Small Ship & Expedition Cruises - Best Tours & Trips 2019

1,257 Small Ship & Expedition Cruises tours from 214 tour companies. 2,615 reviews. 4.5/5 avg rating.
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.
All small ship & expedition cruises and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages.
Tours and operators on Stride Awarded and Featured by: Tours and operators on Stride Awarded and Featured by:

Filter to find perfect

DEPARTURE DATES

 
Search trip start dates

Charity Pledge

Climate

Travel Style Travel Style Relaxed A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers.
Full on For those looking to maximize their sight seeing time. You thrive on a packed day’s schedule from 8 am to 6pm, with some (but limited) free time. Most activities and meals included.
Mixed You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included.

Itinerary Focus

Trip Type Trip Type Group 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 Tour 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 Ship 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 Guided 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.
Self Guided / Independent Tour 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 Ship 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.

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

Stride Select Save! Stride Select Get Member Savings Sign up to become a member to get access to Member Savings trips. These trips are discounted beyond the tour operator’s best price. Membership is free and only requires your email.

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.

Company

Flights & Transport

Continents & Regions

No filters applied

St Kilda: an Outer Hebridean Cruise

St Hilda Sea Adventures
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
12 days
$ 182 / day
$ 2,189
From : $ 3,078
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
Highlights
  • Visit Hirta - a UNESCO world heritage site
  • See the sea cliffs of the St Kilda islands
  • Explore the islands of the Outer Hebrides and the Small Islands
Visits:
Scotland, United Kingdom
View Trip

Barcelona To Piraeus (Athens)

10 days
$ 435 / day
$ 4,350
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Regular walking or cycling over moderately long, hilly, or bumpy distances. Some public transport or utility vehicles such as safari jeeps. Moderate
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • Explore Spain
  • Discover the cities of taly & Greece
  • Enjoy the nature by travelling in Silver Wind Ship
Visits:
Amalfi Coast, Barcelona, Meissen, Rome, Sorrento, Greece, Italy, Monaco, Spain
View Trip

Galapagos at a Glance: Southern Islands (Daphne)

Intrepid Travel
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
6 days
$ 324 / day
$ 2,206
From : $ 2,620
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Regular walking or cycling over moderately long, hilly, or bumpy distances. Some public transport or utility vehicles such as safari jeeps. Moderate
Lodging Level : Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
Highlights
  • Send a postcard to the jealous folk back home in Post Office Bay
  • Spy pink flamingos wading the lagoons of Punta Cormorant
  • Snorkel through the underwater wonderland of Devil’s Crown
  • Watch waved albatross taking off along Punta Suarez
  • Savour dramatic views of Cerro Brujo’s volcanic landscape
  • Do some beach lazing with the local California sea lions of Gardner Beach
Visits:
Darwin, Galapagos, Isla Floreana, Quito, Ecuador
View Trip

The Canadian Maritimes and Newfoundland

8 days
$ 1,021 / day
$ 8,170
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays. Luxury - 5 star
Highlights
  • Venture into the ancient Viking settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows, the only widely accepted site of trans-Atlantic Viking establishment and very early Norse exploration
  • See WWII harbor defenses, and visit the only North American island that remains under French control, an outpost of its era as a colonial superpower
  • Discover sweeping dunes, wind- and wave-carved cliffs, and sandstone hills in a wild land
  • Explore the intriguing red cliffs and strange tabletop formations at Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site
Visits:
Nova Scotia, Canada
View Trip

Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica

G Adventures
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
22 days
$ 531 / day
$ 11,684
From : $ 15,773
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : For those looking to maximize their sight seeing time. You thrive on a packed day’s schedule from 8 am to 6pm, with some (but limited) free time. Most activities and meals included. Full on
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
Highlights
  • Meet hardy locals and see unique wildlife in the falkland islands
  • Explore abandoned whaling stations and visit shackleton’s grave
  • Walk quietly amongst king penguins and watch them surf onto the beach
  • Learn about the environment and ecology from industry experts
  • Spot whales and seals while cruising through icebergs on zodiacs
Visits:
Georgia, Shetland Islands, South Shetland Islands, Ushuaia, Antarctica, Argentina, United Kingdom, Uruguay
View Trip

