last 25 years, has demonstrated that careful management of visitors can avoid adverse impact on the environment. The continued increasing Antarctic-bound numbers will impose a continuing challenge to maintain the successful stewardship.

Hiking in the Arctic. * Photo: Leika Akademie-Siegfried Brueck.

Hiking in the Arctic. * Photo: Leika Akademie-Siegfried Brueck.

High ideals and they seem to work. Let’s hope travel to Antarctica continues to have a low impact on the wildlife and landscape. What has been the difference between the penguins’ experience in Antarctica over the last 30-40 years in terms of the number of visitors arriving, and what has the impact been on the residents of Nassau or St. Thomas when a half dozen mega cruise ships arrive on the same day? There are several ways to look at this, so go pick yours.

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By Ted Scull.

As the cruise industry has matured, ballooned in numbers, and focused on the bottom line, most lines have designed their ships to cater exclusively for two or more passengers occupying each cabin, leaving single travelers (who don’t care to share a cabin with a stranger) on the quayside unable to foot the higher price they must pay for solo occupancy of a two-bedded cabin. The penalty, and many see it that way, can be as high as a 100 per cent premium, in others words paying for both beds and using just one, or perhaps laying out clothes on the other to give it a thinly-veiled purpose.

Many ships once had dedicated single cabins with one bed; some large ships were built with a hundred or more. That’s all gone with the penchant to maximize profits. Building a single cabin with all the usual amenities costs almost as much outfitting a double cabin. Hand a passenger sole use of a double cabin, and that empty berth won’t be spending anything for all the revenue-generating extras that have become a big factor for most cruise lines: shipboard shopping, spa treatments, drinks, casino gambling, extra tariff restaurants, and shore excursions (aka money machines).

I traveled as a single passenger quite a lot before I married so I am well aware of the options that were once available and now are no more. I have several friends who simply stopped cruising because they could not afford paying the steep premiums.

Let’s see how all this grim news applies to the small ship industry. The extra expense of incorporating single cabins still holds true, with one exception. That second berth, other than its ticket price when sold, has far less value as an onboard revenue generating factor simply because many small ships include some features that you pay extra for on large ships (in some cases shore excursions and drinks) or they don’t offer them to begin with (shopping arcades, gambling, spa treatments, extra tariff restaurants).

So now you have read enough about the downside of traveling solo, here’s the good news: there are in fact opportunities to cruise without feeling you are being penalized every day you are aboard.

Let’s start with small-ship cruising in Canada and the United States.

Single outside cabin aboard Un-Cruise Adventures' Safari Voyager. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Single outside cabin aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

 1. American Cruise Lines (ACL)

The world of North America is your oyster with American Cruise Lines (ACL) — we’re talking the U.S. East Coast, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and the Mississippi River system. ACL has the most generous number of dedicated all-outside single cabins across its entire fleet starting from just two to six with the coastal fleet to 12 to 19 single cabins with the riverboats. Aboard the coastal Independence with six singles, the rate for a single with private balcony is just 12% above a double cabin with private balcony, while the rate for a single without balcony is almost par with a double. On the river fleet, the premium is 15% and that’s with a balcony.

2. Pearl Seas Cruises

ACL’s companion line, Pearl Seas Cruises, operates the 210-passenger Pearl Mist in the Great Lakes, along the coast of Eastern Canada and the U.S. and soon circumnavigations of Cuba. Single cabins, all with balconies and located on all cabin decks, are priced at a premium of about 45% above the lowest fare per person rate for an outside double with balcony. The premium charged here is closer to the norm.

3. American Queen Steamboat Company (AQ)

American Queen Steamboat Co offers highly favorable single rates for its Mississippi and Ohio River cruises. For instance, a 9-day fall Upper Mississippi River cruise (St. Louis to St. Paul) has single inside cabins priced slightly less than the per person minimum-rated outside double cabins, while a single outside with open veranda is only slightly more than the AA per person double rate that includes a private veranda. AQ is also offering 2016 promotions that, because of the lower fares to begin with, add between 25 per cent and 50 per cent premiums, depending on the category booked.

