There are a number of small ship cruise lines to choose from. What follows is a brief overview of each of them. Each overview contains links to take you to the full story on each company. From there you can learn about specific itineraries, the ships they sail, and other details about the experience each offers. Just click on their name.
Abercrombie & Kent - is a tour operator, not a cruise line, but they do offer a number of river and small ship cruises. They do not operate and maintain ships themselves but charter ships from others. Their offerings include adventure cruises in the Arctic and Antarctic, sailing adventures in Japan, and canal and river cruise programs in China, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Germany, the Amazon and the Nile.
Alaskan Dream Cruises - Alaskan Dream Cruises operates 3 small ships in Southeast Alaska. Their tag line is "True Alaska with true Alaskans".
AMA Waterways - AMA Waterways operates eleven ships that sail the rivers in Europe, one on Russian waterways, two in Vietnam and Cambodia and one in Africa. Their emphasis is on the US market.
American Cruise Line - American Cruise Line's tag line on their ads is "Voyages Through America's Smooth Waters". They operate two paddlewheel steamers - one on the Mississippi and the other in the Northwest. They also have 4 coastal cruise ships that spend most of their time on the east coast.
American Queen Steamboat Company - as the name suggests, they operate the American Queen, a paddlewheel steamship, on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
Aqua Expeditions - offers luxury adventure river cruises on the Amazon and is planning to introduce river cruises in Vietnam and Cambodia in 2014.
A-Rosa River Cruises - is a European river cruise company that operates 10 ships in Europe. In 2013 they have dedicated 4 or their ships to English speakers.
Avalon Waterways - is part of Globus family of brands. They operate 12 river cruise ships in Europe, 3 in Southeast Asia, and two in Egypt.
Blount Small Ship Adventures - Blount has two small ships (96 passengers each) that sail US rivers and coastal waters. In the winter time they do a series of cruises in the Western Caribbean around Belize and nearby islands.
Cruise North - has a single ship that covers the Arctic. Their emphasis is on the peoples and their culture and the wildlife and geography of the far reaches of North America, Canada, Greenland and Iceland.
European Waterways - specializes in canal barge experiences in France, England, Holland, Italy, and Scotland. The orientation is luxury with outstanding food and wine. There are many theme cruises - wine, cycling, and music.
Fantasy Cruises - operates a single ship in Southeast Alaska. The Island Spirit has 16 cabins for a max of 32 guests. Prices are reasonable especially for single travelers - 2 cabins with no single supplement.
French Country Waterways - is an American owned company that offers cruises along the canals and waterways of France aboard 4 luxury hotel barges.
Hurtigruten - they sail a fleet of small freighter / passenger ships with an emphasis on coastal Norway but they do have a ship that sails to the Arctic, Antarctic, and Europe.
Imperial River Cruises - operates river cruises in Russia and the Ukraine and a North Pole expedition. They have more than a dozen ships.
Lindblad Expeditions - As the name implies, Linblad features expeditions. While they do go to the Arctic and to Antarctica, many of the itineraries of their seven ships are in tamer climates. They sail in Alaska, Columbia and Snake rivers, Baja Penninsula in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicarauga, the Galapagos, and South America. They are partners with National Geographic in their series of expeditions.
Orion Expedition Cruises - Orion operates a single new ship that sails itineraries around Australia and south to Antarctica.
Pandaw River Cruises - Pandaw's vessels explore the rivers of Myanmar (Burma) and Southeast Asia aboard 10 replicas of colonial river steamers.
Paul Gauguin Cruises - is known for their South Pacific cruises aboard the 300 passenger Paul Gauguin. They have a second ship, the 90 passenger Tere Moana (formerly Le Levant) in the Caribbean.
Pearl Seas Cruises - sister company to American Cruise Lines operates a single 200 passenger ship in the Northeast - brand new - first voyage spring of 2014. Probably the best Canadian Maritimes itinerary offered by any line. Orientation is casual luxury with very large cabins.
Quark Expeditions - specializes in Polar adventure travel with a fleet of specially equipped vessels that take guests to some of the most remote regions of the earth.
Scenic Tours - is an Australian company that has seven luxury river cruise ships in Europe and Russia. They also offer several Egypt river cruises.
Seabourn - operates 6 ships that maintain a very high standard of luxury while offering itineraries to exotic and interesting locations. They emphasize a casual yachtlike experience with a decent component of adventure and fun.
SeaDream Yacht Club - SeaDream operates two 100 passenger ships. They sail summers in the Mediterranean and winters in the Caribbean. They emphasize casual, yacht-like experience, very high quality service, and ports of call similar to luxury yachts rather than big cruise ships.
Silversea - has seven ships and is billed as an ultra luxury cruise line. Two of their ships are part of Silversea Expeditions and concentrate on more adventurous destinations - Arctic, Greenland, Antarctica, and Galapagos. The other five sail the world with a small ship flavor - emphasis on the smaller ports not visited by larger ships.
St. Lawrence Cruise Lines - has a single ship that sails the St. Lawrence river from Quebec to Lake Ontario.
Star Clippers - Star Clippers three ships are all true sailing ships. They include the Royal Clipper which is the largest fully rigged sailing ship in the world. While Delta Queen and American West offer the historic elegance of the sternwheeler river boat days, Star Clippers brings back the romance of the sailing ship. They sail itineraries in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Far East (near Thailand and Malaysia).
Sunsail USA - has several locations around the world (Caribbean and Greece) that offer sailors the opportunity to skipper small sailing ships in protected waters.
Swan Hellenic - is a British based company that sails a 340 passenger ship to many areas of the world. Emphasis is on enrichment lectures.
Tauck - has been known for many years as a luxury tour operator but in the last several years has developed their own line of luxury river cruise ships. They operate 6 ships in Europe and charter ships in China and Egypt. They also offer cruises on several ocean going small ships.
Travel Dynamics - has four small ships that that offer interesting itineraries in Europe, Antarctica, Africa and North and South America. The orientation is casual luxury and an outstanding slate of guest lecturers make every cruise a learning experience.
Un-cruise Adventures - Un-cruise Adventures is truly a yachting experience. Of their seven ships the largest will accommodate 88 guests and the smallest only 22. In the summer most are in Alaskan waters. In winter they head south to Mexico's Sea of Cortes or to California's Wine country.
Uniworld Cruises - features river cruises in Europe, Russia, Egypt, China and Southeast Asia aboard 18 owned or chartered ships, including one that debuted in 2012 on the Mekong River. The company will add three vessels in 2013 that will cruise in Southeast Asia, China, and Portugal.
Variety Cruises - is a Greek owned company that sails 11 yachts and small ships, most of them luxury mega yachts. Most of their itineraries are in the Mediterranean but they do include a few sailings in the Caribbean.
Victoria River Cruises - only American company with ships on China's rivers. Operate 5 ships exclusively in China.
Viking River Cruises - Viking is one of the largest players in the river cruise market - operating over 30 ships in Europe, Russia, China, Egypt and Southeast Asia.
Voyages of Discovery - has one ship that sails around the world. Their hallmark is enrichment cruising - lecturers instead of Las Vegas shows.
Voyages to Antiquity - has one ship that has concentrated in the Mediterranean. Just this year they have expanded their itineraries to include the far east - India and Viet Nam. Their lecturers focus on the history of the places they are visiting.
Windstar Cruises - Windstar operates three MSV (motor sailing vessel) which means they have sails but that is not their primary means of propulsion. Two of their ships fit our standard mold of a small ship - their flagship, the Wind Surf, is more than double the size of the others. They sail varied itineraries in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the South Pacific around Tahiti. The line is known for it's "casual elegance".