While the highlight is cruising on the legendary Mekong River, this Laos and Thailand journey also immerses guests in ancient Buddhist temples and the World Heritage Site city of Luang Prabang.
Small Ship Cruises
The allure of small-ship cruises is the flexibility and ease with which we are able to navigate some of the most fascinating destinations on Earth, including remote islands and narrow fjords inaccessible by larger ship. To this end, we have chartered select vessels from the best fleets in the world for our small-ship voyages—using the highest standards and providing you with the very best experience. All of the vessels we charter for small ship cruises offer lovely ocean-view staterooms and have access to myriad amenities, including a dining room, library, lounge, observation area, fleet of Zodiacs for excursions ashore, and more.
Upcoming Small-Ship Cruises
Along the Mekong: China, Thailand & LaosOctober 23 — November 9, 2020
Tracing the West Coast of AfricaFebruary 8 — February 24, 2021
We are thrilled to return to Western Africa on a new and improved itinerary that highlights the very best of this dynamic region. Visit an amazing nine countries and discover the intriguing cultural heritage, storied history, and numerous natural wonders of these lesser-visited African nations.
Mediterranean Mosaic: Italy, Corsica, Tunisia, Algeria & MoroccoApril 19 — May 3, 2021
Exquisite Greek and Roman cities once created a mosaic of flourishing cultural centers around the Mediterranean Sea. Today they stand in silent testimony to that epoch as magnificent ruins far better preserved, far more impressive, and far less crowed than most of the archaeological sites of mainland Europe.
Ultimate Maldives: A Snorkeling & Diving AdventureApril 22 — May 5, 2021
Cruise through the lesser-visited southern Maldives aboard the luxurious 26-guest diving live-aboard, Emperor Serenity. With two snorkel or dive options daily, you’ll search for whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and dolphins among the stunning underwater topography.
Australia's Kimberley: A Voyage to the OutbackMay 4 — May 18, 2021
Your adventures in the remote and captivating Kimberley region of Western Australia are highlighted by unusual wildlife in Prince Regent Nature Reserve, the beauty of the Buccaneer Archipelago, and sublime desert-scapes.
Wild IrelandMay 29 — June 7, 2021
Discover Ireland’s ancient wonders, sublime landscapes, unique geology, prolific birdlife, and charming villages as you journey along the island’s scenic west coast. This voyage may be combined with Wild Scotland for a comprehensive view of the region.
Wild Ireland & Scotland COMBO VoyageMay 29 — June 12, 2021
Discover ancient wonders, sublime landscapes, unique geology, prolific birdlife, and charming villages as you journey to Ireland and Scotland. Witness some of Europe's largest seabird colonies—puffins, gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes, and more, with visits to Giant’s Causeway, Neolith
Wild ScotlandJune 4 — June 12, 2021
History comes to life as you view important Neolithic monuments—the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, and Skara Brae—and other architectural wonders, from Mousa’s Iron Age broch and 12th-century Iona Abbey to the magnificent St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall.
Circumnavigation of the Black SeaJuly 18 — July 31, 2021
Centuries of history and splendid architecture come to life as you discover the countries surrounding the Black Sea—Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. Join our experts to explore busy bazaars, archeological treasures, and stunning landscapes.
Crossroads of Empires: Cyprus, Israel, Egypt & JordanOctober 22 — November 4, 2021
The art, architecture, and archaeological wonders of the eastern Mediterranean are legacies of the world’s most celebrated empires. Over the millennia, a succession of cultures traded, conquered, and settled in these fabled lands, and we follow in their wake, piecing together the pages of the defining chapters of ancient civilization.
Total Solar Eclipse: Antarctica & South GeorgiaNovember 25 — December 13, 2021
Get ready for the wonder of a Total Solar Eclipse at the bottom of the world! You'll also set foot on the Antarctic continent, cruise by Zodiac to search for abundant wildlife, photograph amazing polar scenery, and mingle with the vast penguins colonies of South Georgia Island.
Recently refurbished, the all-suite Caledonian Sky welcomes 100 guests at a time to her beautifully designed public spaces, vast outdoor decks, alfresco dining, and Zodiac excursions.
The perfect size for immersive regional exploration, the 65-guest Coral Discoverer caters to the adventurous spirit with a fleet of Zodiacs—and to the sybaritic spirit with Australian and New Zealand wines, two large-screen TVs, and all ocean-view staterooms.
Coral Expeditions II
Purpose-built for cruising the Great Barrier reef the 42-guest Coral Expeditions II is the ideal size to access the very best dive and snorkel sites in the region. Refurbished in 2015, public spaces include a spacious lounge, small library, single-seating dining room, and a large sun deck.
