Whale breach top experience small ship cruises
Sailing around Antarctica small ship cruise

Small Ship & Expedition Cruises - Best Tours & Trips 2019

Even as mainstream cruise ships get bigger and bigger, small-ship cruising is thriving among travelers who prefer a more intimate experience -- and to dock in smaller ports where the megaships can't go. Expedition-style ships are also popular among travelers seeking adventurous destinations such as the Arctic and Antarctic.
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Trip Type Trip Type Classic Tour Groups are between 25-60 people, typically ~30-40. Usually there will be many opportunities to split off and enjoy meals and excursions in smaller groups. This is the most economical way to travel, saving up to 40% versus booking the same itinerary yourself.
Small Group Guided Experiences Small groups are usually defined as between 10 and 24 travelers, often less. If you're the kind of person who enjoys more intimate experiences and personal service this is a good choice. All else being equal you will pay a premium for this style vs a larger group tour.
River Cruise These vessels are smaller than most ocean cruisers, limiting which amenties are available. Passenger counts can vary. One of the biggest advantages of a river cruise is the ability to dock at smaller ports and local villages.
Small Ocean Cruise Small ship cruises usually have a max passenger count of 500. The primary purpose of these trips is to spend time off the vessel in local ports (e.g. Mediterranean) or experiencing nature (e.g Galapagos or Antarctica). Cabins can vary from budget to luxury.
Private Tour Private tours give you the undivided attention of a guide, and often involve special access to sites and unique experiences not available to larger groups. This is a great option for families, couples, and small friend groups. Expect to pay a bit more for the extra service.
Independent Package A travel company plans your itinerary and arranges all the logistics including lodging, local activities, and transportantion. You have the flexibility of a solo trip while still getting the convience and time savings of expert planning. Get 90% of the benefits of a tour, without a guide.
Vacation / Holiday Package Similar to a self guided tour, this usually involves a home base, such as a hotel or resort, with packaged activities and day tours as a part of the stay.
Large Ocean Cruise This is the "floating city" experience, with multiple ways to enjoy your vacation aboard the ship as much as on land. Ships are multiple floors, provide several activities, culinary, and shopping options. They often make fewer stops and have less time available for shore excursions.

Tour Styles

Lodging Level Lodging Level Camping Typically involves most nights sleeping in tents (sometimes permanent tented sites) or in rustic cabins and lodges.
Basic - 2 star You'll stay in no-frills, but clean and comfortable, hotels or guesthouses. A 'Basic' trip might also involve a few nights of camping.
Value - 3 star Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Premium - 4 star 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards.
Luxury - 5 star The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays.

Price From*

$ 0 $ 10,000+

Price Per Day

Trip Length

Countries

Physical Level Physical Level Very Easy Minimal walking - motor vehicles available for all major parts of trip.
Easy Normal generally flat walking in urban or suburban environments.
Moderate Walking or physical activity half to most of day - no carrying equipment.
Strenuous All or most of day hiking or biking, hills included.
Extreme Very challenging all day hiking and backpacking carrying significant equipment.

Travel Theme

Travelers Age

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Rivers & Seas

Cities & Attractions

Activities

Solo Friendly Solo Friendly Good for Singles Trips that specifically cater to travelers looking to meet other singles.
No Single Supplement Trips where single supplement is usually not required for solo travelers.

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Flights & Transport

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Top Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Experiences and Attractions

Top Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Experiences

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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Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Trip Reviews

2,604 Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Tour Reviews - Summary 91% Recommend

4.5 out of 5
Excellent 1,646
Great 735
Average 155
Disappointing 41
Terrible 27
Value
4.5
Guide
4.5
Activities
4.5
Lodging
4.5
Transportation
4.5
Meals
4.5

Tour Reviews Write a Review

Very nice

5.0
Special needs at Sea Company Reviews
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

Very nice equipment & was delivered in room & picked up as told when it was ordered.

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Operator Special needs at Sea

Excellent

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

The best in the business!

