Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Small Ships Becoming More Popular with Cruisers

Size matters to cruisers who savor the joys of seeing the world up close and personal on a small ship.

In these days of ever-expanding megaships, with thousands of passengers pouring off at each port, there's something to be said about the more personal and intimate aspects of small-ship sailing.

We're talking small compared with Royal Caribbean's three enormous Freedom-class ships, including the new Independence of the Seas, carrying 3,634 passengers and thousands of crew.

Cruise Lines International Association says there are about 50 ships carrying from 50 to several hundred passengers, providing the chance to explore the world from a more personal perspective.

With their smaller size, the ships can visit the inland capitals of Europe and Asia, tiny islands in the tropics, somewhat undiscovered ports in the Middle East, remote coves and bays in Alaska, the U.S. Intra-Coastal Waterway and more.

Getting on and off the ship is much easier, with docking in the centre of the action of many destinations, and sightseeing is without crowds -- often in places where there are few other visitors.

Anyone who cruises knows how crowded and hectic ports are where several large ships have dropped anchor or tied up to the pier on the same day.

It's enough to keep some veteran cruisers on board where it's more relaxed than fighting the crowds on shore.

Here's a look at some of the small-ship cruise opportunities.

- Silversea Cruises' ( Prince Albert II is an exploration ship carrying 132 guests on expeditions to the Arctic, Antarctica and many points in between.

In its inaugural season, Mexican Sea of Cortez expeditions in September will have eight Zodiac boats for up-close viewing of birds, dolphins, whales and sea lions.

The line's Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, each holding 382 passengers, and Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, accommodating 296 guests, offer worldwide itineraries with ocean-view suite accommodations.

- Windstar Cruises ( has three sailing yachts, Wind Spirit, Wind Star and Wind Surf, for that pampered luxury experience.

Carrying 148 to 312 passengers, they visit the hidden harbors and secluded coves of some of the world's most sought-after destinations.

They ply the seas to 50 countries, calling at 100 ports throughout Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. This includes voyages through the Greek Islands and in-depth explorations of Costa Rica.

- Seabourn Cruise Line's ( yachts for 208 guests will be joined next year by the larger 450-passenger Seabourn Odyssey.

On the Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend, staff members almost outnumber the passengers who dine on gourmet cuisine created by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer and enjoy signature experiences such as Caviar in the Surf.

Along with world cruises and transatlantic crossings, Seabourn voyages cover the world from Asia to Europe to the Americas and Caribbean.

- Seadream Yacht Club's ( two 110-passenger ships, SeaDream I and SeaDream II, have a water sports marina offering equipment for enjoyment right off the ship.

From May through October, they offer seven-night itineraries to classical yachting ports in the French and Italian Riviera, Costa del Sol, the Amalfi Coast, Greek Islands and the Adriatic and Black Seas.

In the winter, SeaDream visits some of the most exclusive islands in the Caribbean, including St. Barts, Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke and the Grenadines.

Other options include:

- Majestic American Line ( offers cruises of the mighty Mississippi River and U.S. waterways.

The legendary paddle wheelers Delta Queen (in its last season) and the newer American Queen ply the Mississippi, while the line also offers sailings in Alaska and the rivers of the Northwest U.S.

- American Cruise Lines' ( four ships carry up to 100 passengers with amenities such as onboard naturalists and historians. The American Star, Spirit, Glory and Eagle sail the U.S. East Coast, including the Rivers of Florida, Antebellum South, Mid-Atlantic Inland Passage, Chesapeake Bay, Hudson River, Maine and New England Islands.

- Hurtigruten (, formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyage, specializes in cruises along the coast of Norway and popular sailings to Antarctica and Greenland.

- Uniworld Grand River Cruises ( offers itineraries on 12 rivers in 20 countries across four continents, including Europe, Russia, Egypt and China.

- Pearl Seas Cruises ( will begin service next year for voyages in the Caribbean along with the Maritimes, St. Lawrence Seaway and Thousand Islands, a circumnavigation of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the Great Lakes.