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small cruise ships types

91 Small Ship Cruise Lines By Type

We’re the ONLY travel site out there that covers so many small-ship cruise lines in reviews, feature articles and photos — we’re up to 91 small-ship cruise lines and counting! QuirkyCruise.com offers original, quality writing about this wonderful corner of the travel world.

To help you browse, dream and plan your next small-ship cruise, we categorize our 91 small ship lines (with vessels under 300 passengers) into 5 cruise types:

Coastal Ships  ✴️ Expedition Ships   ✴️  Oceangoing Ships   ✴️  River Boats   ✴️  Sailing Ships

 

Coastal Ships

Coastal small ship cruises

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Perhaps the hardest category to pin down, coastal ships cruise in open waters, but usually stay close to land so they may call at numerous ports and islands, and enter bays, canals, lakes, and rivers. Examples are the Norwegian coastal service linking many towns and cities facing the North Sea, and US-flag coastal ships plying between the New England Islands, the Intracoastal Waterway and Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Croatian coast (Mediterranean) and the islands of Japan make excellent coastal cruising itineraries.

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Argyll Cruising

Alaska Marine Highway

American Cruise Lines

Atlas Ocean Tours

Blount Small Ship Adventures

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Captain Cook Cruises

Croisières Jacques-Cartier

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

Ecoventura

Hebridean Island Cruises

Hurtigruten

Magna Carta Steamship Company

Majestic Line

Marine Link Tours

Overseas Adventure Travel

Pacific Catalyst

Pandaw River Cruises

Patricia Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

Pitcairn Island’s Claymore II

Puffer Steamboat Holidays VIC 32

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

SeaDream Yacht Club

UnCruise Adventures

Victory Cruise Lines

Expedition Ships

Expedition small ship cruises

The Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

These have a distinctive learning element and bring to mind a sense of adventure whether it’s visiting remote peoples in the South Pacific or plying the Upper Amazon; looking for rare birds and exotic animals along Australia’s Kimberley Coast or in Central America; cruising amongst amazing, and often colorful, ice formations in Antarctica; and encountering dramatic landscapes in Patagonia. Trained experts give talks aboard and lead active outings ashore.

Abercrombie & Kent

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Alaskan Dream Cruises

Aurora Expeditions

Australis

Celebrity Cruises’ Xpedition

Xpedition

Coral Expeditions

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

Ecoventura

G Adventures

Grand Circle Cruise Line

GreenTracks

Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises

Haumana Cruises

Hurtigruten

Lindblad Expeditions

Oceanwide Expeditions

One Ocean Expeditions

Overseas Adventure Travel

Ponant

Poseidon Expeditions

Quark Expeditions

Quasar Expeditions

Seabourn Expeditions

SeaTrek Adventure Cruises

Silversea Expeditions

Tauck

UnCruise Adventures

Zegrahm Expeditions

Oceangoing Ships

Star Pride. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Designed for the open seas, travel between continents or from the mainland to islands well out to sea, oceangoing ships also offer port-rich cruises such as between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean or from Great Britain to Baltic Sea ports. Some oceangoing ships are also used for expedition itineraries.

Abercrombie & Kent

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Compagnie Polynesienne

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Grand Circle Cruise Line

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Pitcairn Island’s Claymore II

Ponant

SeaDream Yacht Club

Silverseas Cruises

Tauck

Vantage World Travel

Windstar Cruises

Zegrahm Expeditions

River Vessels

River going small ship cruises

The River Empress * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Easy to identify, they offer a hugely popular means to get into the interior of a country or continent. As a matter of course, river boats may also ply canals and cross bays and lakes to cover many hundreds of island water miles. Europe, Asia, and North America offer the most diverse opportunities for river cruising, while South America brings to mind the Amazon and its numerous tributaries, and Africa the Nile. This section also include canal barges.

Abercrombie & Kent

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

AMAWaterways

American Cruise Lines

American Queen Steamboat Company

Aqua Expeditions

A-Rosa

Avalon Waterways

Barge Lady Cruises

Blount Small Ship Adventures

CroisiEurope

Crystal River Cruises

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Emerald Waterways

French America Line

G Adventures

Gota Canal Steamship Company

Grand Circle Cruise Line

GreenTracks

Le Boat

Lindblad Expeditions

Magna Carta Steamship Company

Murray River Cruises

Ontario Waterway Cruises Inc.

Overseas Adventure Travel

Pearl Seas Cruises

Puffer Steamboat Holidays VIC 32

Riviera River Cruises

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

Scenic Cruises

Tauck

UnCruise Adventures

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Vantage World Travel

Victoria Cruises

Victory Cruise Lines

Viking River Cruises

Sailing Ships

Sea Cloud

This group comes under a broad umbrella, from the sails providing the main means of propulsion, to using wind power when the conditions are ideal, or as window dressing with the principal push coming from diesel engines. Sailing ships of all three variations have a majesty and beauty all their own. Most are found amongst islands in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and in the South Pacific and Indonesia, with repositioning transoceanic crossings such as between Europe and the Caribbean drawing the most ardent sailors.