The Emperor Serenity was built in 2016 and offers 4 decks of guest facilities. All staterooms have two lower beds—one double and one twin—as well as individual air-conditioning controls. Public spaces include a spa, sun deck, restaurant & bar.
As a modern and custom-designed ship, the 130-guest Greg Mortimer is at the cutting edge of nautical technology. Robust, powerful and built with guests in mind, the Greg Mortimer is built to world-class polar standards.
The recently enhanced Island Sky is the best of both worlds for an expedition ship—spacious, yet intimate, with an elegant piano bar, well-stocked library, alfresco dining on the rear sun deck, and a fleet of Zodiacs for excursions ashore.
Le BellotLe Bellot was launched in 2020. It features innovative and environment-friendly equipment, elegantly designed suites, and lounge areas that open onto the outside.
Le BougainvilleLe Bougainville was launched in 2019 and features innovative and environment-friendly equipment, elegantly designed suites, and lounge areas that open onto the outside.
Le Champlain was built in 2018 and features innovative and environment-friendly equipment, elegantly designed cabins, spacious suites with large windows, and lounge areas that open onto the outside.
Le Dumont d'UrvilleLe Dumont d'Urville was launched in 2019. It features innovative and environment-friendly equipment, elegantly designed suites, and lounge areas that open onto the outside.
Outfitted with stabilizers and an ice-hardened hull, the Ocean Adventurer promises a smooth ride in the world’s most adventurous seas—hallmarks include a first-rate satellite navigation and communication system, a fleet of Zodiacs, all ocean-view staterooms, a small gym, a dining room, and more.
The Sabaidee Pandaw was built in 2018. Staterooms are quaint and feature large French windows and individual air conditioning controls. Public spaces include a small library, covered observation deck, restaurant and bar.
Launched in 2019, this purpose-built expedition vessel boasts a 1B ice class, environmentally sustainable hybrid technology, and state-of-the-art Rolls-Royce engines and generators for reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. All ocean-view suites feature either a Juliet or a walk-out balcony, while public spaces include a spacious observation deck, a large lounge with panoramic skyline views, an intimate library, and a dedicated lecture theater. Health and wellness facilities feature an outdoor running track, small gym and spa, plus a heated outdoor swimming pool.
The World's Best Small-Ship Cruises
The cruise industry tends to favor a “bigger is better” approach, with behemoth 5,000 to 6,000-guest ships becoming the new norm. But small-ship cruises offer a very different sort of experience; the best small-ship cruises carry less than 300 guests, allowing for better interaction with the crew (and fellow guests), and provide exclusive experiences that larger ships don’t have access to. From cruising the Amazon and Nile Rivers to ocean voyages in the Antarctic, Galápagos, and Polynesia, here are our picks for 10 of the world’s best small-ship cruises:
There’s a very good reason a voyage to Antarctica ranks high atop most nature-lovers’ bucket lists; actually, there are a LOT of very good reasons. Antarctica is the planet’s coldest, driest, and windiest continent. It is largely untouched by humans and perpetually covered in ice. This leads to seriously stunning scenery, from icebergs that tower like skyscrapers to epic mountains reflected in the still waters. The Antarctic Peninsula is also one of the world’s best small-ship cruises for watching wildlife, from orca and humpback whales in the water to four different species of penguins and countless seals on shore. As if that’s not enough, there are also historic sites and scientific research stations to explore on small ship cruises, with around 20 hours of summer daylight from December through February.
President Obama loosened the decades-long restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba several years ago, causing a dramatic surge of interest in traveling to the Caribbean island. With President Trump threatening to reverse improved US diplomatic relations, there’s never been a better time to explore Cuba’s impressively pristine natural wonders and rich local culture. A circumnavigation of Cuba via small ship offers unique opportunities to explore parts of the country most Havana visitors never get to see. In addition to the culture of the capital city, the Caribbean’s largest island offers majestic mountains, verdant valleys, and rich Colonial history. There’s also a diverse array of wildlife in national parks and nature reserves that remain far off the beaten path of mass tourism.
If you’re interested in ancient history, archaeology, and rich indigenous culture, exploring Egypt’s pyramids, temples, and colorful bazaars is probably a bucket list item. Small-ship cruises down the Nile River and/or Lake Nasser offer an excellent alternative to overland adventures, allowing travelers to hit highlights such as the Great Pyramids of Giza, Luxor Temple, the Temple of Isis at Philae (accessible only by boat), and the massive rock temples of Abu Simbel along the way. If you get a chance, don’t miss an opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, which is home to at least 63 tombs and chambers that served as the final resting place for Pharaohs and nobles buried during the 16th to 11th centuries BC.
