Cruise ships seem to be getting bigger and bigger. There’s no mistaking it, the mega ship trend with passengers capacities of over 3000 passengers is here to stay. These large feature rich cruise ships provide the cruise lines with economies of scale that they need in order to offer passengers one of the highest value vacation experiences at very competitive prices while still making a profit. While these ships provide the ideal experience for many cruisers, some vacationer desire a more intimate cruise experience. The good news is that several of the large cruise corporations and some smaller cruise lines still offer cruises on smaller ships.
Azamara started several years ago as a spin off of the Celebrity cruise line when parent company RCI bought two former Renaissance cruise line ships to add to their fleet. Rather than add them to the Celebrity fleet, they actually ended up creating a separate brand name and slightly different product. The beauty of these Azamara ships is that they have a capacity of 694 passengers, offering them a quieter more intimate cruise experience. Azamara Cruises offers itineraries that include the Caribbean, Europe, Panama Canal, and Asia.
Celebrity Cruises offers casual expedition style cruises to the Galapagos on their small ship the Celebrity Xpedition. This ship offers a mega yacht experience to its 90 passengers during its 7 and 10 night voyages to the Galapagos islands where passengers are treated to some of the most unique wildlife and geological features on earth. The price for this mega yacht experience is about 3 to 4 times as expensive as a standard Celebrity cruise, but past cruisers have reported it to be a once in a lifetime unforgettable experience.
For those who are seeking an ultra luxury experience where money is no object, Crystal offers to mid-size ships, the Serenity and Symphony. These ships have capacity of around 1000 passengers. The emphasis at Crystal is on a complete luxury cruise experience. The line offers enrichment lectures, wine and food programs, computer classes, and entertainment programs with a luxury twist. While prices are quite a bit higher than standard cruise prices, they are very competitive with the higher end suite prices on the larger ships. Crystal offers itineraries including World Cruises, Mediterranean, Europe, Asia, Hawaii, the South Pacific and more.
British Cruise line Fred Olsen has several ships in the 1000 or fewer passengers range. These include the 839 passengers Boudicca, the 412 passenger Black Prince, the 807 passenger Black Watch, and the 987 passenger Braemar. Fred Olsen caters mostly to British passengers and offers flights from Gatwick and Manchester to the embarkation ports for their Caribbean cruises. European cruises leave out of ports like Dover, Liverpool, Newcastle, and South Hampton. These cruises bring passengers to exciting destinations like the Canary Islands, North Africa, the Mediterranean, other European destinations and even Greenland. Many of their Caribbean cruises are still off limits to American citizens because they visit Cuba, still under a partial travel restrictions for US Citizens. Fred Olsen follows many traditional aspects of cruising, including an evening dress code where most gentlemen wear sports coats on informal nights and tuxedos on formal nights. They also offer a select number of single passenger cabins with no “single supplement” and Gentlemen dance hosts for those traveling with-out a dance partner.
Holland America has several ships that still fit into the smaller ship classification. While most of these ships fall more into the mid-range of 1200-1800 passengers, the Prinsendam is Holland America’s most intimate ship with a 694 passenger capacity. This ship was designed to make the most remote corners of the world accessible in luxury. The size of this ship allows it to visit destination not accessible by larger ships. For a smaller ship it has many exciting features that are standard on larger Holland American ships like a Culinary Arts Center, spa, specialty dining venue, and show lounge. Itineraries include Transatlantic, Mediterranean, Black Sea, Greece, British Ilse, Arctic Circle, and the Holy Lands.
Formerly know as Norwegian Coastal Voyages, Hurtigruten offers voyages for adventurous cruisers. Most of their ships have capacity of less than 1000 passengers. Their custom designed fleet can safely negotiate not only the rugged coastal waters of Norway and the Arctic, but also the remote lands of Spitsbergen and Greenland and the southern oceans off Antarctica. In addition to carrying passengers, many of Hurtigruten’s ships also carry cargo and have births for 30 or more automobiles.
Like Azamara, Oceania offers a high end but casual cruise experience on two of the former Renaissance ships with capacity for 694 passengers each. The Insignia and Nautica offer cruises Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, South America, North America, the Caribbean, and Australia/New Zealand.
Princess features the most extensive fleet of small ships of the major cruise lines with the Pacific, Royal, Tahitian and Ocean Princess ships. Most of these ships were once part of the Renaissance fleet or ordered for them. Princess advertises these ships as having a capacity of 670 of “mostly adults”. The line says they offer a different kind of escape in a relaxed, sophisticated style. Itineraries on these ship include Alaska, South Pacific, Asia, India, Hawaii, the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Holy Land, and Europe.
Regent Seven Seas
For a nearly all inclusive luxury cruise experience, cruiser turn to the 4 ships in the Regent Seven Seas fleet. These ships range in size from the 332 passenger Paul Gaugin which sails French Polynesia, to the 700 passengers Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Navigator. While emphasizing the ultimate in luxury service and premier destinations, these ship also offer an all-inclusive beverage program including soft drinks, hot beverages and select wines and spirits served throughout the ship. Regent also features some of most interesting enrichment opportunities with special cruises featuring Apollo astronauts, jazz cruises, art cruises, and even cruises featuring some of New York’s best cabaret performers. They also offer food and wine enrichment opportunities.
Yachts of Seaborn
Yachts of Seaborn also offers a luxury yachting type cruise to passenger. Their ships range in capacity to 208 passenger to 410 passengers. These ships feature the ultimate in personalized service,all suite accommodations, an open bar, and no tipping policy. Their destinations include the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Northern Europe, Asia, World Cruises and Grand Voyages. Prices for this luxury experience are surprisingly affordable for those passengers already choosing to cruise in a suite on a larger ship. Seven day voyages start at around $3000 per person, and longer voyages range from around $5200 to $10000 for 9 to 21 day voyages.
If you have cruised on some of these smaller ships we’d love to have your comments and input as to how it compared to the mid and large size ship experience.