Abercrombie & Kent

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

G Adventures

Lindblad

Oceanwide Expeditions

Ponant

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Sea Cloud Cruises

Silhouette Cruises

Silolona Sojourns

Star Clippers

Trinity Sailing

Vantage World Travel

Windstar Cruises

Zegrahm Expeditions

 

And if you’ve been on a small-ship cruise lately, we’d love to hear about it in our Reader Reviews section!  

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© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Special Note:  On Jan 4, 2017 All Leisure ceased operating its Swan Hellenic cruises with the chartered MINERVA, and also, though not covered by QuirkyCruise.com, Voyages of Discovery and the cruise ship DISCOVERY.

G Adventures announced the purchase of the Swan Hellenic brand, but not assumed charter or purchase of the MINERVA. 

We will keep the original write-up for posterity and as a remembrance of a favorite small-ship line that catered to those who so enjoyed each other’s company in a country house hotel atmosphere while learning about the world, past and present from a scholarly as well as entertaining team of experts. I am defintely one of those!

Snapshot: Swan Hellenic, a long-established British firm that got its start in 1954, is now owned by the British firm All-Leisure Holidays. One-ship-line Swan has traditionally drawn the upper end of the British market, plus a modest percentage of North Americans, to its cultural enrichment cruises that explore the Mediterranean, northern Europe and East of Suez through the Indian Ocean as far as Southeast and East Asia. A team of mostly British lecturers accompanies every voyage, and few other cruise lines provide such an intensive year-round educational program that is offered in a most enjoyable social setting.

Having sailed five times with Swan — to the Middle East, Black Sea, France, Iberia and around the British Isles — I take to the British on-board style, the mind stimulation from the lecture program, interesting fellow passengers, and well-orchestrated visits ashore.

Cottages sloping down to Cobh's harbor, Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cottages sloping down to Cobh’s harbor, Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: MINERVA (1996 & rebuilt 2011-12)

Passenger Profile: Mostly well-educated British 55 and up, and many repeaters (known as Swans)

Passenger Decks: 6, and two elevators, aft and forward of amidships, serve five of the six decks with the forward one also reaches Promenade Deck.

Price: $ – $$  Moderate/Expensive

Included Features: A program of shore excursions in every port includes entrance fees and all gratuities aboard and to guides ashore; wine on the captain’s welcome & farewell dinners. flights and transfers to/from the ship (where noted).

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Argentina. * Photo: Ted Scull

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Argentina. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries: Cruises generally last between 14 and 16 days, with some as long as 22; none are repeated within any given year; cruises may be strung together for longer voyages. In the late autumn, the MINERVA will cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean and South America, and then sailing via the Panama Canal, cruise the west coast of South America, southbound to the tip, then return northbound. The route back to Northern Europe is via Panama, Central America, and the Atlantic Isles. By April, the ship will work its way via numerous French ports, Channel calls and into the Baltic. A cruise will circumnavigate Iceland (4 calls) and stop in the Faroes and Shetland. The height of summer is spent in Norway and beyond the Arctic Circle, then via Scotland, Wales, Ireland to Channel Ports. By August 2016 the ship moves south via Portugal and Spain to the Mediterranean. Here the MINERVA remains until January 2017 in the Western Mediterranean, the Adriatic, Greece and as far east as Istanbul. Following a cruise out to the Atlantic Isles, the ship heads up via Iberian ports to be based at Portsmouth, England for the spring and summer 2017. Destinations are France, the Baltic (multiple cruises), Norway, British Isles, Iceland, and Ireland before heading south the Mediterranean in early August for the fall. Inclusive air programs from the U.S. and Canada make reaching the ship more convenient.

Acropolis, Athens. * Photo: Ted Scull

Acropolis, Athens. * Photo: Ted Scull

See Addendum below for two Swan river cruises.

Why Go? Swan Hellenic arguably offers the best cultural enrichment program afloat with a team of speakers whose biographies are listed in the main brochures. Their topics may include the areas of archeology, architecture, art history, geography, horticulture, literature, philosophy, religion, and more. Some lecturers are writers, professors, scientists, broadcasters, (former) diplomats, military experts and members of the clergy. The itineraries are well planned to include the most interesting places in the cruising regions, while the organization aboard and ashore is tops. What may be a plus for some, the atmosphere is thoroughly British; the passengers are generally well educated and table conversation lively and good fun.

