Top ten cruises
OUR SMALL SHIP CRUISE HOLIDAY HIGHLIGHTS
The boat is one of the oldest forms of transport known to man. And shipping charts are some of the oldest maps around too. So, when you start to explore the world from a nautical perspective, you are seeking out parts of the planet that feel as if they have been unchanged by time: uninhabited islands, beaches with seal colonies, nest covered cliff faces, ice floes carrying polar bears as well as underwater realms where corals thrive and cetaceans thrill. And in charge of it all, is the skipper – the steward of all this knowledge who, on a small ship cruise, will take you to places so far off the tourist map, they sound like they are out of ancient books, such as the Kyles of Bute in Scotland, Kamchatka in Russia or Scoresbysund in Greenland. Which are just a few of our top ten cruises.
Click on the blue dots on the map to see our top ten cruises.
We don’t think that bigger is better in Antarctica. Larger boats (over 100 passengers) may reduce seasickness, but a smaller vessel gives a more personalised service, the chance of one-on-one time with the scientists and lecturers, and access to shallower harbours. Additionally, only 100 people may step ashore at a time, so passengers on bigger ships must take it in turns to see the penguins, whales, seals and albatross.
Scattered off the southern Burmese coast, far from the beaten track, the 800 islands of the Mergui – also known as the Myeik – Archipelago offer a glimpse of Southeast Asia's beaches long before the tourists and resorts arrived. Take a multi-day cruise to discover traditional cultures – including the boat-dwelling Moken sea gypsies - as well as untouched beaches, pristine forest and fantastic snorkelling above thriving reefs.
Going on a small ship cruise really is the way to go, especially as some islands only allow the small ones to berth. Boats where the emphasis is on wildlife not social life and where, with fewer people on board, you won’t have to queue endlessly to embark/disembark. Giving you more time to enjoy watching boobies on San Cristóbal Genovesa, iguanas and albatross on Española or snorkel with sea lions and penguins off Floreana.
You’ll feel like you are on a veritable odyssey, sailing around the likes of the Cyclades or the Dodecanese, with islands that are so crammed with cultural heritage, UNESCO Heritage sites become almost a banality. With small numbers of passengers, a skipper and a cook to deal with the fundamentals, you can focus on the frolics of swimming in turquoise waters, scuba diving, dolphin- spotting and collapsing on remote island beaches.
Any trip to Greenland is a voyage of discovery. Whether you are sailing past glaciers in Disko Bay, with its "the land of a thousand islands" archipelago, where whales and icebergs astound and delight, or taking a small cruise boat to Scoresbysund, the world’s largest fjord complex – Greenland is way out there. Sail here in September, to catch the Northern Lights in the most sublime noise- and light-free environment.
This is a place where you need to ditch any preconceptions you may have about “cruising”; an expedition cruise in Kamchatka is no floating Las Vegas. Black tie is replaced with all-weather gear, the on board entertainment involves ecology talks and photography tips, and strict itineraries are chucked out the porthole. Cruising in Kamchatka is an exciting journey into an untamed wilderness, all on nature’s terms.
Unlike the huge liners that make Malé, the capital of the Maldives, look more like a floating caravan park than island idyll, a sailing trip around the lesser known atolls, such as Felidhoo or Meemu, and their turquoise waters, is the way to go. Visit small fishing villages, immerse yourself in traditional Maldavian lifestyles, swim off uninhabited islands, fish for dinner, and sail on a traditional fishing boat known as a “Dhoni”.
What’s full of finesse, funky and, compared with the big fat cruisers, so not flash? It’s a felucca, the traditional sailing boat used on the Nile for centuries, and nowadays for the pleasure of tourists. Very popular with families, sail down the Nile with stops to go wadi hiking, visit temples, eat in small villages and then you escape the madding crowds back on board.
Thankfully, it’s not all giant fjord cruises here. Sailing on board a traditional schooner through a seascape where whales breach alongside and skuas wheel your masts is definitely living. As is exploring Svalbard on a small cruise ship as you search for polar bears. And wave bye bye to the luxury liners as you take on 350km of this coast, from the alpine peaks of Lyngen to the plateaux of Finnmark, on board a converted fishing vessel.
Scotland’s islands are small cruise nirvana. With nearly 800 you won’t see them all, but you can make a good start. Try visiting the likes of Skye or Mull on a traditional wooden boat or take a small cruise boat through the Hebrides to catch sight of a Celtic cacophony of sea creatures, such as whales, dolphins and birdlife galore. You can even cruise through the Highlands too, along the Caledonian Canal from Oban to Inverness.
Svalbard & Spitsbergen
The Svalbard archipelago is the gateway for Arctic small ship cruises. Spitsbergen is the main island for people, the rest being ‘bearly’ inhabited. You can explore this magical place on a traditional schooner sailing boat, an expedition boat or a modern small cruise ship with lecture facilities, zodiac outings but all with wildlife viewing facilities. Welcome to the world of polar bears, walruses, sea lions, reindeer and Arctic fox.
Gulet cruising in Turkey
Voyages on gulets – traditional sailing boats based on former sponge-diving vessels – are traditionally called 'Blue Cruises' (mavi yolculuk), referring to the sea and sky that envelop guests along the Turquoise Coast from traditional start point Fethiye. Drop into secluded coves, idyllic island anchorages, ancient sites and beguiling fishing hamlets, with exciting inland excursions thrown in.
Where to go on a small ship cruise
RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL'S SUPPLIERS RECOMMEND
Lara Paxton at our supplier, The Small Ship Cruise Collection is a great source of information on where to go on a small ship cruise vacation:
“Spitzbergen was the first small ship cruise that I ever did. It’s always amazing. The wildlife is just wonderful, and you learn so much too, so you come back feeling really knowledgeable about the area. The Galapagos are very special too, especially now that they have that restriction that you can only have a hundred passengers on board. That really helps. Antarctica has a bit of a ‘reputation’ for being special now, and some people go just because their neighbours have gone and it is just ticking it off a list. But should be so much more than that, because it is one of the last places left that is a real expedition”.
Cassia Jackson, from our supplier Heritage Expeditions:
“Russia's Wrangel Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to a large polar bear population, as well as Pacific walruses, Arctic foxes, snowy owls, snow geese, musk ox, reindeer and more. It is also believed to be the last home of the woolly mammoth. Mammoth tusks and bones are regularly unearthed in the riverbeds and interior of the island”.
Colette Dubois, co-founder of our supplier, St. Hilda Sea Adventures:
“It is hard to choose one special place on our cruise, because in fact what makes us go north or south, west or east, is the weather. But one place where we always go once, and where I love to be, is the Kyles of Bute. It is a lovely anchorage near a small group of islands called Burnt Islands – you have the Isle of Bute on one side and the mainland on the other side and then all these beautiful islands in the middle. These islands are home to bird and seal colonies and no one is allowed to land on them, so it is magic. There are so many birds, and when you anchor, they come towards us, you feel as if you are just among the birds.“
[Top box - Kamchatka: Eric Pheterson
[Galapagos: Tribes Fair Trade Travel]
[Svalbard & Spitsbergen: Aqua-Firma]
[Kamchatka: Heritage Expeditions>]
[Greece: Intrepid Travel]
[Antarctica: Chimu Adventures]
[Scotland: The Majestic Line]
[Burma: Regent Vacations]
[Nile, Egypt: Sam valadi
[Greenland: Greenland Travel
[Lara Paxton quote: topol6
[Colette Dubois quote: easylocum