Don’t think small ship cruising is for you? Well, let’s take a look!
Are you Interested in travel that focuses on the destination? Travel that seeks out the exotic in search of enrichment and life-changing experiences with adventurous itineraries? Well, that is my kind of travel and I achieve it through small ship cruising and guided tours. Today I thought I might give you some insight in to the advantages of small ship cruising and why it is one of my favorite types of travel.
When you think of cruising, most people visualize the gigantic ships carrying 5000+ passengers. These ships visit some wonderful ports but you don’t really see a whole lot of the destination because not only are you there with the thousands of people from your ship, you are usually also there with the thousands of people from the other 3 or 4 other ships that are docked at the same port. These big ships are full of things to entertain you and are made to give you an amazing “resort” feel. The ports they stop at are just a perk. But the small ship cruise lines typically have less than 1000 passengers, a much better crew-to-passenger ratio, and lots of local guides and entertainment to make you “feel” the destination. The food and drink (beer and wine are often complimentary at meals) they serve you are also put together to make you “feel” like you are dining in the destination. Tasting the local flavors is important. Small ships can harness the best and freshest local ingredients to showcase in their smallbatch meals. You may be able to feast on local cheeses, as well as ocean-fresh seafood and drink the local alcohol specialty. The chefs are known for their creativity in menu development and take great pleasure in delighting you with their savory local creations. It is also easier for them to cater to special dietary needs.
Small ship cruises have become increasingly popular in recent years, offering a more intimate and immersive travel experience. In general, a small ship cruise is less about the amenities of the ship itself and more about the exciting destinations and the onshore adventures. Whether you’re taking a river cruise in Europe or an ocean cruise to the Galapagos Islands, the best small ship cruises offer an opportunity to explore remote locations that big cruise ships just can’t access. And because their itineraries are often more in-depth, they give travelers a chance to connect to a place and its people in a more authentic way.
Here’s what I see as the biggest advantages to small ship cruising:
The destinations are different – Small ships get off the beaten track because the ships are small enough that they can!
Better customer service - Get ready to sit back and experience one-of-a-kind service from the ship’s attentive crew. When you’re just one of the 5,000 cruisers packed into a huge floating city, it’s unreasonable to expect all the crew to be able to pay attention to your details. Small ships have a much better crew to guest ratio which means a lot more individual attention. Having a bartender who calls you by name and knows you want a Blue Hawaiian with your Happy Hour appetizers may not make or break your trip. But traveling with a company who makes you feel like more than just a number-coded wristband goes a long way towards making your trip feel special. By the time you are there a couple of days, the staff (including the cruise director) knows your name and your preferences and can provide more personalized recommendations.
Experience the local flavors – I talked about this one above. The meals are fresh with the ingredients usually just purchased at the local markets that day.
You come home with lots of new friends - When you’re on a small ship for a week or maybe even 2 weeks, you tend to get to know everyone on board to some degree and become great friends with some of them. And when you dine, there seems to be an unspoken agreement that passengers will swap dining tables nightly. It’s like a game of musical chairs, giving you plenty of opportunity to find out who you click with.
No long lines - On the big ships, nothing happens quickly. There are just too many people to assemble. On a small ship, however, things run much more smoothly. It is not just the lack of having to stand in line; it is the freedom. It is so much easier to come and go on your own as you are docked very close to your destination. You have so much more “free” time at the destination. That means you get to spend more time with the people whose company you enjoy.
Getting active - A lot of the ocean-going small ships specialize in expedition cruising, which means plenty of opportunities to get out and get active. River cruises usually have bikes they let you use at no cost while in port. Of course, the activities depend on the destination and how much you want to do. A lot of the small ship cruises include at least one excursion every day in the cruise price and you can purchase more optional excursions if you want to do more. Or…. you can just spend that free time doing exactly what you want and what suits you. Small ships usually arrive at your destination very early and stay until late at night, sometimes you even stay at a destination over night so you can experience an evening there.
Wildlife encounters - Everyone knows the first rule of wildlife spotting: keep quiet. The less noise you make, the less likely you are to startle wildlife. Good luck keeping the noise level down when you are traveling with a large group and also must deal with the 3-4 other large groups that are there. On a small ship, it is much easier to keep numbers small on shore excursions. That, in turn, means you are much more likely to come face to face with the native wildlife – especially on expedition ships.
Meeting the locals - One of the great joys of travel is getting to know the locals. On a big ship, however, when three busloads of passengers are heading to the same spot, each group shepherded by its own tour guide – that is never going to happen. Small ships, however, are all about local encounters.
You’ve heard the old saying, “Size doesn’t matter”? Well, in the case of cruise ships, it does. And in this case, bigger is necessarily better. I used to be only a mega ship cruiser and absolutely loved it but now that I’ve had the opportunity to experience the comradery of small ships, I’m don’t want to go back to the floating resorts. I don’t want to deal with the thousands of people anymore. I like a quieter, more intimate environment.
You just might want to try small ship cruising for your next trip! Going on life-changing adventures with perfect strangers and getting the chance to meet them all can create some surprisingly strong bonds. Perhaps you’ll even meet some future travel buddies! Happy travels!