By David Barclay | February 8, 2023
Within the world of luxury cruising there is a growing sub-segment of cruise lines that offer a “yachting” or “small ship” experience. While the ships of the better-known luxury lines are considered small when compared to the ships of the premium & mainstream lines, they may still carry 450-900 passengers. To be considered a small ship (and some of the lines are now using the word “yacht”) the ship must have fewer than 350 passengers.
The experience on these smaller ships is still exquisite, but with a more intimate feel. The mood on board tends to be more relaxed and a little slower paced, with the shipboard experience being as important as the excursions. Dress codes are generally a little more relaxed and guests will not find any formal nights on board. The itineraries for these ships tend to bring them to unique ports, many of which aren’t frequently visited by the larger luxury line ships. Many of the small ships have marinas in the aft section and these ships are more likely to open the marina and allow guests to utilize the onboard water toys (kayaks, small sailboats, etc.). While the size of these ships will mean fewer dining venues, the food on board will still tantalize the taste buds of foodie guests. The ships have high crew-to-guest ratios and because of the lower number of guests crew members are more likely to memorize guests’ names on the first day.
While all small ship cruise lines have some similarities (e.g. size of their ships) there are many nuances to the cruising experience on each line. These cruise lines all offer great cruising experiences, but it is important for travelers match their travel desires with the right cruise line, ship and itinerary.
Below I’ve provided details on a few of my favorite small ship cruise lines. If you are looking for a relaxing vacation that includes great food, interesting ports of call, and a smaller group of fellow travelers, but without some of the formality of the luxury lines, I recommend you take a look at what these lines have to offer.
Windstar’s fleet consists of both sailing ships and motor yachts. With guest capacities ranging from 148 to 342, Windstar is able to provide a variety of small ship cruise experiences. The motor yachts (“Star” class ships) are the former Seaborn cruise ships, well known and beloved in the luxury cruising world. These ships were acquired in 2013 after Seabourn updated its fleet. In 2021, Windstar both enlarged and refurbished these ships. The sailing ships (“Wind” class ships) offer a unique sailing experience to guests with many segments of the cruise completed with just sail power.
Windstar delivers a very refined experience for guests. It prides itself on it’s cuisine, having partnered with the James Beard Foundation to bring together some of the most talented chefs and sommeliers on themed cruises and in its dining program. It also partnered with Steven Raichlen (author of The Barbeque Bible) to create its signature Star Grill.
Windstar also offers great value. Every week, as part of it’s 7-for-7 program, it offers discounted rates on 7 new itineraries. Windstar is also very friendly to solo travelers, with single supplements as low as 0% on many itineraries.
SeaDreams Yaht Club
SeaDreams Yacht Club was one of the first small ship cruise lines to promote the idea of the yachting experience. It offers an experience that is casual, modernized and personalized luxury. Its fleet consists of twin mega-yachts, the SeaDream I & II. Each ship can accommodate a maximum of 112 guests, who are tended to by 95 crew members, providing an almost 1:1 crew-to-guest ratio.
SeaDreams is known for offering its Signature SeaDream experience with gourmet 5-star dining. It offers a very all-inclusive experience, including an open bar and included gratuities. SeaDreams frequently utilizes its marina, allowing guests to enjoy the personal sailboats, Hobie Cat™ catamarans, kayaks, banana boat tubes, wakeboards, waterskies, snorkeling gear, floating islands & trampoline, stand-up paddleboards and Wave Runners/Jet Skis. Shoreside, it offers complimentary crew-led activities including hikes and walking tours, shopping with the Chef, mountain bike rides for private exploration and much more. During Caribbean voyages, it offers its SeaDream’s Signature Champagne & Caviar Splash™ at a special beach party and barbeque.
Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection
One of the newest entrants to the small ship segment, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection (RCYC) is the first luxury cruise line to be launched by an established luxury hotel/resort brand. RCYC is positioned to bring the luxury experience of Ritz-Carlton to the seas. Its ships are designed to provide a yachting experience that is both upscale and relaxed, aligning with the overall Ritz-Carlton brand and experience.
RCYC launched its first ship, Evrima (which means “Discovery” in Greek) in 2022, with plans for at least two more yachts in the near future. Evrima carries a maximum of 298 guests, resulting in a space to guest ratio that exceeds that of current luxury cruise ships. But her smaller size doesn’t detract from the service and experience on board. She boasts an almost 1:1 crew-to-guest ratio and offers 7 dining options.
Life on board will feel very comfortable to guests of Ritz-Carlton and other luxury hotel brands. RCYC brings the exemplary service Ritz-Carlton is known for to their ships. It is very focused on the first-time cruiser and helping guests of land-based resorts add cruising to their travel repertoire. But it will also feel comfortable to seasoned cruisers, especially those who like a casual small ship experience.
Owner, Barclay & Company Travel
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