Antarctic Express: Cruise South, Fly North

10 days
$ 1,160 / day
$ 11,595
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays. Luxury - 5 star
Highlights
  • The excitement of a southbound Drake Passage crossing
  • The speed and convenience of a northbound flight over the Drake Passage
  • All the Antarctic Peninsula highlights
  • Lecturers and specialists deliver presentations on geology and animal life
Visits:
Antarctica, Argentina, Chile
View Trip

Greenland to Svalbard expedition

13 days
$ 502 / day
$ 6,531
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • See a number of large fjord systems in Greenland and on Spitsbergen
  • Visit Greenland, Jan Mayen, Iceland and Spitsbergen in the same journey
  • See the wildlife in the Arctic
  • Enjoy an expedition under the midnight sun
Visits:
Nuuk, Oslo, Reykjavík, Greenland, Iceland
View Trip

Essence of the Elbe: Berlin to Prague

13 days
$ 161 / day
$ 2,095
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • Enjoy twelve days River Cruise vacation
  • Insightful and informative port tour
  • Land tours and shipboard programs
Visits:
Berlin, Dresden, Meissen, Potsdam, Prague, Wittenberg, Czech Republic, Germany
View Trip

Vancouver, Canada to Seward (Anchorage)

7 days
$ 771 / day
$ 5,400
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays. Luxury - 5 star
Highlights
  • Explore Vancouver and its natural beauty
  • Discover Ketchikan
  • Explore the historical sites of Sitka
  • Visit to the beautiful Seward
Visits:
Alaska, Anchorage, Juneau, Kenai Fjords National Park, Ketchikan, Seward, Sitka, Vancouver, Yukon, Canada, United States
View Trip

A Circumnavigation of Iceland

11 days
$ 893 / day
$ 9,820
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • Explore Iceland’s wild western coast
  • Siglutjörout in the north
  • The rarely- visited rugged east coast
  • And the Westman islands, one of the planet’s youngest archipelagos
  • Europe's largest icecap
Visits:
Blue Lagoon, Lake Myvatn, Reykjavík, Iceland
View Trip

Greece Sailing Adventure: Cyclades Islands

Intrepid Travel
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
10 days
$ 174 / day
$ 1,736
From : $ 2,344
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Regular walking or cycling over moderately long, hilly, or bumpy distances. Some public transport or utility vehicles such as safari jeeps. Moderate
Lodging Level : Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
Highlights
  • The sight of a Santorini sunset can turn even the most hardened of souls into a romantic. Walk along the volcanic rim of the island past white villages that cling to plunging cliffs
  • Sail across the Aegean Sea on a yacht and island hop through the picture-postcard Cyclades. Swim off the side of the boat and let the waves rock you to sleep each night
  • Feast on fresh seafood at a sleepy waterfront taverna in the Small Cyclades islands, far away from tourists and the rest of the world
  • Step back in time among the Venetian architecture of Naxos and learn about present-day rural life with a daytrip to a country village
  • The chic isle of Mykonos invites you to embrace your hedonistic side with its boutique culture and thumping nightlife
Visits:
Mykonos, Santorini, Greece
View Trip

Sailing Thailand - Koh Phi Phi to Phuket

G Adventures
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
4 days
$ 212 / day
$ 679
From : $ 1,146
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Regular walking or cycling over moderately long, hilly, or bumpy distances. Some public transport or utility vehicles such as safari jeeps. Moderate
Lodging Level : Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
Highlights
  • Explore thailand's scenic southern islands
  • Savour tasty thai dishes
  • Unwind on idyllic beaches
  • Dive into blue waters
Visits:
Phuket, Andaman Islands, Thailand
View Trip

Family Galapagos

Abercrombie & Kent
Preferred
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
10 days
$ 920 / day
$ 9,195
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays. Luxury - 5 star
Highlights
  • Cruise for seven nights aboard 'Xperience' - an expedition vessel that blends stability, comfort and flexibility - in the Galápagos Islands
  • Experience some of the most intimate and up-close wildlife encounters in the world, both on land and in the water
  • Discover the Galápagos Islands on twice-daily shore excursions that include nature walks limited to 12 guests for more interaction with your naturalist guide
  • Choose from kayaking or snorkeling, depending on the location, or simply relax on deck or on shore
  • Observe giant tortoises up close, in their natural habitats
  • A Young Explorers Guide provides child-friendly programs and activities, such as wildlife photography, scavenger hunts, Spanish lessons and art-making
  • Enjoy the convenience of earlier seating and kid-friendly menus at meal times
Visits:
Galapagos, Guayaquil, Santa Cruz Island, Ecuador
View Trip

