Fewer than 1,200 passengers
You should pay: $350 to $500 per day by sea; $150 to $350, by river
(Avalon Affinity, Viking Pride, Grand Circle River Aria, Vantage River Discovery II, Ocean Princess, Seven Seas Mariner, Crystal Symphony, 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.
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. In a major breakthrough for river touring, Vantage has introduced cozy single cabins with a twin bed — an option that eliminates the dreaded “single supplement” charge that can make traveling alone prohibitively expensive.
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 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.
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