Top 5 cruises from the UK
Our best small ship cruises in the UK depart from Scotland’s west coast – but don’t think that means they’re all the same. Like the tartans you’ll see furnishing beds, chairs, menus and outfits, each small ship and sailing itinerary is distinct, and comes with its own rich story to tell. Read on to discover our top five cruises from the UK.
1. Wildlife cruises, Hebrides
Keep a weather eye out for dolphins, minke whales and orca as you sail the sounds around Mull, or head out to the base of St Kilda’s towering sea cliffs to experience the commotion of some of Europe’s most important seabird colonies. Wildlife cruises in the UK get you up close to some of our rarest creatures on itineraries dictated by the tides.
2. Island-hopping cruises, West HighlandsScotland’s west coast is littered with islands, be they tiny rocky outcrops populated by puffins or larger archipelagos offering safe harbours crowned by rows of pastel-coloured houses. The best small ship cruises in the UK float between fishing villages and hideaway bays – hopping between islands in search of wildlife, whisky and warm Highland welcomes.
Our top trip: Hebrides cruise – the Sounds of Mull, Luing, Jura and Shuna
See all our trips: Scotland small ship cruising vacations
Read more: Small ship cruising in Scotland travel guide
3. Art & photography cruises
Turn your cruise into a week-long creative workshop in the company of an expert on-board tutor. Art and photography cruises in the UK make the most of the clear Hebridean light as it weaves its magic across moody skylines and illuminates the purple haze of heather-draped mountains. Both beginners and more experienced artists are welcome.
4. Family cruisesReignite family time on a cruise where the on-board entertainment programme is more wildlife than wild. Our top UK family cruises offer adventure in spades – you might be beachcombing with the kids on impossibly soft Hebridean sand, taking off socks to tickle toes in rockpools or watching dolphins play in your wake. Older kids can help sail or catch their own dinner off the deck of the boat.
Our top trip: Scotland family cruise
See all our trips: Scotland family vacations
Read more: Traveling in Scotland with kids travel guide
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5. Cruises that care
Sailing small ships. Staff trained to watch wildlife without disturbing them. Boats that have adopted basking sharks to fund research. Dinners that only feature local produce. These are just a few of the ways that our best UK cruises ensure local communities – and the wildlife you’ll see along with way – benefit from your vacation.
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They take you to another world. To little bits of littoral loveliness you hardly knew existed. Places with names like the Mergui Archipelago, the Kyles of Bute, Wrangel Island or an island called Wolf. They take you on vessels that are the beloved babies of craftsmen and women. They take you to see whales and turtles and sea lions. They combine life on land and on sea.
Small ship cruising vacations do come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, although never enter that super size, floating hotel territory, thankfully.
When working out not only where to go but also when to go to your chosen cruise destinations, it can be tricky.
What is a small ship, anyway? It might be a family-sized yacht, a white-sailed schooner designed to tuck into orca-frequented fjords, or a 200-passenger icebreaker that delves into the frozen Arctic.
From weather, time at sea and your wildlife wish list, to low carbon credentials and accessibility – there are a boatload of considerations when choosing a small ship vacation.
There are so many small cruise destinations, especially given the fact that they are small boats and so they can navigate waterways that those infamous big bruisers can’t access.
These small ship cruise activities are far from the world of quoits and bad lounge singers.
Some of the most mysterious and characterful creatures on the planet can only be reached on a small ship wildlife cruise.
You don’t have to be a Jack Aubrey (or Sparrow, depending on your yen) to go on a small ship sailing cruise.
Whether you’re gliding down the Nile on a wheelchair accessible felucca, chugging along on a rescued groundnut boat in the Gambia, or exploring the lesser spotted backwaters of Kerala – river cruise vacations reveal rivers that are cultural and spiritual monoliths.
Go to southern Spain and you can see 700 years of Moorish influence, go to Morocco and see millennia of it.
Who says cruises aren’t for kids? Some of the smallest Caribbean-bound yachts can be fitted with toddler-proof safety nets, while Antarctic icebreakers come with quad rooms.
The specialist tour operators we work with know that solo travel is rapidly gaining traction.
Our experts in small ship cruises have given us some top cruise tips.
Giant cruise ships have come in for a lot of bad press, and at Responsible Travel we believe that they really are cruising for a bruising.
Find all our small ship cruising guides in one place from Alaska and the Maldives to Scotland, Arctic cruising and many more.