Polar Circle Air-Cruise - Ocean Nova

Lost World Adventures
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
10 days
$ 1,750 / day
$ 17,495
From : $ 21,519
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • Explore the area surrounding Chile’s Frei Station and Russia’s Bellingshausen station
  • Sail along ice-filled fjords and among spectacular icebergs
  • Chances to witness penguins, seals and whales
  • Explore Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands
  • If weather permits, vist the sites such as Port Lockroy, Petermann Island, Paradise Bay, the Lemaire Channel, Prospect Point or other magnificent places
Visits:
Antarctic Peninsula, Punta Arenas, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Antarctica
View Trip

Southeast Alaska Cruise

8 days
$ 643 / day
$ 5,140
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • A guided tour through the city of Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier.
  • Explore the "Gateway to the Yukon" by train and by bus.
  • Experience Skagway with Alaska's original historical city tour for an informative and fun-filled 90 minutes to all points of interest.
  • Join a guided tour through the "Valley of the Eagles" to experience Alaska's magnificent nature and wildlife in six different habitats.
  • Explore picturesque Chilkoot Lake during a guided sea kayaking tour.
  • Experience the beauty of Glacier Bay during a narrated tour.
  • Narrated Bus Tour of Kake
  • Discover the rich heritage of this small, fishing town during a walking tour of Petersburg.
  • A tour through Tracy Arm fjord.
Visits:
Alaska, Glacier National Park, Juneau, Yukon, United States
View Trip
1- 15 of 1,257 Trips Shown First 1 2 3 4 5 Last
X
Unlock Member Savings

In order to see Stride Select deals you must sign in. We’ve negotiated with many of the world’s best travel companies to save you money! Get the best experiences, save up to $700 per person, and be a hero to your travel companions!

or
or
Provide email and Password

We respect your privacy and take great care to protect your information. By joining you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Already a member?

With FREE membership you:

  • Save up to $700 per person!*
  • Access private deals and offers
  • See personalized trip recommendations
  • Save favorite trips
See member program details

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.

Watching whales in Alaska for hours simply because you can

Sailing to Antarctica, following the route of the first explorers

Exploring the Turkish coast on a traditional gulet, the Kenyan coast on a traditional dhow, or the Vietnamese coast on a traditional junk

Sliding in and out of hard-to-reach cruise ports, like Split, Croatia, and Kotor, Montenegro

Taking an expedition-style cruise from Norway to Greenland via Iceland.

Indulging in the personalized, friendly service of a staff that gets to know you

Spreading out in more spacious rooms and a less formal atmosphere than some mega-ships

Following the path of Charles Darwin on a small ship cruise through the Galapagos Islands or the Beagle Channel in Patagonia.

<Kayaking and sailing along the coastline right from a small cruise ship’s watersports platform

Taking advantage of small cruise ships’ shallow draft to get closer to the cruise line for wildlife viewing

view more

Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Trip Reviews

2,615 Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Tour Reviews - Summary 91% Recommend

4.5 out of 5
Excellent 1,652
Great 738
Average 155
Disappointing 41
Terrible 29
Value
4.5
Guide
4.5
Activities
4.5
Lodging
4.5
Transportation
4.5
Meals
4.5

Tour Reviews Write a Review

Vietnam and Cambodia multi day tour

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

Our trip was run almost flawlessly. From airport pickup in Hanoi to airport drop off in Siem Reap. I normally travel by myself and do tours quite different from this. So I had many questions and Mike Hung promptly answered them all. Any discrepancies were quickly worked out with him.
For my fiancee and her son, this was a first in a lifetime vacation and she was very nervous about many things. So it helped tremendously that drivers were there for us at the airports, we were picked up promptly each day and all of the hotels were ready for us.
All of our guides were fantastic and we enjoyed our conversations with them. And what really impressed me was the day our tour ran late due to traffic in Hanoi. We arrived at Cu Chi at about the time our tour should have been over. That conflicted with lunch which was included in our tour. GoAsia gave us the option of having our meal in Hanoi instead of a rushed lunch at Cu Chi.
Mike also met with us in Hanoi and made suggetions on options we might like. We paid for the options which afforded us a day to sleep in late in Phnom Pehn and got to experience sunrise at Angkor Wat. There was some confusion upon arrival in Siem Reap because of the changes in our itenirary that MIke quickly resolved.
I highly recommend GoAsia.

