The pandemic has meant a huge swing to smaller vessels, with lines running ships with under 1,000 passengers seeing most of the benefit.
But it’s a category full of different offerings. Sometimes, cabins are bigger, corridors are wider and there are more dining choices.
It is mostly luxury cruise lines which offer the small ship cruising experience. These vessels have a guest capacity from 400 to 1200 guests. But will small ship sailing look any different when cruising resumes?
Here’s what the lines say:
“We are working closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with federal agencies here and abroad, to develop, implement and continually introduce industry-leading standards that will meet or exceed all requirements,” says a spokesperson for Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
“We are also working in partnership with Royal Caribbean to develop enhanced cruise health and safety standards in response to COVID-19. These protocols and standards will continue to evolve and we will have more details to share in the coming weeks and months.”
Seabourn is also still finalising the details in regards to future cruising, and is set to provide an official update in September.
But here’s what we currently know. Among the modest fleet of ships of each line, there are smaller and larger ships. The classic ships often carry less guests compared to their new flagships.
For example, Silversea’s Silver Wind has the smallest guest count of 274 guests. But their newest flagships Silver Muse and Spirit carry up to 600 guests. And on board, while the number of public areas is similar, they have doubled the number of dining areas available. The suites have also sized up.
For shore excursions, only Regent Seven Seas and Silversea have them as inclusions, although it can also be selected as a limited free perk with Oceania Cruises.
Due to the modest fleet size, while the lines sail worldwide you might also find a particular ship you like does not sail your preferred itinerary. However, these small ships are able to sail into small and exclusive ports and offer you a memorable holiday regardless.
We survey five lines: Seabourn, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea and Crystal Cruises and find out how their small ship cruising compare.
The line currently has five ships in their fleet. Their newer ships Ovation and Encore has 300 suites onboard, carrying around 600 passengers. The ships debuted in 2018 and 2017 respectively.
While their classic trio, Quest, Sojourn and Odyssey are more intimate with 229 suites for around 458 passengers. The Quest made its debut in 2011 and Odyssey in 2009.
Seabourn’s first luxury expedition ship Seabourn Venture is also scheduled to launch mid-2021 and it has 132 all veranda, all ocean-front suites for 264 passengers.
The suites on newer ships like Ovation and Encore are all veranda, with inside space ranging from 23 to 28 square metres. The veranda adds another six to seven square metres of lounging space.
Other suites onboard include the penthouse suite, penthouse spa suite (a new addition to their modern ships), owner’s suite and above.
Meanwhile their classic ships start with oceanview suite categories featuring a large picture window and 28 square metres of inside space. Other suites onboard include the veranda suite, penthouse suite, owner’s suite and above.
The fleet has plenty of all-inclusive spaces for you to explore and relax throughout the day. The usual staples are all available. Multiple restaurants for both casual and more formal dining, bars, the spa and a fitness centre. A dining highlight is The Grill by Thomas Keller, inspired by classic American restaurant from the 50’s and 60s.
However, there are slight differences between the newer and classic ships. The new ships offer a fresh dining experience called Earth and Ocean where each evening, their chefs serve an array of dishes from around the world in a relaxed setting under the stars. The ships also feature a new sanctuary on the deck called ‘The Retreat’.
The classic ships have other spaces like the card room and The Club which opens for afternoon tea then transform into a dance club with live music in the evening.
The line also present Seabourn Conversations program where guests can attend lectures and interact with experts from different fields like history, art, culinary and more.
Seabourn offers itineraries worldwide but if you’ve got your heart set on a ship, your itinerary narrows down for you. Newer ships like Encore sail around Australia and New Zealand while the Ovation sails Asia and the Mediterranean. Other ships like the Odyssey explores Alaska and more.
Seabourn plans an array of optional shore excursions at each port of call and they are available at additional cost. They categorise their excursions into seven ‘Collections’: cultural, adventure, mindful living, epicurean, essential, bespoke and journeys. The newest option is Ventures by Seabourn which offers expedition style excursions on select destinations.
