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Small Ship Cruise Travel Guide

If you have ever wanted to explore the world in style in a friendly and intimate setting — small ship voyages may be just right for you! Small ships gracefully make port in quaint harbors that bulkier oceangoing ships can’t access, while also docking in the classic destinations that passengers from all over have fallen in love with again and again. The ability to call in ports of all sizes allows for more intriguing itineraries that become the focal point of the journey.


Watch as your captain expertly navigates among Alaska’s remote islands to shallow harbors before kayaking up close to majestic glaciers. Step into authentic Croatian culture as you weave your way through the Adriatic islands to destinations inaccessible to vessels. Conquer the storied waters of the Aegean as ancient temples reminisce of prayers of safe passage. Experience nature’s laboratory on immersive voyages to the Galápagos designed to be in harmony with the natural world. Small ship voyages are created with the destination in mind and are a great way for a relaxing cruise while becoming fully immersed in the destination.

Why Small Ship Cruises?

Small ships can vary from yachts to oceangoing vessels, all with the ability to get up close to scenic coastlines and access off-the-beaten-path ports that larger ships can't reach. These ships offer a casual atmosphere with a limited number of passengers, allowing for personalized educational experiences. Many of these ships were custom built with a destination in mind in order to allow maximum access to authentic ports of call.

Ranging from a few dozen to 200 passengers, there is plenty of variety to choose the journey that is right for you with small ships and the type of adventure that interests you most — cultural immersion, outdoor experiences and more. The largest ship that fits into our small ship category is American Queen Steamboat Company’s Victory I, carrying up to 202 passengers across the Great Lakes. Small ships are capable of sailing open water, venturing into smaller bays and marinas, and some are even able to access some rivers to explore beyond the coastline. Larger ships are sometimes more adventure-focused with supplies for outdoor activities including swimming platforms, kayaks and wetsuits.

When you come aboard, you’ll quickly feel at home with your fellow guests and the friendly, attentive staff. While the onboard amenities may not rival those of their larger oceangoing cousins with grand performances and spectacular pools, the relaxed atmosphere makes the most of your time at sea with onboard comforts that complement the ships’ small size.



Top Reasons to Travel by Small Ship with Road Scholar

Learn from Expert Faculty

Here at Road Scholar, learning is intrinsic to who we are and what we do. When you come on board a cruise with us, you’re embarking on an educational adventure with Road Scholar’s expert staff and local instructors who will be with you each step of your journey. While at sea, relax on board and take in a lecture about the next port in your itinerary or a fascinating topic that will wrap your whole adventure together. Then, set out on immersive shore excursions to gain a new appreciation for local life and culture firsthand. 

The World is at Your Disposal

Craggy coasts and blissful bays await as small ships gracefully pull into port. Become fully immersed in the destination as you’re transported into the heart of untouched wilderness and authentic cultures on perfectly crafted itineraries. These ships are often built for a specific destination with exact measurements in order to access select ports of call. Small ships can sail narrow waterways and shallow outlets to off-the-beaten-path locales and across open water to iconic destinations that have been dreamed of from a world away. From the remote fishing villages in northern Iceland to the Galápagos’ hidden coves, small ships cruises will return your focus to the world around you and leave you longing for more.

Intimate Experiences

The days of having to face the crowds while you’re on vacation are behind you. With no more than 250 passengers, public areas will never feel too crowded and there will always be a cozy corner to relax with book in hand or grab a seat at the bar to schmooze with your friends. Plus, you will develop a relationship with the crew as you interact every day, making the cruise feel more like a home away from home instead of a floating hotel. When you are on board a small ship, there is a more relaxed pace to life that compliments the thrill of going ashore.

Dock in the Action

The night before you pull into port, you hear the announcement that you will be tendering to shore. With a sigh, you realize this means you have to be ready earlier in order to beat the line for the tender. When you’re aboard a small ship, let your tender worries go out the window. Instead, step right onto the pier and it’s only a short walk to the center of town. Small ships are able to dock in the center of the action, letting you come and go as you please without the long lines that are frequent when sailing aboard larger ships.

Masters of Cuisine

When you go ashore each day to experience the best each port has to offer, the chefs on board the ship have their own task. They masterfully craft a wholesome dining experience — each day different from the last — from the ingredients and dishes that are prominent in local cuisine. Whether its bread bought at the market each morning, freshly caught fish or vegetables picked during an afternoon hike, the cuisine will be equal parts delicious and authentic. But the best part is with the flexibility of ingredients and getting to know the crew, which are attentive to your dining needs and capable of meeting most dietary restrictions.

Sustainability is Key

As concerns about environmental sustainability have become more prominent in the collective conscious, a greater emphasis has been placed on responsible travel practices. Larger cruise ships with guests numbering in the thousands can easily overwhelm popular ports with smaller populations such as Dubrovnik, with only 1,500 residents living in the old city. Small ships place less of a burden on the ports of call and do much a much better job of meeting environmental regulation. Many small ship cruise lines have incorporated environmental practices into their business model, whether it is sustainable dining practices, partnering with local and indigenous communities, partnering with international NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund or building ships with new technologies that reduce their environmental impact.



Educational Small Ship Cruises

“Classical Greece is a jam-packed archeological exploration of the Greek islands and Athens. I learned so much about Greece from ancient Mycenae to modern-day Athens. Be prepared to learn so much and visit exceptional sites.”

— Gloria, Road Scholar Class of 2016, from Overland Park, Kansas —