Read more
Operator Go Asia Travel

IE puts on a show on the Amazon

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

My wife and I just returned from a wet season trip with International Expeditions (IE) to Lima and the Amazon.
It was tremendous:
1. The diversity of wildlife is extreme and up close and personal.
2. The vastness of it all approaches infinity.
3. The staff and guides were top drawer professionals.
The IE mother ship (Zafiro) is in great condition and very comfortable, clean and welcoming. The staff is friendly, helpful, supportive, knowledgeable. The naturalists/guides are the best. Experts in the wildlife and flora and good-natured and personable.
Yes, it is hot and humid, but very bearable. Yes, there are mosquitoes at night, but again very manageable. (We've all experienced much much worse in the US.)
In the wet season (50 feet higher water than in dry season) you don't get to walk as much as you do in dry season because terra firma is so much further into the rain forest than you can reach in a boat. But we did get to visit villages and walk in the rain forest.
We swam. We went out every morning and afternoon in the skiffs to explore smaller rivers and lakes. Sloths, monkeys, iguana, boa, anaconda, caiman, tarantula, piranha, frogs, toads, and more bird types than you can count.
Wow - What a Show!

Read more
Operator International Expeditions

Very nice

5.0
  • 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.

Read more
Operator Special needs at Sea

With the help of our two excellent tour

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

We want to let you know how wonderful our recent tour to St. Petersburg and Moscow went. With the help of our two excellent tour guides and three very capable drivers (our three Vladimirs), we were able to have an awesome experience in Russia. The beauty of the cities, churches, Christmas lights and markets were not understated by your descriptions. From the delicious foods to our unique experience in making our own matryoshkas, the trip exceeded our expectations. We were delighted with the hotels you chose for us and appreciated the hospitality of your staff.

As avid travelers across the continent, we are fortunate to count Moscow as our 32nd European capital visited. We can assure you that Moscow moves to the top of our list as a dynamic urban area steeped in wonderful tradition. It is a delightful blend of history and modernity in a clean, safe, and welcoming environment. We are grateful to you and to Express to Russia for helping to facilitate our week.

We wish you the best as you continue your work assisting sojourners to your wonderful land!

Read more
Operator Express to Russia

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!

Read more
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.

Read more
Operator Hurtigruten

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.

What Are the Various Types of Small-Ship Cruises?

Just how small is small? And how agile are these small cruise ships, anyway? There are several differences to be aware of among small-ship cruise vessels - and features that distinguish these smaller ships from the mega-ships sailing the oceans today. The best small-ship cruise lines will cater to 300 or fewer guests, guaranteeing a more intimate and authentic cruise experience and the ability to delve further into local culture.

If you’re hoping to spend a lot of time off the ship exploring your destination on foot, or kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding around your ship, then focus on a small yacht cruise. Often, the itinerary can be adjusted to meet guests’ interests and you’ll be able to get in and out of hard-to-reach ports, therefore getting a better and deeper understanding of your destination’s culture - and hopefully even seeing rare wildlife in its natural habitat. Spend the night in quiet remote coves, or decide to stop in to a rarely visited village - small-ship yachts have the capability to change course on a whim.

Small yacht cruises typically promise a low-key, intimate ambience without a lot of evening entertainment. Instead, it’s a chance to unwind with like-minded guests and take in a quiet sunset or marvel at what you saw that day.

Small-ship cruising by yacht often means smaller cabins, smaller bathrooms, smaller dining areas, but with so much activity happening onshore exploring your remote destination, this doesn’t matter so much. Meals, too, can be a family-like affair, with group dining most evenings. But when the chef can prepare the fish you yourself caught that day in Alaskan waters, who wouldn’t want to share with new friends?