When to Go? The itineraries are far-reaching and geared to when the weather is likely to be the most favorable, such as most of the summer and fall in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean and winter months in the warmer climes of Central and South America.

Lisbon's trams climb and descend hills across the city. * Photo: Ted Scull

Lisbon’s trams climb and descend hills across the city. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins: Of 190 cabins, 144 are outside, and 44 of these (336-340 sq. ft) located on Sun Deck and Bridge Deck include generous-sized balconies. The standard cabins, Aegean and Baltic decks, both outside and inside cabins are small (140 sq. ft). All accommodations come with flat-screen TVs, fridge, hairdryer, bathrobes, fresh fruit basket, binoculars and personal safe. A communal launderette is free to use.

Minerva's library contains more than 5,000 books. * Photo: Ted Scull

Minerva’s library contains more than 5,000 books. * Photo: Ted Scull

Public Rooms: MINERVA’S country hotel atmosphere is perhaps best typified by Shackleton’s Bar, a roomy U-shaped, light-wood-paneled lounge with polished wood floors and oriental-style carpets. A pianist plays in one corner and a stunning set of black and white photographs depicting Ernest Shackleton’s aborted Antarctic expedition and rescue are mounted on the walls.

Forward on the same Main Deck, the Darwin Lounge, held up by white fluted ionic columns, offers theater-style seating for lectures and evening entertainment and otherwise lounge-type seating, a wooden dance floor, and bandstand. On Bridge Deck portside, the Wheeler Bar pays homage to Sir Mortimer Wheeler, one of Swan’s founders — scholar, intrepid traveler, and later chairman. One section offers wicker furniture set amidst potted palms and another, overstuffed armchairs and couches facing mahogany tables. On the same deck, the long gallery-style library staffed by the lecturers’ spouses, is lined with open book shelves (5,000 volumes), comfortable reading (and perhaps some snoozing) chairs, reference books, and flat surfaces for studying atlases and using the computer stations. If buying an e-mail package, the rates are remarkably inexpensive. Next-door are the paneled smoking lounge with button leather chairs and card room for bridge players. High up on Promenade Deck, the Orpheus Lounge serves as an observatory with 270-degree views, lounge seating and a bar with music at night. An outdoor promenade is ideal for that constitutional and wraps around the Orpheus Lounge.

Dining: Meals are taken at an open-seating restaurant, a boon for meeting fellow passengers and great for single travelers. Meals are invariably lively social events, full of good conversation. In the main restaurant, jacket and tie are de rigueur at dinner, while the informal Veranda, an attractive buffet restaurant, is always casual and offers additional outdoor seating, and barbecues, in fine weather. Food is good to very good and should suit most American and British tastes.

Gathering for pre-dinner drinks on the afterdeck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Gathering for pre-dinner drinks on the afterdeck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment: The lecture program is tops with several speakers on each cruise chosen for their knowledge, presentation and appropriateness for the specific itinerary and last 40 minutes with a Q&A. Two lectures are generally scheduled for half days at sea while as many as four are presented when there is a full day. The talks are directly connected to the cruising region and the speakers accompany the shore program. Sampling: Martin Bell, former BBC war correspondant and Member of Parliament; Professor Carole Hillenbrand OBE FBA, current professor of Islamic History at University of St. Andrews with six books published; Dame Jenni Murray, lecturer in Ancient History at Oxford, and an associate priest; and Sir Roy Strong, historian, broadcaster, diarist, and gardener and former Director of the V&A and National Portrait Gallery. All talks may be enjoyed live on the cabin TVs. A pianist, violinist, small band and solo entertainments are also part of the scene before and after dinner. Films are screened and trivia quizzes are good fun. A swimming pool, located aft, is surrounded by wooden chairs and tables under umbrellas. Additionally, the Promenade Deck up by the funnel has blue and white cushioned plastic deck chairs shared with a small glassed-in gymnasium.

Special Notes: An attractive and useful Cruise Book placed in every cabin includes descriptions of the included excursions and the additional shore trips at a supplementary cost; a recommended reading list; guest speakers’ names and backgrounds and introductory articles they may have written.

All-Leisure Holidays, Swan Hellenic’s parent company, also operates the 50-passenger HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS, see the Hebridean Island Cruises website; and the 540-passenger VOYAGER under the Voyages of Discovery banner.

Along the Same Lines: No other small ship line has quite the same high standards nor the number of cultural-oriented lecturers per voyage. Lindblad would be roughly equal in quality on its European program, while it is better known for its expedition-oriented voyages.

Contact Info: US Agents – All-Leisure Holidays, 1800 S.E. 10th Avenue, Suite 205, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 3316;  www.swanhellenic.us ; 866-923-9182.

— TWS

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.