The Top 10 Small-ship Ocean Cruise Lines
There are many advantages to sailing on a large ship (hello, three-story slides and Broadway-style shows). But for some, the ship plays second fiddle to the destination: it’s truly just a vessel, albeit a very comfortable one, to get them to some of the most remote corners of the earth.
T+L readers are so passionate about expedition cruising — whereby passengers experience adventure-focused destinations such as the South Pacific, Antarctica, and the Galápagos — that they overwhelmingly voted many small-ship lines specializing in this style of travel as the World’s Best.
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 five categories; small-ship ocean cruise lines have vessels that can carry up to 249 passengers.
Related: The 2018 World's Best Awards
One thing is clear when it comes to UnCruise Adventures (No. 8). “It really is all about a rustic, active adventure trip — not your typical cruise experience,” said one reader of this line, which focuses on Hawaii, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. “The crew made it feel like my own yacht,” added another. “Want to follow whales? We’ll follow whales. Want to see sea turtles? We’ll stop at this incredible cove.”
Lindblad Expeditions (No. 5), the first cruise line ever to sail to Antarctica, now has company down there: Silversea (No. 9). Though their vessels may vary in style, both brands focus on bringing knowledgeable scientists on board to speak with guests and lead outings ashore on Zodiacs. “Antarctica was a real adventure with Silversea,” said one fan.
Indeed, visiting hard-to-access places is part and parcel with being on a small ship. Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises (No. 7) visits scenic, intimate ports, such as Split, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; and St. Bart’s, in the Caribbean. “Great service and team — small and personal,” praised one reader.
The No. 1 small-ship cruise company this year has just two vessels in its fleet — but they sail to a destination that many put at the top of their bucket list. Read on for more on this line, and the full list of the Top 10.
10. Celebrity Cruises
8. UnCruise Adventures
7. Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises
6. Windstar Cruises
5. Lindblad Expeditions
2. Grand Circle Cruise Line
1. Quasar Expeditions
This family-run line has two ships — the 32-passenger Evolution and the 18-passenger Grace. The Grace was a particular favorite of T+L readers, given its unique history: it was Princess Grace of Monaco’s honeymoon gift from Aristotle Onassis. Recently refurbished, it now sails in search of tortoises and sea lions in the Galápagos Islands. “Her history makes this the most interesting and exclusive ship to sail here,” said one reader. Not to forget the Evolution, which also travels to the islands. “The naturalist guides were fun and enthusiastic,” said one fan. “Recommend highly without reservation!”
See all of our readers' favorite hotels, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2018.