The 10 Best Intimate-ship Ocean Cruise Lines

A new category for Travel + Leisure's World’s Best Awards — the best intimate-ship ocean cruise lines — recognizes the smallest ships sailing the great blue sea.

Quasar Expeditions Grace cruise ship
Photo: Courtesy of Quasar Expeditions

A new classification designed to honor the smallest oceangoing vessels, the best intimate-ship ocean cruise lines category recognizes ships with fewer than 150 cabins. More nimble than their larger counterparts, these petite ships often take travelers to farther-flung and less-frequented ports, from tropical destinations to both poles.

Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated individual cruise ships on their cabins and facilities, food, service, itineraries and destinations, excursions and activities, and value. Those assessments were combined to generate results for the cruise lines in six categories, including river cruising.

Coming in second is Overseas Adventure Travel, which operates in destinations such as Patagonia and the Chilean fjords, Antarctica, the Arctic, the Red Sea, and the coast of Italy. "Outstanding crew and great tour leaders," wrote one voter. In third place: the eight-ship Greek-owned line Variety Cruises, which another reader lauded for its "relaxed, very friendly manner."

French line Ponant, with a fleet that includes the eco-friendly polar expedition ship Le Commandant Charcot, ranked No. 4. "Staff and activities were amazing," wrote one voter who sailed on L'Austral. "The expedition crew hired for Antarctica was unreal!" SeaDream Yacht Club, with its impeccable vessels and amiable hospitality, fills out the top five. "The service is beyond compare," enthused a reader. "SeaDream makes you feel like a friend coming back on the boat."

Below, find the full list of the best intimate-ship ocean cruise lines — and more on what sets this year's winner, Quasar, apart.

1. Quasar Expeditions

A lounge space on board a Quasar Expeditions cruise ship
Courtesy of Quasar Expeditions

"This is one of the most romantic ships in the Galápagos and by far the classiest and most iconic," wrote one T+L reader who sailed on the historic yacht Grace, which Grace Kelly received as a wedding gift from Aristotle Onassis when she wed Prince Rainier III in 1956. The two-ship line's Evolution also earned considerable praise. "I highly recommend this company to anyone looking to visit Ecuador and the Galápagos," said another reader who had sailed on the 32-passenger ship.

Score: 98.69

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2. Overseas Adventure Travel

An Overseas Adventure Travel cruise ship near port
Courtesy of Overseas Adventure Travel

Score: 97.17

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3. Variety Cruises

A Variety Cruises ship on the water
Courtesy of Variety Cruises

Score: 94.16

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4. Ponant

The pool on board the Ponant Charcot cruise ship
Gilles Trillard/Courtesy of Ponant

Score: 93.59


5. SeaDream Yacht Club

A pool on board a SeaDream Yacht Club cruise ship
Courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club

Score: 92.55

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6. Windstar Cruises

A Windstar cruise ship at full sail
Courtesy of Windstar Cruises

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 91.83

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7. Celebrity Cruises

A sun deck on board the Celebrity Flora cruise ship
Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 91.52

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8. Silversea

The Royal Suite on board the Silversea Silver Origin cruise ship
Courtesy of Silversea

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 90.89

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9. Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad Expeditions National Geographic Explorer cruise ship
Michael S. Nolan/Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

Score: 88.96

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10. Alaskan Dream Cruises

Exterior of the Alaskan Dream cruise ship Kruzof Explorer
Courtesy of Alaskan Dream Cruises

Score: 82.97

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