We have categorised smaller cruise ships as those carrying under 1,000 passengers of which there are approximately 70 vessels in service around the world. This is a great deal of diversity within the small cruise ships category. You will find brand new ships as well as much older traditional ships that were built in the 1970s and 1980s. You’ll find expedition ships with less than 100 passengers and some top end luxury brands with under 500 passengers.
The average small ship carries 480 passengers and you will typically find 1.8 passengers to every crew member which is the best passenger to crew ratio and should therefore provide the highest level of service. The average space ratio is 53 (cubic feet) which is the most spacious of all the ship size categories but there is significant polarisation with more traditional ships such as Fred. Olsen having space ratios in the 30s to more luxury cruise brands such as Silversea and Seabourn in the high 60s. A space ratio gives you a flavour of how much enclosed public space there is on a ship by dividing the Gross tonnage of a ships by the number of passengers. So a ship size of 25,000 gross tonnage with 500 passengers would have a space ratio of 50.
Accommodating less than 1000 passengers these small ships usually offer luxury cabins or suites, for more a more mature clientele. The general ambiance is more relaxed and altogether friendlier, more like a village than a town. Because of the limited children’s programmes available there are very few families choosing to travel on small ships.
On smaller luxury ships, the dining experience is often Michelin Star high level cuisine. Service is personalised with Stewards and other crew members often remembering names from previous guests. This can be reflected in the price which may be higher than larger ships. Activities feature programmes designed to inform and enrich with specialist experts.
There will be fewer entertainment venues which may mean less options for socialising but passengers get to know each other because there are fewer of them, and are more likely to meet at dinner. Spa and pools may be smaller but there will be no struggle finding a sun lounger and there will be no deck crowding.
Boarding, disembarkation and tendering should be fairly easy. Perhaps, the greatest benefit is the more exclusive ports and itineraries these small ships can reach which larger ships can't reach. They are great for those who really want to immerse themselves in the destination experience rather than doing activities onboard the ship. Sometimes these are older vessels but they have familiar up to date features like WIFI and TVs as well as other modern facilities.
You will find a range of brands here. The majority of ships in this category are premium or luxury such as Seabourn, Silversea, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, and Azamara as well as some expedition vessels such as those operated by Celebrity. You’ll also find more traditional cruise lines such as Fred. Olsen, Cruise & Maritime, Saga and those brands operated by All Leisure.