Fewer than 1,200 passengers
You should pay: By Sea: $120 to $500 per day Inside; $120 to $350 Ocean View
By River: $200 to $350 per day (All with river view)
(Oceangoing: Ocean Princess, Seven Seas Navigator, Crystal Symphony, Seabourne Pride, Rotterdam)
(River: Avalon Affinity, Viking Pride, Grand Circle River Aria, Vantage River Discovery II, Queen of the Mississippi)
Sophisticated vacationers and couples enjoy the lack of hubbub on these ships. “They offer superior service, dining and accommodations,” says Bason. “They often have 1-to-1 crew-to-guest ratios [the Oasis of the Seas ratio is about 1 to 2.25].”
River ships are another type of small-boat option. For as little as $150 a day, you can ply the waterways of Europe, Asia and Africa on sleek craft via lines like Avalon, Grand Circle, Vantage or Viking River Cruises. In the United States, Blount Small Ship Adventures and American Cruise Line sail the nation’s great rivers for $300 to $570 a day. Moreso than with large ships, river boat lines often offer good deals on air-inclusive fares.
Oceangoing small ships have intimate theaters and cabaret-type shows. Riverboats often limit their entertainment to local performers — and in Vienna, Viking took us to a lovely Strauss concert at the Auersperg Palace. Most European river cruises include shore excursions in the price — a big savings over most ocean cruises. In Nuremburg, Grand Circle now includes a visit to Room 600, site of the Nazi War Crime trials.
Seagoing small ships often have one very nice pool; river ships will occasionally have a hot tub. But small-ship designers tell me those facilities primarily appeal to travelers at the brochure stage. “The only people who use the hot tubs,” a Rhine River captain told me, “are the crew.”
Ocean miniships have standard-size cabins, and in recent years riverboat designers have found ways to make their tiny cabins seem larger. Mini-balconies with sliding glass doors help a lot, but over the course of a week you’ll definitely master a sideways shuffle. In a major breakthrough for river touring, Vantage has introduced cozy single cabins with a twin bed on its three newest ships—an option that eliminates the dreaded “single supplement” charge that can make traveling alone prohibitively expensive. Vantage now has the single cabins on three of its newest ships—and remains the only major European river cruise line to offer them.
Some of the world’s finest restaurants can be found on miniship ocean liners. The menus are breathtaking — and you’ll be treated as if you’re sitting at the captain’s table. Although the quality of small-ship food is improving, most older riverboats have kitchens that are roughly the size of a minivan interior. Your best bet: Wander ashore each night, seeking out the local restaurants and pubs where the neighbors have been eating, perhaps for centuries.
All prices are per person, per day.