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Operator AdventureSmith

Great Time with Grandfather

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 3.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

I technically took the abbreviated version of this exact cruise a few years back, essentially a one-way trip through the Fjords starting in Bergen and going up to Kirkenes on the Russian border. It was a graduation present from my grandfather, and we took the trip together. He is not the most mobile of travelers, and a cruise was a great compromise for us. I loved being able to talk and read with him on the many rocking chairs looking out the ship's walls, and it was helpful to get the occasional reminder from the Captain about the feature we were passing. We got a solid feel for Norway's coastline and culture from watching attentively from the boat, and also getting off at the majority of the daytime stops. We took part in a bunch of the optional activities (which we booked right beforehand, there was no trouble with that) and there were plenty of options we both liked. One my favorites was seeing a Sami settlement, learning about their culture and how they farm reindeer. The bus ride that took us from the boat to the Sami was also incredible -- the landscape had totally changed, we saw the rows and rows of fish racks, and we even saw wild reindeer run past! The optional activities also meant that when I wanted to take a hike one day, I could go and my grandfather could do whatever he wanted, and we'd see each other in a couple of hours.

A couple of other things that made this trip for us: the food and the ship itself. The ship's room was definitely close quarters, but my grandfather is a big man and we still had no trouble with anything. The entire ship is handicap accessible, and there is a gym and a hot tub I utilized multiple times! Most importantly: the food. My grandpa is a HUGE foodie and an adventurous eater, and that was definitely his primary concern, and we were both satisfied with the quality of the food. We both felt there was a good balance between having good food, and having enough classical Norwegian food. Plus, if you feel like getting fancy, there is a separate restaurant on the ship that is an extra fee.

The only reason I give "guide" a lower rating is because we weren't really guided for much of the ship, only during the optional excursions and the occasional information from the captain.

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Operator Hurtigruten

TAKE THIS TRIP!!! Unbelievable!

5.0
Zegrahms Expeditions Company Reviews
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

Sunday, 22 July... SVALBARD, Norway. Halfway between the top of continental Norway & the North Pole!

We disembarked & are now back to civilization! WOW!
What a FANTASTIC adventure on the ship Ocean Adventurer!

Once again, Zegrahm delivered! Cruise Director & Expedition Leader executed an unforgettable adventure! SUPERB lectures on ship & field trips from the guest experts in their fields... history of polar explorations... geology... birds... polar bears & other animals!

We saw several polar bears, groups of walrus, one very photogenic seal, reindeer, Arctic fox, a BLUE WHALE (largest of ALL whales!)... & a gazillion birds!

Our small ship was indeed able to circumnavigate the Svalbard (Spitsbergen) archipelago... 3 cheers to our Russian captain! The staff on board were FANTASTIC! And the best food I've had on any ship!

Mostly great weather... quite fortunate! Out on the Zodiacs (rubber rafts), I wore almost everything in my suitcase, in layers all at once, hoping to stay warm & dry... followed by VERY LONG hot showers once back on the ship, while I thawed out!

If you have an interest in polar adventure, TAKE THIS TRIP!!! Unbelievable!

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Operator Zegrahms Expeditions

Looking fwd for more camps...

5.0
Trailblazer tours India Company Reviews
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

My daughter had gone to bhandardara near nasik with the trailblazer team...she had a very nice time..and it was first time I had send her ...so looking fwd for more camps...

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Operator Trailblazer tours India

We can strongly recommend Across Argentina as a secure and highly experienced travel agency

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

"We recently booked an extensive two week trip of Argentina and Chile through Across South America We approached the company by email (in English) from Australia and advised them what our interests and budget were.
They then came up with a wonderful itinerary which covered our interests perfectly. They chose excellent hotels and scheduled internal flights and airport pick-ups, etc perfectly. Everything ran like clockwork.
We paid from Australia using the companies secure payment providers. We had no issues at all with the payments.
We were given a contact within the company who kept in touch with us (using WhatsApp) while we travelled. Our contact was always happy to answer our questions (which were sometimes asked outside of normal working hours).
We can strongly recommend Across Argentina as a secure and highly experienced travel agency. You will not be disappointed if you use them.

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Operator Across South America

Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Tours and Travel Guide

Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Attractions & Landmarks Guide

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

Top Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Travel Companies

All small ship & expedition cruises and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages. Average rating of 4.5 for all Small Ship & Expedition Cruises trips.

1,243 trips from 214 tour companies with 2,604 reviews

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