Top 10 cruise destinations

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 10 cruises.

1. Antarctica

We don’t think that bigger is better on Antarctica cruises. 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.

2. Burma

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.

3. Croatia

With over 1,000 islands off the coast of Croatia, it is not surprising that small ship cruises here are very popular. And indefatigably pretty. Let a local skipper navigate you through the Northern Islands such as Krk, or through the lesser visited Zadar archipelago. The Central Dalmatian archipelago with beauties like Brac and Hvar is one of the most popular. But wherever you go, the boats will hold a maximum of 40ish passengers.

4. Galapagos

A small ship cruise really is the way to go in the Galapagos, 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 and disembark. This gives 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.

5. Greece

You’ll feel like you are on a veritable odyssey on a Greek cruise, sailing around the Cyclades or the Dodecanese, with islands that are so crammed with cultural heritage, UNESCO 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.

6. Kamchatka

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.

7. Maldives

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 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.

8. Scotland

Scotland’s islands are small cruise nirvana. With nearly 800 you won’t see them all on a Scottish cruise, 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.

9. Svalbard

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.

10. Turkey

Voyages on gulets – traditional sailing boats based on former sponge-diving vessels – are known as 'Blue Cruises' (mavi yolculuk), referring to the sea and sky that envelop guests along the Turquoise Coast from start point Fethiye. Drop into secluded coves, idyllic island anchorages, ancient sites and beguiling fishing hamlets, with exciting inland excursions thrown in.

Travel Team
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Where to go on a small ship cruise

Cassia Jackson, from our friends at Heritage Expeditions, says:
“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 Scottish cruise specialists St. Hilda Sea Adventures, says:
“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.“
Lara Paxton at our partner The Small Ship Cruise Collection is a great source of information on where to go on a small ship cruise vacation: “Spitsbergen 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 it should be so much more than that, because it is one of the last places left that is a real expedition.”
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: The Small Cruise Ship Collection] [Antarctica: RV Navigator] [Burma: Bobomyeik] [Croatia: Bernd Thaller] [Galapagos: TR Davis] [Greece: Ben Ramirez] [Kamchatka: kuhnmi] [Maldives: Ahmed Mahin Fayaz] [Scotland: Kyle Taylor] [Svalbard & Spitsbergen: Christopher Michel] [Turkey: Turkey Vision] [Lara Paxton quote: topol6]