Why book a small boat cruise? 

Why book a small boat cruise? 

I love boats, water, and active vacations so combining all three is my dream getaway. I am not a mega cruise type of person. I am a traveler who seeks access to secluded areas, activities designed to get me up close and personal to a region's culture and wildlife, informative guides, and an overall experience that respects a destination.

I was excited to discover that small boat cruises cater to travelers like me.

Featured in this blog are small ships carrying under 210 passengers - with a particular focus on boats with under 86 passengers and private charters for just 6-10 guests.

Not your typical cruises, they highlight adventure, wildlife, and culture.

So, what sets small boat cruises apart from the big boys?

1. Go where bigger boats can’t

A smaller boat means access to more places. Winding channels and narrow waterways, off-limits to larger boats, are the gateway to secluded areas and destinations that are crowd-free, primed for outdoor activities, and handpicked for their x-factor appeal. This tour to wild Alaska is one such tour.

The smaller size of the vessels, and therefore greater maneuverability, leads to off the beaten track exploration - just the type of tour I’m after.

Picture yourself kayaking a tucked away cove on your own, swimming at a private beach, or hiking a stretch of forest where the only trails are from wildlife. Culture is included as well with wine tastings, informative workshops, and more.

2. Flexibility

One of the great features of a small boat cruise is the level of flexibility you have when it comes to the daily itinerary. Taking individual interests, weather conditions, and location into account, your captain and crew will discuss each day’s offering. Whether you’re a keen photographer like me, an avid birder, or simply want to take in as much as possible, your hosts will make every effort to fulfill your expectations.

Without the crowds, rigid itineraries, and restricted access that comes with being on a large cruise ship, your small boat cruise allows you to linger longer, see more places, and explore untouched areas. If there’s a pod of whales putting on a show or fantastic snorkeling conditions, you can take the time to enjoy each event.

Chartering an entire vessel for family and/or friends offers even more flexibility when it comes to choice. Many private charters offer the option to customize your daily itinerary from daily bike rides to playing golf.

You can tailor this Dutch River Cruise aboard the luxurious Aurora to include activities of your choosing.

3. As active as you want

Whether you like to go all out when it comes to activities or prefer a more laid-back approach, small boat cruises cater to a range of fitness levels and preferences. This is great news for those that would like to be active on one day and chilled the next. Each day you can decide to take it easy or stay on the go exploring and enjoying the choice of activities offered. For example, you may be presented with a range of hikes - from a strenuous ramble up a ravine to a leisurely beach walk. The choice is yours to make. Your onboard expedition team will be able to provide the insight needed for you to make a safe and enjoyable choice.

4. Small footprint

Choosing a holiday that is more environmentally responsible is becoming increasingly important to me - as I know it is to many other travelers. Not only do I want to connect with the people, places, and culture, but I want to know that my choices are making a greater difference.

Owing to their small size and reduced emission output, small boat cruises have a lighter carbon footprint than their larger counterparts. They are also quieter, which is particularly important when visiting sensitive wildlife areas.

Other sustainable measures that small boat cruises often take include using regional partners for shoreside services, eco-friendly toiletries, reusable water bottles, and local communities for traditional and local guest experiences.

Another common effort is to source seasonal, locally-produced food, and ocean-friendly seafood for use in daily guest meals. This feel-good tour explores the Rivers, Canyons & Wines of the Pacific Northwest. Showcasing the Columbia & Snake Rivers in Oregon and Washington, you’ll sip on local wines, raft rapids, and interact with community experts on history and culture.

5. Solitude and small groups

Not one for crowds, I appreciate having the option of being in a small group and spending time by myself. Small boat cruises strike a great balance between offering solitude as well as small group guided activities to guests.

Expert guides bring the destination alive through their interpretation and deep understanding of the nature, wildlife, and history of each area. They are in-the-know when it comes to finding the hidden gems in each area and avoiding the tourist traps. You can choose to head out on a kayaking activity with fellow travelers with your guide for example, or spend some time alone paddling the waters of a quiet bay.

The immersive experiences, camaraderie, and interaction you get from being in a small group cannot be duplicated on the larger ships. Being able to connect and share in adventures with like-minded travelers, adds a new element to your holiday that will last long after you arrive back home.

I found that there’s a real emphasis on exploring like a local - interacting with the people, eating local foods, and participating in traditions. Head out on this 8-day Hawaii Island-Hopping Adventure and explore culture, folklore, and natural history in small groups.

6. Home away from home

Small enough to get to know people by name, but large enough to retreat to a quiet corner, small boat cruises give you the green-light to kick-back and unwind, whilst making friends along the way.

With an experienced staff compliment, often with your own personal chef and hostess, the focus is your comfort. Personal touches and attention to detail, often absent from a larger cruise, make their way into the meals, activities, and daily itinerary.

Small boat cruises aim to include everyone and are geared to be adventure-ready with personal guides, equipment, and planned excursions. More often than not, they are also on an all-inclusive basis, removing the worry of unwanted costs to your bill.

You can also take it one step further and book an exclusive charter for just your friends and family. Cruise the waterways of France on this private charter aboard the luxurious Saint Louis Barge.

7. Closer to nature

From big game in Alaska to unique birdlife in the Netherlands, small boats offer less disturbance and noise to wildlife. This, in turn, increases your chances of seeing and getting close to birds and animals. Skiff rides, hiking, kayaking, biking, and other related activities will bring you even closer to nature, with minimal impact and disturbance. There’s nothing more satisfying, or thrilling than watching a pod of whales from the comfort of your kayak or observing nesting birds from your bike saddle.

Whether you’re looking for the ultimate cruise to Alaska, an island-hopping adventure in Hawaii, or a luxury cruise with friends and family along the canals of southern France, consider a small boat cruise to take you there. You’ll be glad you did!


About the Author


Born and bred in South Africa, Claudia has an extensive background in travel and the natural sciences. Even though she grew up in the city, she has always gravitated towards the outdoors and exploring wild places. She is a ‘bush chick’ at heart and will take every opportunity to get outside for a…

Read More


Wooden ship kit - Ages Of Sail
3 years ago

Verified Reviewer

That's really nice post. I appreciate your skills. Thanks for sharing.

Post Comment

Email Me