If you’re after adventure cruising, consider an expedition ship, like the small ships that sail in the Arctic or to Antarctica. You’ll often cruise closer to shore, seeking wildlife or chasing after a fantastic Aurora Borealis view. Expedition small ships usually exude a relaxed atmosphere, where guests can really focus on the destination’s nature and culture and learn from on-board naturalists and wildlife experts.

Expedition cruises that venture close to shore hold the chance of unexpected sightings - See those whales? Let’s go follow them! In a similar vein, expedition small-ship cruises usually have more shore excursion options that small yacht sailing, with the capability to cater to differing interests among the guests.

Small expedition cruise ships feature most of their cabins on an observation deck to ensure optimal scenic and wildlife viewing. Meals on expedition ships are casual and while often a relatively limited menu is offered, the food is typically based on the destination and there is plenty of it.  

Popular Small Ship Cruise Destinations

So where can you sail on a small-ship cruise? The destination possibilities for this more intimate type of sailing are impressive, from Micronesia to Baja California, from Antarctica to the Mediterranean. These small ships are able to navigate coastlines more nimbly than their much bigger siblings, opening up a world of choices. Here are a few top suggestions for where to go on a small-ship cruise:

  1. Antarctica: The ultimate polar expedition.
  2. Micronesia: Some of the world’s best diving, including the San Francisco Maru.
  3. Melanesia: Snorkel pristine coral reefs, meet children in remote Tikopia and see what daily life is like in the islands.
  4. Polynesia: Bora Bora to Tahiti, paradise is found in this archipelago.
  5. Baja California: Island-hopping with gray whales, whale sharks, dolphins and rays as your closest neighbors.
  6. Southeast Asia: The temples of Angkor, remote Mekong River Villages and snorkeling in crystal-clear emerald-hued waters.
  7. New Zealand: A chance to get up close to the rugged coastlines of the North and South Islands and Fiordland National Park.
  8. Lesser Antilles: Including Martinique, St. Lucia, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Grenada, and featuring great birdwatching, snorkeling, diving and history tours.
  9. Mediterranean: Swimming in the brilliantly blue Adriatic Sea and popping into quiet, off-the-beaten-path villages for dinner.
  10. Alaska: Up-close glaciers, unplanned stops to watch wildlife in action and heading ashore to explore rainforests and hikes along the shore.
  11. Galapagos: The only truly in-depth way to see these flora- and fauna-rich islands, from penguins to giant tortoises.
  12. Greek Isles: From the Saronic to the Cyclades, a tempting immersion in Greek Isle food, culture and traditions.
  13. Arctic: Polar bears and the Northern Lights. Need we say more?

Wildlife Sightings on Small Ship Cruises

Wildlife and small-ship cruising go hand in hand … how better to see the local fauna than to sail right up close to their habitat, never disturbing it, of course, but being a solemn spectator to Mother Nature’s bounty?

Whether you’re hoping for polar bears or tiny tropical fish, small-ship sailing reveals wildlife both on land and under the sea. A few small-ship cruises to consider for the best wildlife viewing:

  1. Galapagos: See pink flamingos, seo lions, giant tortoises, cormorants, blue-footed boobies, Darwin’s finches and more. Then snorkel or dive and get to know the golden eagle rays and green sea turtles who live beneath the waves.
  2. Baja California: Small-ship sailing to see whales in Baja California will feel like a VIP experience. You’ll sail in search of these gentle giants, getting to access viewing points that most tourists can’t. Depending on the time of year, you’ll see dolphins, gray whales, blue whales, fin whales, humpback, orcas, pilot whales and many more.
  3. Arctic: Topping many a wildlife-lover’s bucket list, the regal polar bear is actually within reach (or your binoculars, at least) in the Arctic. Add to the Arctic wildlife list the Atlantic walrus, several types of whale, muskox, narwhals, arctic foxes, reindeer, bearded seals and more.
  4. Antarctica: Small-ship sailing to Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for most, so make the most of it by adding rare and elusive wildlife to your memories? See an Emperor penguin colony up close, get a front-row view of humpback and fin whales and scan the shoreline for the black-browed albatross or the wandering albatross.

Who Will Like Small-Ship Cruising?

