Small Ships: The New Face of Cruise

As travelers have ventured back out into the world during the past year, small-ship cruising has proven to be extremely resilient. It has become the vacation of choice for many travelers.

Smaller ships were among the first to return to service after a long pandemic-related shutdown. This process was made easier because cruise lines operating vessels with fewer than 250 passengers didn’t face a host of government restrictions that were placed on the big ships.

I sailed on several ships in the 86- to 220-passenger range during this time, cruising in Alaska, North America, the Caribbean, and Antarctica, and I chatted with my fellow travelers about why they chose these ships and itineraries.

Many longtime cruisers who traditionally had favored mass-market big ships now prefer smaller vessels for a variety of reasons.

Small ships are drawing active travelers with more money, more time, and who tend to be a little more adventurous. These cruisers will spend top dollar to go on memorable journeys to remote and beautiful places.

Small Ship Convenient Sophistication

I sailed on American Queen Voyages’ American Empress on the Columbia River. There were about 140 passengers on a riverboat that carries up to 223 people. Many fellow cruisers

were simply thrilled to discover an enjoyable small-ship experience in the U.S. while overseas travel remained problematic because of COVID-related restrictions.

David Porter, who sells river cruises and writes at The Roaming Boomers website, says the American river cruising market has surged because of the pandemic.

“This type of cruising is a perfect option for aging travelers who don’t necessarily want to get on long flights to Europe any more,” he says.

Small ships feature enjoyable, intimate, and safe options, with no crowds and plenty of outdoor activities. They offer environments on board and ashore that are in tune with evolving pandemic-era health protocols.

Growing Interest in Small ship cruises

UnCruise Adventures restarted in Alaska in spring 2021, with 86-passenger Wilderness Legacy offering the first fully vaccinated cruises (passengers and crew). I joined one of the line’s first voyages, and the energy was palpable among the excited travelers who had spent more than a year stuck at home.

In the early period of the cruise industry restart, UnCruise saw a good number of “crossover” passengers, says CEO and owner Dan Blanchard. He says 15 to 20 percent of his cruisers in 2021 were traditional large-ship….


This is an excerpt from the latest issue of Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine. To continue reading, click above for a digital or print subscription.

John Roberts, operator of, calls New Jersey his home base while exploring destinations around the world in a fun, fit and adventurous way. John has written for publications such as AARP The Magazine, Cruise Critic, World of Cruising, Travel Pulse, and TravelAge West.