What is small ship cruising?

Everything you need to know about small ship cruising

Small ship cruising refers to the size of the vessel but how many passengers do these vessels typically carry, why is this type of cruise increasingly popular, which cruise lines offer this sort of intimate experience and where do they sail?

Note: For those who don’t want to go on holiday with thousands of other passengers, here’s an overview of small ship cruising and what to expect.

What size is a small ship?

Small ships generally carry between 100 and 499 passengers and therefore offer a more intimate experience and tend to have a higher ratio of crew to passengers than the big mega cruise lines, so you can expect outstanding service onboard. Most small ships offer destination-heavy itineraries calling at harder-to-reach ports.

However, some cruise lines, such as Quasar, a specialist in the Galapagos, have small ships that carry as little as 16 or 32 guests, while others, such as Fred Olsen, operate small ships that carry up to around 1,300 passengers. 

These tend to be built in a way that they can still traverse shallower harbours and visit smaller ports and they do suit passengers looking for more amenities onboard, although they may not be the best choice for families looking for dedicated kids clubs and huge water parks.

Which brands offer small ship cruising?

There are many cruise lines that offer small ship ocean cruising, including brands like Seabourne, Silversea, Oceania, Azamara, Seven Seas, Saga and Crystal Cruises but take care to check exactly how ‘small’ they really are as there is a huge disparity in most small ships and the number of passengers that they carry. 

Some are large yachts and others, for example, Star Clippers, sail under wind power which adds a unique experience.

Some river cruise lines also offer small ships, such as Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Emerald, Scenic and Avalon Waterways. 

Most expedition ships tend to be small. Celebrity’s Flora, for example, is a 100-passenger mega yacht, while Silversea’s Silver Cloud can carry 254 passengers. Meanwhile Hurtigruten Expedition cruise ships cater anywhere from 90 passengers up to 528.

What are some key destinations and ports for small ship cruises?

Small ship cruises tend to be destination immersive. Ports of call are the highlight of these trips and you can find a small ship sailing in almost every corner of the world, so there’s sure to be a destination that appeals to you. 

Some popular destinations for small ship cruises include Scotland, Alaska, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Asia, Southern USA, the American Great Lakes, Seychelles, Oman, Iceland, Greenland and the Galapagos Islands. There are also plenty of cruises that sail around the Caribbean, Mexico and Costa Rica.


Small ship cruising is perfect for those who want a more intimate and unique experience with opportunities to really get to know other guests and explore numerous ports of call. With smaller numbers of passengers and exceptional service onboard, you’re sure to have a memorable time on your small ship cruise so start planning your next adventure with us today!

A Selection Of Our Partners

Travel With The Best

Be First To Know

Get Sent The Latest & Best Deals

    We care about your data. See our Privacy Policy

    Thanks for subscribing!

    You'll be the first to know about exclusive cruise news and unmissable offers.

    Get inspired with some great articles on cruising.

    Inspire Me!