The Top Small-ship Ocean Cruise Lines in 2017

Crystal ESpirit Cruise
Photo: Ian Schemper/Courtesy of Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

There are two schools of thought when it comes to cruising. Some see the ship as the ultimate destination, a floating city filled with over-the-top amenities like specialty restaurants, casinos, waterslides, pools, and more. Others, however, see the destination as the star attraction, and might choose a smaller vessel that can bring them to lesser-known or hard-to-reach ports. If they have to sacrifice some bells and whistles, so be it. That’s not to say that travelers are sacrificing luxury and comfort. This year’s winner in the Small-Ship Ocean Cruise Line category was Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises, thanks to its stellar 62-passenger Crystal Esprit. The kitted-out yacht currently sails in the Mediterranean, but as of this fall, it will make its permanent home in the Caribbean. Features of the Esprit include 31 modern suites with a sophisticated gray, black, and white palette and leather tufted headboards. Off the back of the ship, there’s even a dock where guests can head out on kayaks, Jet Skis, and a three-person submersible (how’s that for an Instagram moment?). “This is a fantastic concept,” said reader Curtis Hansen. “Just the right size with ample space to develop meaningful friendships with fellow guests or quiet time alone with your partner.” 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. Other winners in this category sail to some of the globe’s most exotic locations. Australis cruise line, which has a single vessel, the 210-passenger Stella Australis, specializes in expedition cruises in southern Patagonia. Lindblad Expeditions, which placed fourth, is the cruise company that pioneered the expedition trend when it began sailing to Antarctica back in the 1960s. And first-time winner Ecoventura, which placed second, focuses on the wonders of the Galápagos Islands. The family-owned company has three expedition yachts in the region, including the one year-old Origin. “The naturalists on board were knowledgeable, entertaining, and fun. How can you beat snorkeling with sea lions that would swim all around you, with colorful sea plants and corals and rays of light illuminating everything from above all at the same time. You can’t.”

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5. SeaDream Yacht Club

Seadream Yacht Club Transatlantic
Courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club

Score: 91.94

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4. Lindblad Expeditions

National Geographic Endeavour II
David Vargas/Courtesy of Linblad Expeditions

Score: 94.12

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3. Australis

Stella Australis
Courtesy of Australis

Score: 95.44

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2. Ecoventura

Ecoventura Small Ship
Christian Bruckmann/Courtesy of Ecoventura

Score: 97.26

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1. Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Crystal ESpirit Cruise
Ian Schemper/Courtesy of Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Score: 98.17

“Small, intimate, elegant, with amazing service.” Many of our readers said this is what stood out the most for them when sailing on the 62-passenger Crystal Esprit, the ship that propelled Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises to the top of the 2017 World’s Best list. The yacht, which sails in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Seychelles, has cool toys including a helicopter, Jet Skis, and a three-person submersible; plenty of space for lounging outdoors, including the top Sunset Deck; and two elegant restaurants. One thing it doesn’t have: a lot of nightlife. But that’s the point. “Not much entertainment, but that’s not needed, though,” said one reader. “Very exclusive, food is insane!”

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