A small-ship cruise will fit the bill for your cruising experience, if you:

  • Crave your personal space and don’t want to jostle in lines at dinner or for offloading for a shore excursion with thousands of other passengers.
  • Prefer a quieter cruise environment where the staff gets to know you by name, brings you your favorite drink with dinner and can give you personalized recommendations because they’ve gotten to know your interests and personality.
  • Want to make new friends with guests who have similar cruise interests, be it wildlife, photography, culture, history, music or just exploring new destinations in an immersive manner.
  • Want to go places other cruise ships can’t. Imagine the stories you’ll bring home from your small-ship cruise ... an intimate meal you had in family-owned restaurant in a tiny, tucked-away town, or the day you and an expert photographer guide managed to snap a photo of a gray whale breaching an arm’s length away.

Small Ship Cruises vs. River Cruises

Small-ship cruising (typically up to 300 guests max) and river cruising share some common elements. Both have a better ability than their larger ocean-going counterparts to access smaller, more remote ports and destinations.

In keeping with the immersive type of travel experience, both types of cruise tend to focus more on the local culture, cuisine and traditions - making them part of the onboard experience. There is less focus on flashy evening entertainment, giant swimming pools and multi-level waterslides.

You’ll visit and dine with like-minded guests, mingle with destination experts and be treated more like you’re sailing on a private yacht instead of a small city. Your personal space is usually larger on small ships, as there is less room devoted to boutiques and activities. Wherever possible, smaller sailing vessels, especially those used for wildlife tours, will use precious space for outdoor viewing decks or platforms one can kayak or canoe from.

Small-ship cruises sail through far-flung archipelagos (think the Lesser Antilles or the Cyclades), while river cruise vessels will glide into the depths of a country through its most important waterways (think Amazon, Nile, Rhine, Moselle).

See our river cruise guide to get a better picture of what to expect as you sail the world’s most intriguing rivers.

Amenity Gap

Small ships 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 large cruise liner designed to 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!

Top Small Ship & Expedition Cruises Travel Companies

Things to Know Before You Go

Preparing for a Long Cruise

You’re headed out on that long-awaited small-ship cruise, thankful that, in large part, all the logistics of your cruise have been planned out for you, and that you’ll only have to unpack and repack one time.

To get the most of your small-ship cruise experience, particularly a cruise in the 7- to 10-day range, we offer the following suggestions to make sure you’ll fully prepared.

1. Pack prudently. Notice we didn’t say “lightly.” No one will fault you for bringing that extra warm layer if you’re cruising to Alaska or a spare pair of sunglasses if you’re small-ship sailing in the Mediterranean.

Simply pack prudently, keeping in mind that cruise ships have rooms that are typically smaller than hotel rooms - the upside of small-ship cruising, however, is that because the guest number is lower, the room sizes are often more spacious than you’ll find on a mega-ship. Still, pack what you need to stay comfortable, stay warm, not get sunburned, etc.

2. Check the weather in your cruise destination. Further to the packing suggestion, do be sure to consider the weather where you are sailing. Is it the rainy season? Particularly windy? Be sure to bring along a rain jacket, umbrella and sunblock - no matter where your small ship is sailing.

3. Ask about your small ship’s electrical specs. If you’re headed into international waters on your cruise, there may be alternate electrical standards than what US-based ships have. You’ll want to know this before you get on board … to avoid the severe disappointment of realizing you won’t be able to charge your phone.

4. Find out what costs extra. Most small-ship cruises are all-inclusive to avoid nickel-and-diming guests for every little thing. That being said, it’s a good idea to check on the prices for anything that might be deemed “extra,” e.g., shore excursions, watersports equipment rental, guide/driver services, beverages (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic) and spa treatments. It’s always a good idea to bring a little cash along.

5. List packing essentials. That extra pair of sunglasses we mentioned above isn’t necessarily essential, but there will be items needed on your small-ship cruise that it’s best to bring from home.

Everyday items - if forgotten - can be hard to find and expensive in foreign ports, especially the smaller places accessed by small cruise ships.

Think about and list items such as over-the-counter medication, insect repellent, batteries, feminine hygiene items, toothpaste, sunblock, etc. Ask about which toiletries are included in the cabin of your small ship.