Oceania Cruises has six ships in their fleet. Four of their ships Insignia, Nautica, Regatta and Sirena carry 684 passengers are 400 staff. Meanwhile the Marina and Riviera are larger ships with 1,250 guests and 800 staff onboard.
Most of their fleet have been recently refurbished as part of their OceaniaNEXT upgrading program.
The four sister-ships of the fleets offer 342 suites and staterooms onboard, nearly 70 per cent of which feature private verandas. They have three suite categories and six stateroom categories onboard, starting with the inside stateroom which offers 15 square metres of inside space. The most luxurious Owner’s Suite offers 93 square metres of space.
Meanwhile their larger ships have 625 suites and staterooms onboard, with four suite and stateroom categories each. The inside stateroom offers 16 square metres of space. However, the Owner’s Suite is a big jump compared to those in Oceania’s smaller ships. It offers more than 186 square metres in space, spanning the entire beam of the ship and they are also exclusively furnished with Ralph Lauren Home Collection.
The OceaniaNEXT program have brought new furnishings into from floor to ceiling to the suites and staterooms, including the bathrooms. The public spaces have been refreshed with a soft sea and sky palette of fabrics, designer furnishings and custom light fixtures.
Insignia, Nautica, Regatta and Sirena features four unique, open-seating restaurants to showcase ‘The Finest Cuisine at Sea’ which the line prides themselves on. Other amenities onboard include the Aquamar Spa + Vitality Center, eight lounges and bars with entertainment and shows, a casino, library, pool and sports deck and more.
The larger ships Marina and Riviera have similar features with two additional restaurants Jacques for French cuisine and Red Ginger for Asian cuisine.
Oceania Cruises offers itineraries worldwide. Larger ships like Marina visit the Baltic and the Mediterranean, while Riviera sails the Caribbean and Mediterranean.
The more intimate ships like Regatta sails around Australia and New Zealand while the Sirena sails Asia, Northern and Western Europe. Meanwhile, Nautica mostly sails Asia and the Middle East and ships like Insignia sails the yearly world cruise.
A wide variety of optional shore excursions are available at each port at additional cost. However, free shore excursions are one of the perks you can select as part of their OLife Choice package offered with their itineraries.
The foodie line offers many culinary discovery tours along with food & wine tours. But another highlight is their ‘go local’ tours which feature exclusive tours to interact with and experience the local community and the local way of life. The line also has a growing collection of wellness tours that are offered as an extension of their Aquamar Spa + Vitality Center. Think venturing to find mineral and mud baths or settle into meditation and yoga at a scenic spot.
Regent Seven Seas
Regent Seven Seas have five ships in their fleet, and they carry from 490 guests to 750 guests. The 750-guest ‘most luxurious ships ever built’ Explorer and Splendor has up to 552 crew and 375 suites onboard.
The Mariner and Voyager is just slightly smaller, carrying 700 guests in 350 suites and up to 447 crew. The most intimate ship in the fleet is the 490-guest Navigator which has 245 suites and staffed with 345 crew.
All the suites onboard the line’s larger ships are balcony suites. Meanwhile, onboard the Navigator, suite categories start from deluxe window suites. Their suites are furnished with neutral muted tones with plenty of luxury touches including the line’s Elite Slumber beds, marble bath accents, and roomy closets.
The Explorer and Splendor have 10 suite categories starting from the veranda suite which offer 28 square meters of space up to regent suite boasting a luxurious total of 412 square meters.
In comparison, the Mariner and Voyager only has up to eight suite categories. While they have similar suite categories, the Voyager offers suites from 33 to 130 square meters while Mariner offers suites from 28 to 186 square meters.
The Navigator offers seven suite categories from 28 to 109 square meters.
