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Top Trip Memories

  • Savoring the tropical breezes and snorkeling opportunities while on a sailing cruise through the Caribbean or South Pacific.
  • Stopping at a quiet bay for a lobster bake while cruising the Maine coast on an historic windjammer.
  • Exploring the Turkish coast on a traditional gulet, the Kenyan coast on a traditional dhow, or the Vietnamese coast on a traditional junk.
  • Taking an expedition-style cruise from Norway to Greenland via Iceland.
  • Following the path of Charles Darwin on a small ship cruise through the Galapagos Islands or the Beagle Channel in Patagonia.
  • Getting upclose and personal with whales and orcas via small ship off the Alaskan coast
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Tour Tips

  • Expect to meet and mingle with many or even most of your fellow passengers on small ships, which may carry anywhere from 12 to 200 passengers.
  • While small ship and expedition-style cruises can have luxurious aspects, most come with smaller cabins than large cruise ships, and on some sailing ships can be downright tiny.
  • Without the economies of scale that large cruise ships can take advantage of, many small-ship cruises are more expensive than megaships.
  • As with any cruise, find out what extras (gratuities, shore excursions, alcoholic beverages, etc.) are or are not included in the price.
  • If you’re prone to seasickness -- more common on small ships than large --  come prepared with some form of medication or preventative
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Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Travel Reviews & Ratings

4.7 out of 5



1,042 Reviews

  • Excellent 748
  • Great 264
  • Average 2
  • Disappointing 1
  • Terrible 2

Rating Details

  • Value
  • Guide
  • Activities
  • Lodging
  • Transportation
  • Meals

Tour Reviews

Trip of a lifetime seeing the Arctic in a week

Arctic Complete - M/V Polar Pioneer

January 2017
Recommend: Yes
I travelled as a solo traveller and was relieved to find that about half the boat was also solo travellers. It was a great adventure - on a ferry board for a week with the most amazing panoramic views around us every day. We were regularly out on smaller boats to see the bird cliffs up close, or to go onto land to walk around. We saw lots of amazing wildlife including walrus, blue whales, beluga whales, endless species of birds, and of course Polar Bears! The week went by too quickly. It was a great mix of wildlife and landscapes. Each day there was a different guide giving a presentation of everything from the biology of a polar bear, to the fauna found in the arctic circle. You could join in for as little or as much as you wanted. Definitely recommended.
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December 2016
G Adventures
Recommend: Yes
Exceeded all my expectations!

Best tour I have ever done with a truly exceptional tour guide

Galápagos — Central & East Islands aboard the Xavier III

December 2016
G Adventures
Recommend: Yes
Best tour I have ever done with a truly exceptional tour guide.

Everything from the crew, the food and activities is just perfect

Sailing Thailand - Phuket to Koh Phi Phi

December 2016
G Adventures
Recommend: Yes
Everything from the crew, the food and activities is just perfect! My only regret is that I didn't do the full 7days and even then i would want to stay onboard even longer! I would highly reccomend this trip to anyone and would certainly do this trip again in a heartbeat!!
December 2016
G Adventures
Recommend: Yes
Fun, relaxing vacation.

Top Tour Operators and Travel Companies

Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Trips & Tour Advice

A cruise on a small ship or expedition-style ship is as different  from a cruise on a large ship as flying in a small plane is from taking a jumbo jet. They both share the sea but they present different perspectives on it and often serve very different purposes.

(For this write-up, we’ll limit the discussion to small ocean and sea-going vessels as opposed to river ships and boats.)

Both small and large cruise ships have their place in the realm of cruise travel and both have their adherents, but there’s no guarantee that if you’ll like one you’ll like the other.

Amenity Gap

Small ships, for instance, may have some amenities, such as a smallish swimming pool, a lounge, a bar area, and a dining area, but nothing like you’d expect to find on a modern-day cruise liner that may hold from 2,000 to 6,000 passengers.

Casinos, climbing walls, Broadway-style theaters, huge dining halls, discos, organized contests and games (beyond board games), and other features of big cruise ships are highly unlikely to appear on a small or expedition-style ship.

Even medium-sized cruise ships, in the 600 passenger range, are far more likely to have multiple restaurants, organized entertainments, and other typical cruise amenities.

The Small Ship Experience

On a small ship, you’re more likely to make meals or the pre-dinner appetizer-cocktail hour the hub of your social life.

Gatherings are more likely to include lectures on what you’ll see the next day than late-night dance parties. The libraries on small ships take on more importance than on the typical large cruise ship.

Shore excursions and sightseeing are also at somewhat more of a premium on small ships than large. The general thrust of a small ship or expedition-style cruise -- especially the latter -- tends to be on the destination or itinerary (such as the Galapagos Islands or whale-watching off Alaska)  rather than the ship itself.

Specialty Cruises

The ships themselves, though, may take on greater importance if they’re traditional to the countries being visited (such as the Turkish gulet or Arabian dhow), where a large part of the pleasure is experiencing that type of vessel.

A trip across the polar reaches on an icebreaker or another expedition-style ship is another singular small ship experience. (The only ships that have permission to actually land on Antarctica hold 500 passengers or fewer.)

If you think that small-ship cruising may be right for you, Stride can help you sort through the many possibilities around the globe. Happy sailing!

Related Guides

Popular Continents:

Europe, Antarctica & the Arctic

Popular Destinations:

Norway, Greenland, Costa Rica, Austrailia, Scotland and Many More

Popular Small-ship & Expedition Cruises: 

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador; Caribbean Sea; Falkland Islands; Mediterranean Isles; PolynesiaAntarctica and Many More

For Styles:

50+ guided tours, Small group tours, Luxury tours & Wildlife lovers

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