Small Ship Experience Compared to Alternatives

So, how does cruising on a small ship or large ship compare?

Of course, there is the difference between big and little, but it's a lot more than that. The experiences that you have on a small ship vs a large one are what really sets them apart.

Before we get into those experiences, we first have to consider cruising in general - large ship or small ship - why is it so appealing to so many vacationers?

Advantages of Cruising

The most often mentioned benefit of cruising is that you get to take your hotel with you. You check in, unpack your bags and you don't have to pack again until you are ready to leave.

The second big benefit is that your trip is, for the most part, all inclusive. Lodging, food, and entertainment are all included for a single price.

Finally, for many people, there is a certain feel of romance and relaxation to sailing the ocean (or river) as compared to checking into a resort hotel.

No matter what sort of cruising you do, you will take advantage of these basic benefits.

Large Ship Cruising

In order to understand how small ship cruising differs, we need to spend a minute on the mass market cruise experience which is probably better known to most of us. Some characteristics specific to the mass market cruise are:

  • Huge, hotel-like ships, with a mega-resort atmosphere.
  • Many hundreds to thousands of passengers.
  • Resort-like amenities, such as casinos, swimming pools, showrooms, hairdressers, spas, etc. Many ships are virtual mini-cities at sea.
  • Multiple dining seatings
  • Most ships have assigned seating, with passengers restricted to a specific hour for dinner.
  • A somewhat impersonal, anonymous atmosphere during portions of the cruise experience.
  • Often formal or semi-formal attire at dinner.
  • Conventional itineraries and a selected range of well-known, popular destinations.
  • Most cruise ships stop at major ports only: their itineraries are governed by the mass appeal of a limited number of heavily-visited destinations.
  • Most cruise ships can only stop at major ports: These are the only ones large enough to accommodate huge ships.
  • Las Vegas style entertainment, casinos, etc.
  • A wide range of onboard activities available
  • Focus is often on the ship itself as a primary part of the experience – what’s inside the ship.
  • Mass-market cruises are designed to appeal to vast numbers of people
  • Competition ensures a similarity of programs and activities among the larger cruise lines.

Many, many people love what a mass-market cruise represents. But others aren’t candidates for such cruises at all. They’re looking for something else, something different.

Small Ship Experience

In many areas, small ship cruising provides some very different experiences from what vacationers expect of mass market cruises. Let’s take a look at eleven of the most important differences.

  1. Smaller, more intimate ships. Small ships are more like “bed and breakfast” establishments than mega-resort hotel environments.
  2. The focus is on the destination(s), rather than the ship as the primary experience. What’s outside the ship is what’s important. On most small-ship cruises, the emphasis is on an up-close and personal relationship with the environment, nature, and wildlife.
  3. A wider variety and flexibility of itineraries, made possible by shallow-draft vessels. This permits access to smaller ports where large vessels can’t dock. Many ships also have bow ramps, and/or inflatable excursion craft for landings on remote and pristine shores. These smaller ships also make possible opportunistic side-trips to view nature up-close – for example, to whale-watch in small, secluded bays.
  4. Fewer people. These smaller vessels mean smaller groups of like-minded people, sharing an intimate and fascinating experience most people only dream of. Shore landings bring fewer sightseers who don’t overwhelm a town or an isolated, fragile environment with hordes of tourists, as some of the larger vessels can.
  5. More personal. Small ships provide more intimate and personal interaction – among guests, and between guests and crew members. The service is individualized and welcoming. On several ships for example, guests can visit the Bridge and watch how the vessel operates.
  6. Usually informal, or at most, semi-formal evenings. Most small-ship cruises tend towards informality, casual dress, and comfort, rather than glamour.
  7. Single-seating dining. which means, on most small ships, open seating. Guests can sit where they want, and with whom they want. They’re not restricted to the same table throughout the cruise, with the same companions. The service is often home-style and informal, too, and the food is high-quality and usually regional, taking advantage of fresh locally-available delicacies.
  8. Onboard activities that center on educational lectures, films, etc. Since the focus is on the destination – what’s outside the ship – most small-ship cruises include onboard expert lecturers who present, explain and clarify the wonders visited. Many of these ships also have extensive libraries – filled not only with the latest best-sellers, but also with fascinating information on the places, people, and wildlife the ship is visiting.
  9. More feeling of being on the sea. On a large vessel, there’s little connection with the waters below, and unless a guest is on deck, or in a room with large windows, it’s possible for him to forget he’s at sea at all. On a small ship, the sea is ever-present – a magical, romantic companion during the entire voyage, and an integral part of the experience. And since small ships tend to travel sheltered coastal waters, the risk of seasickness is minimized, while the assurance of spectacular views is maximized.
  10. Staterooms have all key facilities. With very few exceptions, small-ship cabins have all the key amenities, such as private baths and comfortable beds. And most all are outside cabins – opening to outside passages, making the cabin as close to nature as possible, yet as cozy and comfortable as any on a larger vessel.
  11. Selected amenities. Many small ships provide a surprising number of luxury amenities for the size, including TV’s, VCR’s, lounges, and bars. Depending on the degree of luxury your client requires, it’s possible to supply virtually any level of cruise amenities – from the most basic to the most luxurious – on a small ship.


So, it's all about the experience. If you are more in tune with evening wear, casinos, and Las Vegas shows, the big ships are for you. If you like casual, a little adventure, naturalists, and historians, then you should learn more about small ships.