6. Ask about accessibility on board your small ship cruise. Your small-ship cruise tour operator will be able to tell you about the layout of your ship and if there are narrow stairwells, steep gangways, uneven surfaces and more. If these are physically challenging for you, you can be prepared. Ask, also, about what active excursions are available and train for them as necessary.

7. Check in with your insurance company. Small-ship adventure cruises brings with it the opportunity for activities you don’t normally participate in - think kayaking, ice trekking, diving, biking). Give your health insurance company a call and find out what they cover while traveling; if you’re not satisfied, consider travel insurance, which may include emergency evacuation.

8. Plan for emergencies. OK, so it’s not the first thing we want to think of when we’re daydreaming about our much-anticipated small-ship cruise. Just in case you’re waylaid in a remote port, it’s a good idea to write down your cruise line’s main number, some information for local hotels in your ports of call, extra medication and a supply of snacks.

Packing for a Small-Ship Cruise

It’s almost time for your small-ship cruise … which means it’s time to pack! What at first may seem like a daunting task - because, after all, you’ll be at sea the majority of the time and when ashore, will be in small, more remote areas of your destination, so it won’t be easy to just go out and buy something you forgot.

Small-ship cruise operators can provide you with suggested packing lists and you’ll find plenty of suggestions online.

Here, a few essentials to start:

  • Sensible shoes (sturdy sandals, water shoes, hiking boots/shoes, sneakers, slippers for onboard)
  • Raincoat
  • Umbrella
  • Sunblock
  • Warm hat and sun hat
  • Outerwear appropriate for your destination
  • Passport or passport card
  • Necessary electrical chargers and/or adaptors
  • Detailed itinerary notes (and packing lists!) provided by your small-ship cruise company
  • Vital medications
  • Stainless-steel water bottle
  • Daypack
  • Flashlight
  • Hiking poles
  • Snorkeling equipment
  • Photographic equipment

Age Range on Small-Ship Cruises

Small-ship cruises hit all the right notes for the 20-something set. Newly minted in the workforce and possibly tight on vacation time, younger cruisers with an adventurous spirit can get more bang for their buck and sail in and out of tiny ports and up close to glaciers in wildlife, whether they’re sailing the Mediterranean or tackling Arctic seas.

Families with kids and parents in their 30s and 40s enjoy small-ship cruises because these expeditions are the whole package - self-contained, full of activity and rich with learning opportunities. The itineraries on small ships are often flexible and maybe even customizable and feature ports with far fewer crowds than the big ships.

It’s a lot easier to get on and off the boat, so families with young kids don’t have to wait endlessly in line to go ashore for the day’s excursion. In fact, much of the exploring from a small-ship cruise is done directly from the boat, via kayak or zodiac.

Your 40s and 50s - wild nightlife a thing of the past, let’s be honest - may also be a fantastic time to get more adventurous in your travels or try more unusual types of cruise - perhaps a masted ship in the Caribbean or a rugged icebreaker bound for Antarctica. Forego the flashy evening entertainment in favor of expert naturalist guides and historians who will enrich your cruise and the ability to sail in and out of interesting ports aboard your small ship.

Those in the 70-plus age range should research small-ship cruise companies carefully as many of the ships are, well, smaller and more unique in design, and use tenders to get cruises on and offshore for excursions. Mobility and accessibility can be an issue, so be sure to ask ahead about facilities on small-ship cruises.

Who Will Enjoy Small-Ship Cruises

Small-ship cruising might be for you if:

1. You like choices. Not only does the smaller, more nimble size of a small cruise ship make it possible to visit more remote destinations around the world, but once there, even your cruise itinerary may be flexible.

See a family of sea lions sunning on a rock in the Sea of Cortez? Ask the captain if he can pause of an hour or two while you and other guests venture out by sea kayak to take a closer look.

Follow a pod of whales off the coast of Norway? Sit for hours under the Northern Lights? Once ashore from your small ship, there are ample choices as well, for difficulty level of hikes and walks to interests, from local museums to market shopping. Fewer people on the small ship makes it that much easier to customize excursions to personal interests.

2. You want to disconnect. Small-ship sailing usually means you’re in a more remote location than on a large cruise ship … which means you may have no choice but to disconnect given spotty cell service and WiFi. Take advantage of the down time to really disconnect and step away from devices, reconnecting instead with each other and the destination or wilderness you’re seeing, likely for the first time.

