After years of> cramming onto the giant ocean liners of the mainstream cruise lines, a growing number of travelers are turning to smaller ships, drawn by the promise of a crowd-free trip and access to harbors the larger boats can t visit. And where little ships once meant fewer big boat-style amenities, these days more yacht cruising companies are adding outsized perks like spas, gyms and cooking classes.
Here, a look at some popular small ship companies.
Peter Sommer Travels
Passenger Capacity: 2 -24
Specialty Destinations: Turkey
With tours in Turkey, Greece and Sicily, this company specializes in gulets, a type of wooden Turkish boats with 2 to 12 cabins. Sailings include an on-ship guide, who leads passengers on historical and archeological tours throughout the trip. But air-conditioner addicts beware; local laws specify that gulets must shut down their AC overnight.
Photo: Peter Sommer Travels
Passenger Capacity: 41 - 148
Specialty Destinations: Galapagos, Antarctica
One of the more educational lines, Lindblad trips include activities like lectures from on-ship naturalists and evenings spent pouring over footage from ship s underwater camera. The company also specializes in Antarctic voyages aboard the National Geographic Explorer, an expedition-class ship that manages to combine the ability to cut through polar ice with creature comforts like a sauna and fitness center.
Photo: Flip Nicklin
Passenger Capacity: 12
With just one ship, a 6-cabin tall ship-style schooner, Island Windjammers is by far the smallest company in our survey. But its affordable price (high season trips start at $1,899) and unusual itinerary it makes stops in Bequia, Union Island and Mustique appeal to many Caribbean junkies. Still, some travelers point out that its departure point, Grenada, isn t exactly convenient.
Photo: Destin Bradwell
American Safari Cruises
Passenger Capacity: 12 - 40
Specialty Destinations: Alaska, Mexico
Whale watching is a highlight of many American Safari Cruises trips. Indeed, many of the line s itineraries are all about animal interaction, offering activities like swimming with sea lions or snorkeling amid schools of butterfly fish. Of course, communing with nature doesn t come cheap; American Safari s cruises start at $4,895 for an 8-day trip.
Photo: American Safari Cruises
Passenger Capacity: 16 - 20
Specialty Destinations: Galapagos
Ecoventura runs its small fleet of 8 to 10 cabin yachts and expedition ships only in the Galapagos islands. But while the company offers limited destinations, it does have a range of specialized trips, like cruises just for divers, female travelers and families. It also promises to cap it s passenger-to-guide ratio at 10 to 1.