You can find six different dining experiences onboard, from main dining room Compass Rose, American steakhouse Prime 7, French cuisine Chartreuse, Italian cuisine Sette Mari and casual dining on the deck. Another highlight onboard for foodies is the culinary arts kitchen where guests can learn how to prepare certain dishes.
Otherwise, head to the theatre for shows, entertainment and lectures or seek out the lounges, cafes and bars onboard. The ship also has the Canyon Ranch spa, fitness center, library, casino and more.
The line has itineraries worldwide with their ‘most luxurious ships’ the Splendor sailing the Caribbean and Mediterranean while the Explorer sails Northern Europe and Asia.
The Mariner sails Australia, New Zealand as well as Alaska while the Voyager visits the Mediterranean, West Africa and the Caribbean.
The Navigator sails the South Pacific or Canada and New England.
The all-inclusive experience on Regent Seven Seas extends to shore excursions. The line offers a range of free unlimited shore excursions. Common excursions include local tours to see historic sites, farms as well as nature and wildlife.
The line also has a range of Regent Choice shore excursions available which feature many small group tours with no more than 16 guests. Other exclusive experiences include submarine adventures, culinary tours, a day of spa, golf and more.
Silversea currently has eight ships in their fleet, three expedition ships and five ocean cruises.
The line has just welcomed 100-guest Silver Origin which is built for Galapagos expeditions into its fleet. The other two expedition ships are 254-guest Silver Cloud which sails Antarctica and 144-guest Silver Explorer sails the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand.
For their ocean cruises, Silver Muse and Spirit are their newest flagship, each carrying around 600 guests and 411 crew. Meanwhile sister-ships Silver Shadow and Whisper carries 388 guests and 302 crew.
Finally, the line’s most intimate ocean cruise ship Silver Wind carries just 274 guests and 239 crew.
The suites are all updated with contemporary neutral tones, many of which has the look and feel of a modern apartment. Each of their ship has eight to nine suite categories, beginning with the vista suite with a large picture window to the Owner’s suite. The vista suite starts from just 22 square metres on board the intimate Silver Wind and goes up to 31 square metres on their largest ships. Meanwhile the most luxurious two-bedroom Owner’s suite ranges from 77 to 129 square metres depending on the ship.
The larger ships in the fleet offer similar public areas for guests to enjoy. This includes a variety of bars, lounges, café, entertainment theatre, spa, fitness centre, casino and more. A standout is the Connoisseur’s Corner, a dedicated space for cigar and liquor fans.
However, the line has doubled the number of dining experiences to eight on their newest flagships. Guests can enjoy a selection of outdoor and indoor dining options ranging from the main dining room, classic grill, Italian to Asian cuisine.
The line has itineraries worldwide with their flagships Silver Muse sailing Australia, New Zealand and Alaska while Silver Spirit sails Asia and the Mediterranean.
Silver Shadow sails the Caribbean and Mediterranean while the Silver Whisper embarks on a yearly world cruise. The intimate Silver Wind sails western Europe and the Baltic and will venture into the Antarctic in 2022 when her hull is strengthened to ice-class.
There is a selection of included shore excursions at every port. They include everything from guided city or nature walks, seeing local wildlife to visiting historic sites and local restaurants. There are also opportunities for adventures like helicopter flightseeing and 4WD tours.
Guests are also offered the option to arrange full or half-day private tours with private transport and guide at some ports.
Crystal Cruises has two ships in their ocean fleet, Crystal Serenity and Symphony. Crystal Symphony carries 848-guests with around 500 crew. While the 980-guest Crystal Serenity carries slightly more guests and has around 654 crew.
Crystal Cruises’ first expedition ship, 200-guest Crystal Endeavor is also scheduled to debut next. The ship will be all-suite, all-balcony.
Both ships have seven stateroom and suite categories available. The smallest category starts with the deluxe stateroom with picture window, offering around 19 square metres of space. The remaining categories all come with verandas. The largest and most opulent Crystal Penthouse offers up to 95 square meters in space.
