If you've ever been on St. Thomas or in Piraeus on a day when a half-dozen cruise liners are moored at the docks, you already know the central advantage of a smaller vessel: access to uncrowded ports. You also won't have to fight for a spa reservation or bribe the first mate to tour the bridge. The following 12 small ships will transport you to unspoiled shores, from volcanic islands in the Galápagos to the Mediterranean's Turquoise Coast.
Juneau to Petersburg
American Safari Cruises' Safari Spirit
The Route This itinerary makes its debut in May, cruising through quiet Auke Bay,
past LeConte Glacier (where hundreds of seal pups are born each year), to the fishing village
Highlight Passengers can ferry by sea kayak or tender into the Marble Grotto, a cave hidden at the end of a bay that American Safari won't even name, for fear that others will find its secret spot.
The Ship With only six staterooms, you won't have to line up for anything, whether it's a seat in the dining room or a spot on the couch in the "salon." All rooms have Jacuzzis as well as showers.
888/862-8881; www.amsafari.com; from $4,995 per person, double; seven-night cruise departs May 20, 2006.
SEATTLE TO JUNEAU
Lindblad Expeditions' Sea Lion
The Route From Seattle, the Sea Lion journeys to British Columbia's Cormorant
Island in Alert Bay. On the way, passengers explore some of the more remote San Juan Islands
by Zodiac, scanning the sky with binoculars for bald eagles.
Highlight Watching humpback whales feed right off the bow at Point Adolphus.
The Ship What's more important than the amenities on a 32-berth ship?The crew. The Sea Lion carries five naturalists, some of the most-credentialed experts on the Inside Passage. You won't find a spa or a pool, but you will find Zodiacs and sea kayaks.
800/397-3348; www.expeditions.com; from $5,390 per person, double; 11-night cruise departs May 1.
Cruise West's Spirit of Oceanus
The Route This new itinerary visits towns that were once home to Japan's samurai,
emperors, and lords. Guests who opt for the four-day extension will also stop in Kyoto and
Highlight Visting the 17th-century wooden castles of Matsue and Himeji.
The Ship The 60-cabin ship is in port most days. Five tour guides host cocktails and run sake lessons, tea ceremonies, and Japanese-beer tastings on board.
888/851-8133; www.cruisewest.com; from $5,349 per person, double; 12-night cruise departs March 8.
Southern Thailand and Malaysia
Star Clippers' Star Flyer
The Route This 85-berth vessel—one of the only ships touring southern Thailand—stops
at the quiet, white-sand beaches of Ko Adang (near the Malaysian border), Ko Lipe, and Ko
Highlight The Similan Islands, which have coral reefs and some of the best diving in Asia.
The Ship This sleek clipper evokes the Grand Age of sailing, with its piano bar and an Edwardian-style library. Onboard activities include relaxing in the hammock-like bowsprit net, climbing the masts, and admiring the scenery from the pool.
800/442-0551; starclippers.com; from $1,725 per person, double; seven-night cruise departs November 19.
British Virgin Islands to Lesser Antilles
Silversea Cruises' Silver Whisper
The Route Fort Lauderdale to Antigua may not sound exciting, but Silversea breaks
away from the pack, visiting the smaller islands of Virgin Gorda, Nevis, and Guadeloupe
along the way.
Highlight Noted archaeologist John C. Morris lectures on deep-sea shipwreck excavations.
The Ship The 382-passenger Silver Whisper is as luxurious as can be, with menus created by Relais & Châteaux chefs, cut crystal, and an impressive wine list. At sunrise, you can sip Bellinis (included in the room rate) as the ship draws near lush islands.
877/760-9052; www.silversea.com; from $3,217 per person, double; nine-night cruise departs January 27.
vieques, culebra, and st. john
Classic Cruises of Newport's Arabella
The Route Passengers on the Arabella get to hike through the tropical forests
of Vieques, plunge into the island's bioluminescent bays, near Esperanza, and snorkel
St. John's spectacular coral reefs.
Highlight Checking out the leatherback turtles, mangroves, and white-sand beaches of Culebra.
The Ship This 20-cabin, three-masted schooner has compact quarters, but you're not here to spend time in your stateroom. Instead, join the passengers at the honor bar on the polished-teak deck for cocktails and evening hors d'oeuvres.
800/395-1343; www.cruisearabella.com; from $2,195 per person, double; six-night cruises depart March 5 and April 23.