Small Cruise Ships

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Learn all about small ships on this page, and use our ship finder filters to begin your search for yachts, riverboats and expedition ships worldwide. Our team is standing by with firsthand insight to help you find your perfect match.
A wooden Indonesia small cruise ship is shown on starboard side with blue sails up with blue ocean, blue sky and white clouds

Our expertise extends from catamarans, motorsailers, riverboats, barges and small yachts with as few as 8 guests up to 100+ passenger expedition cruise ships. Find your match among our hand-selected fleet of small cruise ships, yachts and sailboats designed to explore up close and in style. Read on to find our FAQ and primer on what makes a ship a “small ship.”

How Many Passengers Are Aboard a Small Cruise Ship?

How small is a small cruise ship? The definition of a small ship is relative to who you ask. Our definition is dependent upon each destination, but in general our partner small ships are under 250 guests, with the majority being well under that passenger count, in the range of 20-50 guests. Another hallmark of a small cruise is the ability to get off the ship away from port. Our huge selection of small ship expedition cruises is defined by this mantra.

Types of Small Ships

Small ships range from smaller yachts, sailboats, riverboats and catamarans, up to larger expedition ships. The type of small ship you choose is ultimately determined by a number of factors including your cruise destination, travel companions, preferences for onboard amenities, and so on.

For example, a small sailing ship may be available for an Arctic cruise, but not something found offering small ship Alaska cruise itineraries. Whether you want to block out the ship for your own charter cruise is also another important factor when choosing your small cruise ship. Use our filters below to view them all and browse the many types of small ships available today.

In the most general terms, small ships can be grouped into three broad categories that help travelers determine the best ship for their style of travel. Expedition ships carrying 60 to 250 guests; mid-size cruisers carrying 40-60 guests; and yachts, barges and sailboats carrying 8-40 guests. Learn more about each type:

Expedition Ships

Expedition ships are comfortable, sturdy vessels specially designed and built for adventure travel in remote locations. As such, this type of expedition ship often has an ice-strengthened hull and more deck space for watching wildlife. These vessels, typically hosting 60 to 250 passengers, offer a wide variety of accommodations, and more convenient deck plans with cabins located close to observation decks. They have larger cabins, many with view windows and private bathrooms. Hallmarks are a high quality of onboard service and dining, and often more common areas such as a library, lecture room, salon or bar, and larger galley and dining room.

There are some subtle differences that ships over 200 guests bring to the equation too: These “larger of the small ships” often feature additional onboard programming, entertainment and amenities more on par with traditional cruise vessels (including meal room service), yet the ships AdventureSmith chooses to partner with all have a marked “expedition” slant to focus on nature, conservation and exploring the destination in depth vs. just cruising through it.

Mid-Size Cruisers

Mid-sized cruisers carrying 40 to 60 passengers offer the efficiency and intimacy of a small yacht combined with the space and amenities typically found on an expedition ship. You can expect larger cabins, spacious bathrooms, ample deck space, delicious cuisine, a high crew-to-passenger ratio and excellent guides. There are typically multiple decks where you can always find a moment to watch the sunset and enjoy the solitude.

Yachts & Sailboats

Smaller yachts, riverboats, barges and sailboats carry 8 to 40 guests and can vary considerably in price and amenities, from rustic floating base camps to luxurious yachts that will satisfy the most refined travel styles. They offer the most active and intimate experience with the most time ashore. It is easier to get 12 travelers ashore in one group than it is to ferry 100 passengers ashore in multiple groups, so smaller yachts can mean more time ashore. The tradeoff is that these ships are smaller. They have smaller cabins, bathrooms, dining room and deck space, meaning there are not as many public places to go for a private moment on deck. However, travelers aboard small yachts and sailboats often comment that getting to know their fellow passengers and crew is one of the highlights of the trip. Some of our partner vessels that are family owned and operated truly feel like floating B&Bs.

Why Choose a Small Ship?

Small cruise ships go where the big ships can’t thanks to shallow drafts and flexible itineraries. Aboard a small ship cruise, you will be among likeminded travelers who are seeking up-close wildlife encounters, sustainable travel experiences, active explorations and education along the way. Aboard a small ship, you will spend more time off the boat than on, so you can focus on the environment you’re visiting instead of the elaborate onboard amenities found on larger vessels. Learn more about the difference in Small Ship vs Big Ship.

View All Small Ships

Use our ship finder filters below to begin your small ship search. Each small cruise ship seen on our website displays cabin information, deck plans and links to each small ship’s itineraries worldwide. For more details by destination, view our curated Antarctica ship and Galapagos cruise ships pages.


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100+ combined years of experience, 7 continents explored, decades of expedition cruising around the world & here to help you find & book your dream trip.

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