Crystal Cruises’ ships offers an array of nine dining experiences for their guests on board. From the main dining room, churrascaria, sushi bar, al fresco Asian cuisine, the Trident Grill, Italian favourites at Prego, Parisian-inspired cafes and more. A sweet touch is a poolside ice cream bar Scoops and optional wine dinners are also available at The Vintage Room.
There are five main bars and lounges on board to explore throughout the day and for entertainment, there is one theatre for shows and entertainers and a movie theatre for the latest screenings. There is also a casino, nightclub, spa, fitness centre and more on board.
The line has itineraries worldwide with Crystal Serenity embarking on an annual world cruise. Crystal Symphony visits a smaller number of ports in comparison. The ship currently has itineraries to Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Mediterranean and Middle East.
The line does not sail Alaska and Central Europe.
All shore excursions are at additional cost on Crystal Cruises. The line offers around 2000 shore excursions worldwide and it includes everything from seeing local wildlife to visiting historic sites and local restaurants. Explore the city or nature with guided walks, with opportunities to swim and snorkel or go for adventures like speedboating and helicopter flightseeing.
One highlight is the line’s voluntourism adventure program which offers guests the chance to volunteer at places like animal shelters where they will help with cleaning and care for the animals at the shelter.
Ponant currently has 11 ships in their fleet designed for expedition cruises or yachting. The ships are divided into five categories: expedition ships, new generation ships, a luxury polar exploration vessel.
The fleet started with ‘Le Ponant’ the small but iconic 16 cabin yacht. The vessel was completely revamped in 2019 to keep up with the evolving face of luxury sailing.
The four sister expedition ships were launched between 2010 and 2015 and have 122-132 staterooms and suites each. The six new generation Ponant explorer ships were created in 2018 and have only 92 staterooms and suites each.
The luxury polar exploration vessel, Le Commandant-Charcot is the largest ship in the fleet and have been specially designed for navigating the waters they sail.
The accommodation varies across each individual ship but the luxe factor remains consistent.
On Le Ponant you can expect each of the 16 staterooms to be identical, spread over three decks, each with their own porthole.
Aboard both the expedition and new generation ships, space inside the rooms ranges between 18 to 45 square metres. Options range from the deluxe stateroom up through to the owner’s suite.
The luxury polar exploration vessel vary in size between 20 and 114 square metres and offer options of state rooms, suites and the owners suite.
The French ‘art of living’ is front and centre across all Ponant ships. The fleet offers spas, pools, gyms theatre shows and guest speakers as well as free wifi.
The ships are spacious and comfortable, including on board libraries with books and board games. All ships have a children’s club with books, television, board games and consoles.
The restaurants and cafes offer varied French-inspired menus, crafted to the highest standards, cooked using superior quality ingredients. Morning pastries and hot drinks are provided to cabins before 10.30 each day and sweet treats are served each afternoon.
Ponant sails worldwide. Destinations include: The Arctic, Alaska, North America, Canada, Northern Europe and Scandinavia, Mediterranean, Central America, Caribbean, Asia, Red Sea, Atlantic coast, South America, Oceania, Africa and Antarctica.
Theme cruises are also offered for guests to pursue their passions through cruise with destinations and excursions that tie in with the theme. Theme examples include: music, fine dining and wine, art and museums, theatre and literature, national geographic and more.
Shore excursions are inclusive unless you are booked on board a yacht cruise, when they will then be at an additional cost.
Ponant is known for their ‘Zodiac’ shore excursions, a fleet of inflatable boats ship guests to rarely visited locations and enable guests to get as close as possible to ice, coral reefs, waterfalls and wildlife.
Win one of four cruises to tropical Queensland!
Cruise from Sydney to Tangalooma Resort on the world’s 3rd largest sand island, Moreton Island. Or departing from Brisbane, sail to stunning Airlie Beach – the gateway to the GBR where you can take day trips to iconic locations like Hamilton Island and Whitehaven Beach.