Small Ship Cruise Travel Guide

Cruising by Destination

With small ships, the whole world is in your pocket. Sail between ancient harbors that have protected civilization for millennia, remote islands that have developed their own identity or secluded bays where nature reigns supreme. Small ships get you closer to the action and offer remarkable views of coastal areas from panoramic lounges and comfortable staterooms that always have windows, so you can watch the horizon from wherever you are on the ship.

Alaska Cruises

Seeing Alaska from a small ship provides a whole new opportunity to experience the untamed wilderness. Sail between narrow, uninhabited islands and into deep fjords to get up close and personal to wildlife that continues to captivate travelers from around the world. Navigate farther into the fjords than possible on larger ships with better opportunities to get close to pouring waterfalls and calving glaciers. This also provides more opportunities to watch for wildlife along the shore such as black and brown bears, moose and seals.

These cruises primarily sail through the many islands of the Inside Passage and include traditional Alaskan ports of call such as Juneau, Sitka and Skagway. Alaska’s true beauty lies where nature reigns supreme in Glacier Bay National Park, Tracy Arm Fjord and Hobart Bay. Small ships are able to get you up close to the action with their onboard Zodiacs and sea kayaks. Set out on expeditions both on land and sea to create an immersive experience with nature as bald eagles fly overhead and the ever-present hope of seeing humpback whales break the tension of the water’s surface. These cruises craft a complete adventure at a more relaxed pace and less physically demanding excursions than expedition cruises.

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Coastal Croatia Cruises

Hundreds of islands and islets — more than 1,000 depending who you ask — dot the coastline of Croatia in a natural maze perfectly designed for the small ship experience. The region of Dalmatia is home to the majority of these islands and has become synonymous with sapphire waters, picture-perfect coves and towns home to Roman and Venetian influences. Smaller islands and ports including Hvar, Korcula, Trogir and Opatija offer a taste of authentic Croatian life undisturbed from the growing popularity of Croatia’s more readily accessible coastal cities like Split and Dubrovnik. Of the hundreds of islands lining Croatia’s coast, only 66 are inhabited; the rest are home to idyllic coves, national parks and historic monuments that stand as tests against time.

Cruises traditionally depart from either one of three cities spread across the 300-miles coastline: Rijeka to the north, Split in the middle and Dubrovnik to the south. And, if you want to sail the coast and experience more than Split and Dubrovnik, a small ship is the only way since larger ocean ships can’t access the narrow, shallower ports that dot the coast and nearby islands. These cruises are then divided between the northern Adriatic and the Dalmatian coast, with Split being the dividing point. In the ports of call along the way, small ship cruises provide an opportunity to visit smaller towns and experience the authentic Dalmatian culture that traditional travelers are not able to reach.

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Cruises to Greece & the Aegean

The legends, myths and folktales of Ancient Greece have been passed down through the generations and captured the imaginations of all who sail the azure waters of the Aegean Sea. While the idyllic islands of Mykonos and Santorini (classically known as Thera) have, rightfully so, become household names for the quintessential Greek getaway, many of the 150-plus islands have been inhabited for thousands of years. Small ship cruises are a great way to create memories beyond the volcanic vistas and cliff-side beaches, embracing the more authentic side of the Aegean Islands. Among these islands are Delos, sacred to the Greeks as the birthplace of Apollo; Kythira’s Greek, Venetian and Ottoman architecture; the island of Hydra’s strong maritime culture.

Departing from Athens’ port, Piraeus, small ship cruises combine the popularity of Mykonos and Santorini and the intrigue of Crete with less-frequented Aegean isles for a more relaxed and authentic experience. When you arrive, you will dock in marinas that have provided sanctuary to ships since before the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion was erected to watch over the waters of the Aegean in the fifth century BCE. Larger ocean ships cannot sail into these harbors, so passengers must instead ride tenders to and from shore. Longer itineraries within the Aegean sail east to Kusadasi, the gateway to the ruins of Ephesus, and Istanbul, straddling both Europe and Asia across the Bosporus.

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Galápagos Islands Cruises

Rising out of the Pacific Ocean 550 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands are the ultimate destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. The 21-island archipelago inspired Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species in 1859” as marine iguanas and Galápagos tortoises bask in the equatorial sun free of predators. A small ship cruise among the Galápagos Islands presents one of the most pristine experiences imaginable as wildlife roam supreme among jaw-dropping volcanic landscapes. Sail from island to island to see how life has thrived in the remote environment and the unique adaptations these plants and animals developed. Journey among the archipelago’s majestic islands in search of playful sea lions and blue-footed boobies perched atop rocky outlets on small ships. Opportunities for world-class hiking and snorkeling are spread throughout the islands and are a popular destination for multi-sport adventures including hiking, biking, snorkeling and scuba diving.

The Galápagos may seem difficult to reach, but most itineraries begin in mainland Ecuador — either the capital, Quito or Guayaquil, the gateway to the Pacific coast on the banks of the Guayas River. Once you have arrived in Ecuador, cruises set out into the sunset from Guayaquil or include flights to the Galápagos, where you then embark the ship. Each island has different landscapes and wildlife to offer but the most common islands to visit are Baltra, Isabela, Floreana, Española, Bartolomé and North Seymour Island. The Galápagos National Park limits ships to a maximum of 100 passengers, with many ships sailing with fewer than 20 guests on board. The Ecuadorian government tightly regulates the size of ships allowed to sail among the islands, with ships visiting Genovesa Island limited to a maximum of 40 guests. Land excursions are capped at a maximum group size of 20 people.

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Educational Small Ship Adventures with Road Scholar

Learn and explore aboard small ships that can close-cruise scenic coast lines and access off-the-beaten-path ports that larger ships can’t reach. Make both the journey and the destination an adventure as you discover the world’s most fascinating places on luxury yachts, rugged expedition ships and more.

20+ Number of educational small ship adventures with Road Scholar See them all

“This was a wonderful chance to learn about a part of the world you might not otherwise know anything about. Road Scholar did a spectacular job introducing us to the people, cities and history of Croatia. The Futura was a luxurious home from which to discover the beautiful coast.”

— Gerri, Road Scholar Class of 2014, from Burnsville, Minn. —