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Small Ship Cruising: Something for Everyone

March 16, 2010 By: George Dooley

Think adventure, luxury, fine dining, worldwide itineraries of every length and exceptional value. Now think small ship cruising and the diverse menu of small ship cruises offered by members of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

CLIA notes that small ships feature virtually all the choices and experiences found on larger vessels. But vacationing on a small ship (whether on the grand rivers of Europe, along the coast of the Mediterranean, New England or Canada, through the islands of the South Pacific or the Caribbean, or even sailing around the world) offers two distinguishing features: the unique intimacy of sharing an experience with a relative handful of new-found friends, and the opportunity to go where larger vessels cannot, including some of the most picturesque and otherwise exclusive ports in the world, which remain inaccessible to larger ships.  

CLIA reports that more than a half-dozen member lines of CLIA offer voyages in all parts of the world on ships carrying less than 500 passengers. Guests should not expect the quantity of onboard facilities found on today's larger passenger vessels carrying guests, CLIA says. But they will discover the same attention to quality, comfort, convenience, choice and providing outstanding value that have helped cruising earn the highest of marks from millions of vacationers.  Whether they are in the market for supreme luxury or rugged adventure, "up-close" cultural discoveries or a natural tropical paradise, today's travelers will find a small ship to fit their desires, CLIA says.

River Cruising

One of the fastest growing segments of cruising is voyages by custom-designed luxury cruise ships on the rivers of Europe and other parts of the world, including Asia and the Galapagos. Three of CLIA's newest members— AMAWATERWAYS, Avalon Waterways, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises— are experts.

With the ability to dock in the center of major cities, river cruising offers a total immersion into the historical and cultural life of the destination. Passengers often can walk or cycle from the ship to the major landmarks, World Heritage sites, museums, restaurants and cathedrals, without any of the delay of tendering from anchorages farther away. Throughout history, rivers have shaped not only the landscapes but the civilizations they pass through, and river cruises bring everything, from fairy tale castles to the artistic masterpieces into immediate perspective. In Europe, CLIA member lines offer itineraries on all the grand rivers from the Danube and the Volga to the Rhone, Saone, Seine and Douro.

During the winter holidays, many itineraries take on an added level of excitement as guests visit the famous Christmas markets along the way. In 2011, it will even be possible to cruise essentially across the continent of Europe, on an itinerary offered between Amsterdam and Istanbul. And, for those travelers seeking river journeys elsewhere, the rivers of Asia, including the Mekong in Vietnam, offer another appetizing option.

Coastal Cruising

Many CLIA member lines offer coastal voyages during the autumn in Canada and New England or repositioning cruises on the West Coast between Alaska and California, but American Cruise Lines is an example of small ship cruising that features many of the towns and villages tucked away along the East Coast that are inaccessible to larger ships. American's fleet, including the 2010 arrival of the 104-passenger Independence, sail the inland waterways, rivers, and bays from Penobscot Bay and the islands of New England to the rivers of Florida. Each itinerary offers an in-depth sampling of American history, regional culture and local traditions against an ever-changing backdrop of natural beauty.

For a completely different coast cruising experience there is Hurtigruten. Eleven ships in Hurtigruten fleet offer the Norwegian Coastal Voyage year-round calling on no less than 34 ports of call from one end of the country to the other, some only accessible by sea. Historically, this was the mail and passenger route, a necessity for Norwegian life. Today, an extra, luxurious dimension - a cruise vacation experience - has been added for travelers from around the world.

Luxury Small Ship Cruising

Some of CLIA's most luxurious cruise lines offer sailings on small ships, in many parts of the world. The intimate, all-suite Yachts of Seabourn offer cruises to many of the Mediterranean's more out-of-the-way ports (as well as some of the most famous). These include Zadar, Croatia; Koper, Slovenia; Le Lavandou on the French Riviera and Bandol, also in France. Seabourn's small ships sail throughout the world, navigating many of the rivers, canals and ports that larger ships cannot visit.

Among the smallest ships in the CLIA fleet are the luxurious SeaDream I and SeaDream II, SeaDream Yacht Club's 112-passenger mega-yachts. Offering European itineraries in the summer and Caribbean sailings in the winter season, these vessels also feature visits to both well-known destinations on the French Riviera, for example, and exclusive seaside towns and villages where the bigger ships cannot travel. These include cozy harbors in the British Virgin Islands and the Windward and Leeward Islands in the Caribbean and some of the lesser traveled islands in Greece, such as Naousa, on Paros, and the unspoiled island of Sifnos.

Silversea Cruises also offers top-of-the-line small ship cruising throughout the world, including world cruises of more than 100 days. The company's newest and largest ship - Silver Spirit - just tops the 500-passenger mark but other - Silver Wind, Silver Cloud, Silver Whisper, and Silver Shadow - carry between 382 and 296 guests. And, embarking in April, 2010, the 132-passenger Prince Albert II will travel from Europe and Scandinavia to Central and South America, Antarctica and South Africa before returning to Europe at the end of 2011.


One of the world's legendary tropical paradises - French Polynesia - is the focal point of small ship cruising on Paul Gauguin Cruises' 332-passenger m/s Paul Gauguin. Built specifically for cruising in the South Pacific, the newly renovated and refurbished ship will make 38 voyages in 2010 ranging in length from seven to 15 nights featuring such destinations as Tahiti, the Society Islands, Tuamotus, the Cook Islands, Marquesas, Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand. In its career, the Paul Gauguin has carried 140,000 guests, including 12,000 honeymooners.

Hurtigruten also offers small ship adventures, on one of the most modern luxury vessels in service today. The 301-passenger Fram, named after the Norwegian explorer Fridjof Nansen' polar exploration ship, offers a variety of cruises to destinations as diverse as Antarctica, Greenland, and Spitsbergen, in the Arctic.

Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Xpedition is a 92-passenger mega-yacht that sails year-round in the Galapagos Islands. The all-inclusive nature of the voyage includes daily naturalist-led expeditions in the water and on land to explore the unique flora and fauna, including the famous and ancient giant tortoises, that so motivated and excited Charles Darwin and that have continued to inspire scientists and world travelers ever since.

Finally, Windstar Cruises offers exotic cruises of a different type - small ship cruising under sail. Luxurious, modern and decidedly high-tech, Windstar's sailing ships, which carry 148 or 312 passengers, are small and agile enough to visit some of the most exotic and out-of-the-way destinations in the Caribbean (Iles des Saintes, Bequia, Virgin Gorda), Costa Rica (Quepos, Playas del Coco, Bahia Drake, Tortuga Island), and the Mediterranean (Portovenere, Sanary Sur).



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