As much as the world’s megaliners tempt you to a holiday of song, dance and vacation at sea, finding the best small ship cruises means exploring lesser-known destinations and seeking exclusivity, individuality, and personalized service.
We believe that the best small ship cruises are the ones that are a little different. Maybe it’s a cruise that follows an unusual route around tiny islands. Or maybe the ship itself is exceptional because it more closely resembles a sailing ship
Boat, like the extremely stylish MS Galileo. We love small ship cruises, albeit with something very special happening on board such as: B. a cooking class with celebrities or an exclusive performance.
When looking for the best small ship cruises, make sure they match the experiences you’re looking for. For a friendly atmosphere where guests get to know each other over dinner, a European river cruise along the Danube or Rhône offers plenty of shared experiences and opportunities to meet new people. Expedition cruises to remote locations like Antarctica are exciting and intrepid without sacrificing comfort.
For more ideas, we’ve rounded up the best small ship cruises to help you choose the perfect sea vacation.
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Sailing around the Cyclades
Would you like to board a ship that is more like a private yacht than a cruise ship? MS Galileo is a ship that looks back to the ships of yesteryear, venturing around the Greek islands with her white, billowing sails. You’ll dock at smaller islands, including beautiful Folegandros – but you won’t miss learning why sun-kissed Santorini and Paros get their coveted status.
Galileo typically stays in port until the early hours of the morning, giving you time after dinner to disembark for evening walks and waterside drinks. With a little more leeway on the itinerary than on larger ships, don’t be surprised if your crew makes an unscheduled swim stop so guests can take a refreshing dip in the sparkling waters.
There are only 24 cabins on board, making Galileo feel more like an oversized millionaire’s yacht than a cruise ship. And if the notion of a typical, robed cruise under the hot Greek sun doesn’t appeal to you, leave your sequins at home – this is a cruise that, while it feels exclusive, is also delightfully casual.
A Royal Voyage around the Scottish Isles
Exploring a region by cruising often means you can cover more, faster. On a small ship, exploration can go deeper as there is the opportunity to enter ports and waterways that large cruise ships cannot. Accommodating just 54 guests, the elegant Lord of the Glens explores the inland waters of the Caledonian Canal and hidden Scottish lochs. Unlike some ocean cruises where you enjoy endless views of the horizon, on a Scottish cruise there are almost always sights and scenery to admire from deck, including Urquhart Castle, the Scots pine-lined waterway of Laggan Avenue and the looming Ben Nevis .
The Lord of the Glens is a unique ship with a design inspired by Her Majesty The Queen’s former floating palace, the Royal Yacht Britannia. There is a sense of luxury and comfort throughout the ship, where dinner is locally sourced and drinks are served in crystal glasses by attentive staff, while you gaze out at the Scottish countryside through huge picture windows.
A gentle expedition cruise around the British Isles
Some of the best small ship cruises can be better for the environment, especially if you choose one that not only runs on biofuel to reduce emissions, but also departs from the UK so your entire trip is flight-free.
Take a gentle journey on MS Maud, a ship owned by expedition specialists Hurtigruten. When you’re accommodating just over 500 guests, you get the best of both worlds – a personalized experience but with more onboard facilities than really cute ships. Explore the waters closest to home on a 13-day adventure in spring or summer 2023, visiting Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, the Republic of Ireland and the Isles of Scilly.
A garden cruise in Holland
A far cry from ocean-going vessels of a dozen decks or more, the MS Arena’s low, elongated profile carves an elegant path through the Dutch waterways. On board, all guests can enjoy the view from their cabins, as they all face outwards with floor-to-ceiling windows or have balconies. With just 98 cabins, MS Arena is the perfect size for bringing like-minded travelers together, and a single dining room allows everyone to get to know each other if they wish.
On an exclusive sailing tour in spring 2023 gardener’s world Chelsea Flower Show presenter and medalist Adam Frost accompanies the MS Arena as she explores the Dutch and Belgian waterways for Holland’s colorful blooms in peak season. Stopping in Dordrecht to visit the Appeltern Gardens and Keukenhof Gardens with a vibrant floral display, this is one of the best small ship cruises for gardeners or those who enjoy spending time admiring the kaleidoscopic flora.
Cabaret on the Danube
Perhaps it’s the red lips and giant red rose adorning A-ROSA DONNA’s bow that first suggest this might not be a typical cruise experience. These smaller river cruisers eschew the formalities of larger cruise ships, instead opting for a far more casual style of cruise vacation.
The jam-packed itinerary of a four-night mini-cruise along the Danube shows that you don’t need to spend a lot of time to see many sights. Between visits to Vienna, Engelhartszell, Bratislava and Linz, sit back on the deck of the A-ROSA DONNA with views of vineyards and villages (perhaps with a cocktail or glass of sparkling wine in hand – all included). !).
An October 2022 cruise on the A-ROSA DONNA will be even more special because she will offer a dazzling private cabaret performance by Julie insanely deep. This West End show is about the life of legendary dame Julie Andrews, and the cast perform in Vienna before guests can meet the show’s star Sarah-Louise Young for a meet and greet.
A great paddle wheel adventure along the Mississippi
She may be the largest steamship ever built, but by today’s cruise ship standards (some of which can carry thousands of passengers), the American Queen is still a boutique, with just 436 guests.
The magnificent American Queen cruises the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Memphis, offering passengers a true Deep South riverboat experience thanks to her authentic steam-powered paddle wheel. The cuisine is also perfectly suited to the location, with a lavishly appointed restaurant showcasing the culinary influences of the region’s Cajun and Creole dishes. A week-long cruise offers the opportunity to visit a magnificent mansion at Nottoway Plantation and delve into the region’s role in Civil War history in Vicksburg.
Wine tasting by the Douro River
River cruises are great for seeing the diversity of a region, and there’s plenty to see hopping from place to place along the Douro River in Portugal. A-ROSA ALVA is a small river boat that promises plenty of variety on an itinerary that starts in the colorful city of Porto before heading into the wine-growing valleys.
Guests have the opportunity to disembark and take part in the traditional grape harvest, but that’s not the only reason why it’s the perfect cruise for wine lovers. There are also plenty of opportunities to sample the local port wine at the Quinta da Roseda winery near Pinhão and sip from the ship’s selection while gazing at the passing scenery from ALVA’s Panorama Lounge.
Celebrities and culinary delights in Provence
The Emerald Liberté is a sophisticated ship exploring the south of France. With just over 100 guests on board, a personalized experience is guaranteed on a ship of this size. The elegantly designed, hotel-style cabins are more contemporary than on other ships and offer sensational views of the passing French countryside through floor-to-ceiling windows or a private balcony.
As beautiful as the Emerald Liberté is, the itinerary and special guests help set it apart as one of the premier small ship cruises. Sailing from Arles to Avignon, Vivier, Tournon and Lyon, this delightful adventure along the Rhône is made even more unforgettable thanks to its celebrity appearances. An exclusive gala dinner will be prepared by Britain’s favorite TV chef, James Martin, with wine to match, and a masterclass by expert Susy Atkins is sure to be a highlight during a special departure in October 2022.
Browse Good Housekeeping Holidays’ selection of river and ocean cruises for 2022 and 2023.
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