4. Blount Small Ship Adventures

Blount operates a pair of 88-passenger ships on the Great Lakes, along the St. Lawrence and New York State rivers and canals, in New England, along the Eastern Seaboard and in the Bahamas.

Its three outside singles on the Grande Caribe and Grande Marine, located on the Sun Deck with a single bed, sliding window and door opening to outside deck, are sold as 20% premium over the per person rate in a double cabin on the same deck, and a 55% premium over the minimum per person rate. Additional doubles may be sold as singles, when available, and the premium varies depending on the double cabin demand for a particular sailing.

Blount also offers a “Willing to Share” program where you may pay a per person rate for a double occupancy room by wait listing for a same-gender traveling companion. If none emerges, you will get sole occupancy of the double cabin at the share rate.

5. Un-Cruise Adventures

This line lists rates for single occupancy on many of its cruises. For example, Un-Cruise AdventuresSafari Explorer’s rate is the same as a per person rate for a Captain level double; for the Safari Quest at Commander level; and for the Safari Endeavour, at the Admiral level. For the S.S. Legacy on the Columbia and Snake rivers, single rates are available for four Master cabins, outsides with a double bed at a 30 per cent premium to the double occupancy rate for these cabins.

6. Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad operates the 62-passenger Sea Bird and Sea Lion in Alaska, along the Columbia and Snake, and in Baja California. Single rates for an outside twin-bedded double cabin with window are sold at a 50 per cent premium for Categories 1 (the minimum rate) and 2, a standard outside double.

7. Ontario Waterway Cruises

Up in Canada, Ontario Waterway Cruises charges a 75% premium over the per person double occupancy rate for sole occupancy on its 32-passenger Kawartha Voyageur. There is but one single cabin, and good luck trying to get it.

8. St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

Operating the 64-passenger Canadian Empress, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines also charges a 75% supplement over the per person double occupancy rate and at times drops it to 60%. Cabins 1, 2, 5, 6 and 20 are sold at 50% supplement.

Alaska Dream Cruises lists no single cabins or single rates on its website, so you will have to contact the line directly and ask. The same goes for Marine Link Tours operating a tiny 12-passenger cargo carrier along the British Columbia Coast.

Keep in mind, if you are flexible with your departure date and learn of a sailing that is not selling well, you may be able to have a double to yourself at the per person fare, otherwise it leaves the dock empty. Maybe you have a friend who would like to come along, so that’s two cabins booked that would have gone empty.

Now go to the reviews for the lines mentioned above and see what appeals to you.

Stayed tuned for a future feature to cover river cruises in Europe.

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Europe Canal Transits

Why Small Ships are Better than Big Ships

by Heidi Sarna.

We’re biased here at QuirkyCruise.com. We have a passion for small-ship cruising and that’s why Ted and I hatched the site, to sing the praises of small-scale, intimate travel. No two ways about it, we just like it better and here’s why:

#1 — You’ll never have to take a number…

and wait (sometimes for hours) to get off the ship in port or at the end of the cruise. You’ll be delighted that embarking and disembarking takes just minutes.

Brahmaputra River

The Mahabaahu’s bamboo gangway. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

___________________________

#2 — You won’t need a GPS,

… compass, map or deck plan to find your cabin, the dining room, the bar or the outside decks. You’ll easily move around as though you’re a board a friend’s private yacht.

DELFIN I - Delfin Amazon Cruises

DELFIN I – top deck lounge. Delphin Amazon Cruises

___________________________

#3 — You won’t be pressured to buy extras …

like branded coffees and ice-creams, weird cellulite-reducing treatments, bingo cards, photos with pirates or drinks packages. You’ll be able to focus on the destination.

Rhine River Family Cruises

It’s a castle fest on the middle Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

___________________________

#4 — You won’t feel lost in the crowd…

you’ll feel part of an intimate community, where it’s easy to get to know the other passengers and the crew.

Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

Hanging out on deck is the thing to do; with a glass of rum in hand, all the better! * Photo: Island Windjammers

___________________________

#5 — You won’t look around when you arrive in a new port and feel a bit embarrassed…

that your ship is literally overwhelming the entire place. You’ll feel like you and your ship belong there.

Tauck Riverboats Get Larger Rooms

Tauck’s Treasures sails itineraries including Amsterdam-Budapest. * Photo: Tauck

RELATED: Small-Ship Cruising FAQs.

 

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Blue Lagoon Cruises

10 Great Places Only Small Ship Cruises Go

by Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

If you love traveling by water, here are 10 neat places around the world only accessible by our wee quirky fleet of ships, from North America to South America and Europe out to the Far East. Big ships can’t get to any of these cool spots.

The Islands of New England, USA

Yes, a couple of large cruise ships have called at Martha’s Vineyard disgorging many hundreds into poor Vineyard Haven, but they can’t get anywhere near the more charming town of Nantucket. Neither can they get close to the utterly Victorian nature of Block Island, tiny Cutty Hunk in the Elizabeth Islands or through the flood gates to access New Bedford, the former whaling capital of the world.

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

New York State’s Hudson River Valley

A big cruise ship could not get you beyond the New York City limits, while one of our small ship cruises will take you 150 breathtaking miles up America’s Rhine past stately mansions with Hudson River views and the spectacle of fall foliage as breathtaking as Vermont’s.

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Alaska’s Glacier Bay

Sure, it’s accessible to all sizes of ships with the proper permits — all the big ships sail up to the same glacier then turn around and leave, while small expedition ships do that and more such as venturing up to the Johns Hopkins Glacier, an immense growing glacier that big ship passengers will never see. Hundreds of harbor seals will be lounging on the ice flows.

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Reaches of the Amazon River

Medium-size cruise ships can make it 1,000 miles up the broad Amazon to Manaus where they have to turn around stopping at locations where hundreds go ashore to over-visited villages, while small riverboats sail the Upper Amazon and its amazing network of tributaries to some of the most remote places on earth reached by water. Here riverside villages are completely isolated from one another, except by small boat, and wildlife abounds in the water, in the sky and deep in the rainforest.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

The Length of the Chilean Fjords

The big ships duck in and out where they can safely turnaround while small ship cruises can travel the length of Chile’s inside passage south to the tip of South America while sailing close to numerous glaciers and up narrow inlets to spot mammals and birds, and stopping at islands en route.

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mother Russia

Big ships dock at St. Petersburg, a wonderful city with a couple of palaces just outside, but to see Mother Russia, an inland river cruise will expose you to the vast interior countryside and allow you to step ashore to see Russian life in small towns and cities.

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Interior of France

River cruises take you into the heart of France directly to Claude Monet’s Giverny Gardens, not to a coastal port with a long bus ride inland like the big ships offer. On a small ship river or canal cruise, there’s no need to endure an even longer drive from a Mediterranean port to spend a few hours at the wonder of Avignon as riverboats docs just outside the medieval walls.

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Fiji’s Out Islands

When ships of all sizes cross the Pacific they may make a stop at Fiji’s major port, but only small ship cruises sail from Fiji to the many nearby out islands and drop anchor in a blue lagoon to go snorkeling, enjoy a beach barbecue, and visit a local village and its school.

Out Islands - Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Out Islands – Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

The Interior of Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos

River cruises sail into the interior of all three countries via the Mekong River and its tributaries, visiting exotic cities like Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Luang Prabang (Laos). Meanwhile, big ships can only get to the coastal cities of Vietnam, and it’s still a two- to four-hour drive each way to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Eastern Indonesia

Big ships can get you close enough to Bali to go ashore and join the masses of tourists already there, but small ship cruises explore the eastern end of the archipelago, from the Raja Ampat islands to Papua New Guinea, sailing deep into the island’s interior via the Sepik River.

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

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