The Galápagos Islands
With 18 major islands (most uninhabited) and three smaller islets spread across 3,040 square miles, a small-ship cruise is the only way to truly explore the Galápagos Islands(link sends e-mail). The incredible array of flora and fauna you’ll find in Darwin’s paradise is wildly different from island to island. As documented in The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin found that animals adapted genetically to a given island’s unique ecosystem. Thanks to its remote location and UNESCO/National Park protection, the wildlife of the Galápagos is plentiful. Endemic species such as flightless cormorants, Galápagos penguins, Galápagos sea lions, giant tortoises, and marine iguanas are mostly unafraid of humans. And the diving off the coast is an undeniably spectacular addition to any small ship cruises.
The Great Barrier Reef
In 2016, hyperbolic headlines proclaiming the Great Barrier Reef dead made international news after Outside published a cheeky piece by environmental writer Rowan Jacobsen. While the reef did suffer massive coral bleaching due to warming caused by climate change, most of that damage happened in a relatively small area of the Great Barrier Reef. Which means that there are still some 100,000 square miles of healthy reef that are home to an incredible array of marine species. Zegrahm’s new Best of the Great Barrier Reef expedition, led by marine biologist Brad Climpson, offers an exceptional opportunity to explore the world’s largest reef system. Small ship cruises include daily snorkeling and diving excursions to the most pristine reefs, birdwatching, Australian Aboriginal art, and guest lectures.
The Greek Islands
From the majestic mountains of Meteora to the ancient architecture of Athens, mainland Greece has plenty to offer travelers with an interest in nature, culture, and history. But for a true taste of Greek tradition, it’s hard to beat small-ship cruises through the countless Greek islands(link sends e-mail) (estimated range from 1,200 to 6,000). The Saronic Islands are tiny (7.4 to 59 square miles) and quaint: Many mainland residents have vacation homes there, so it’s a great place to catch locals in a celebratory mood. The Cyclades, with around 220 islands, is the densest and most popular grouping in the Aegean archipelago thanks to Delos, Mykonos, and Santorini. For ancient history, the small ship cruises to visit the Dodecanese Islands (especially Rhodes) and Crete are hard to beat.
When Americans think of the Caribbean, they tend to think of hotspots such as the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, and Jamaica. But the islands of the Lesser Antilles (which form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean) are generally less over-developed and more pristine than those crowded mass tourism destinations. Zegrahm’s 12-day Hidden Gems of the Caribbean expedition is a great way to explore these lesser-known islands. Departing from Martinique, the 56-guest cruise visits idyllic islands including Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and many more. Activities range from birdwatching and snorkeling or scuba diving to expert onboard lectures about the islands’ fascinating history.
Spread across the western Pacific northeast of Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia is comprised of more than 600 islands. The country is made up of four island states—Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk, and Yap—and is known for its palm-shaded beaches, ancient ruins, and thriving indigenous cultures. It’s also a world class scuba diving destination, which travelers can explore on Zegrahm’s 18-day Best of Micronesia expedition. The trip offers daily opportunities to snorkel or dive the region’s famously pristine coral reefs, which are home to around 1,300 species of fish. Our small ship cruises also visit Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon, which is renowned for its “ghost fleet” of over 50 coral-encrusted ships that were sunk during World War II.
Brazil boasts a whopping 60% of the Amazon rainforest’s total area of 2,100,000 square miles. Unfortunately, that country’s unsustainable exploitation of its natural resources has damaged this once-pristine ecosystem, perhaps irreparably. For a better taste of the Amazon rainforest’s world-famous biodiversity, head to Iquitos, Peru. There, you can board a luxury Amazon voyage that will take you 600 miles along the mighty river and its various tributaries. There are no words that can aptly describe the feeling of seeing countless howler monkeys, iguanas, pink river dolphins, tropical bird species, and occasional big cats (jaguars, ocelots, etc.) as you glide through the forest. Spending time with the welcoming Ribereños who live there is a memory you’ll treasure forever from these small ship cruises.
There are so many beautiful Polynesian Islands, it would be impossible to pick just one favorite. But with less than 2,000 miles separating tropical hotspots such as Tahiti and Fiji, a small-ship cruise offers the perfect way to explore numerous gorgeous getaways in just a few weeks. From soaking in the stunning views of Bora Bora and birdwatching in the Cook Islands, to scuba diving in the Marquesas Islands and immersing yourself in the traditional culture of Tonga (the last remaining Polynesia monarchy), these islands offer an incredible array of exciting ecotourism activities.
Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel(link sends e-mail) and Green Travel Media.