3. Want to make some new friends. Love to bond with birders? Go back in time with other history buffs? Hike with mountain-lovers? Small-ship cruising means sailing, for the most part, with like-minded guests, those who have chosen this destination for the same reasons you have: wildlife sightings, wine country, culture, once-in-a-lifetime Arctic adventures and more. Shared experiences with these new friends will quickly become some of your favorite cruise memories.

4. Want to learn something new. From naturalists to historians to photographers, small-ship cruise companies employ regional and subject experts who get to know the guests intimated and can keep everyone, from kids to older travelers, engaged and educated about their destination.

Learn about conservation in the Galapagos, how to use an undersea camera when snorkeling, discover the geography of Greenland’s ice cap and follow a wildlife photographer into the jungle to glimpse rhinos in Indonesia.

Coping with Seasickness on a Small-Ship Cruise

Mal de mer, which rolls off the tongue quite eloquently, is the dreaded squeamish feeling of seasickness. And it might be the sole reason you haven’t yet embarked on a small-ship cruises. Rest assured, if you have your sights set on sailing under the Northern Lights or diving into the Galapagos, there are remedies that can help you get where you’re dreaming of going. A few favorite seasickness tips and tricks:

  • Pack common seasickness remedies. This includes ginger chews or gummies, wristbands, tablets and patches.
  • See the cruise doc. If you’ve run out of remedies from home, pay a visit to the doctor on staff on your small-ship voyage. She will usually have plenty of seasickness medication to distribute to ailing guests.
  • Stay above deck as much as possible. Try not to go below deck for any extended period of time. If you do, and want to look out at the scenery, look out a window or porthole with your gaze on the horizon.
  • Cut short your binocular time. As much as you’ll want to stare for hours at those polar bears or waddling penguins, extended binocular use can bring on seasickness.

Stay hydrated and fed. Drink plenty of water and don’t go about on an empty stomach. Pack extra snacks from home (granola bars, dried fruit, nuts) so you’ll always have something to grab.

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.

1,257 trips from 214 tour companies with 2,615 reviews

More Small Ship & Ex... Guided Tours

What is Stride?

Stride is the top reviews site for experiential travel and tour packages.

Now you can search tens of thousands of trips from more than 1,000 operators and expert trip planners. Most travel agencies and websites only show options from large companies that pay big commissions. We show you all the options we can gather. We want you to have all the information to find your perfect trip, no matter who it’s with. About us.

Use Stride to:
Search thousands
Search thousands of itineraries and match your style and budget.
Compare local
Compare local experts with global tour operators side by side.
Read reviews
Read reviews by travelers and experts.
Read reviews
Save money as a Stride member (its free), with exclusive deals & rebates.
We are on a mission...

...to help more people travel further, travel more, and travel better. Learn more.

Got it
×
×
Sign in to Save Trips
Welcome back! We're so happy to see you. ? Forgot Password?
Don't have an account? Join
  • Bookmark trips you like
  • Share with your travel companions
  • Track price changes
  • Access private discounts on trips you save
×
Sign in to see your results

TripFinder is a member-only feature. Don’t worry, it’s free!

With a membership you:

  • Save up to $700 per person!*
  • Access private deals and offers
  • See personalized trip recommendations
  • Save favorite trips
*See Member Savings Program details
×
Activate your free Stride membership

Just use the email address and password provided in the email we sent.

? Forgot Password?

With your free membership you:

  • Save up to $700 per person!*
  • Access private deals and offers
  • See personalized trip recommendations
  • Save favorite trips
*See Member Savings Program details
×
To Follow, sign in or sign up (it's free) ? Forgot Password?
Don't have an account? Join
member benefits
First name is required!
Last name is required!
First name is not valid!
Last name is not valid!
This is not an email address!
Email address is required!
This email is already registered!
Please enter valid email address
Password is required!
Enter a valid password!
Please enter 6 or more characters!
Please enter 16 or less characters!
Passwords are not the same!
Terms and Conditions are required!
Email or Password is wrong!
Please select the captcha checkbox!
Please select the valid captcha!
Something went wrong! Try again later!

x