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14 of the best luxury small cruise ships at sea for 2024

Cruise Advice

If the only hotel you had ever stayed in was a 2,000-room high rise horror on an overcrowded and overdeveloped Spanish Costa, where you'd had an utterly awful time, and a friend suggested that next time you might like to try a small boutique hotel on an unspoilt Caribbean island, would you dismiss it out of hand? Probably not. Here are 14 of the best small cruise ships at sea for 2024.

And yet people often tell us that cruising is 'not for them' having only ever sailed on one of the mainstream mega-ships, where they hated the queues, the crowds and the impersonal atmosphere. If only they had spoken to an experienced travel agent such as Mundy Cruising prior to booking their trip! Small ship cruising is an entirely different mode of travel, and one in which we have specialised for over 50 years.

A small cruise ship affords you more privacy, yet allows you to be sociable when you want to; you can visit smaller ports that are well off the beaten track; and you will receive a level of personal service that you just wouldn't get on a larger vessel. From stylish yachts to handsome sailing ships, we've put together this short guide to 14 of the best small cruise ships.

14 of the best small cruise ships

1 & 2. SeaDream I and II

We're not really supposed to have favourites, but we can't help but hanker for just one more magical trip with one of the best small cruise lines out there, SeaDream Yacht Club. Carrying just 56 couples and 95 crew, you would obviously expect a lot of attention on these small cruise ships. But it's the style of service that really distinguishes them: the crew on SeaDream are constantly seeking out ways to amuse you, entertain you and above all to make your particular trip that little bit better, with lots of treats and surprises just for you.

Add to that fantastic food, and lots of fun stuff like sleeping under the stars, jet skiing off the back of the ship, or getting a table set up to watch the sun set as you dine, and you have one very special holiday indeed.

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SeaDream Yacht Club - Pool Deck

3 & 4. Wind Star and Wind Spirit

Windstar continues to be among our favourite small cruise lines, and the smallest of Windstar's yachts, the sail assisted Wind Star and Wind Spirit each carry just 148 guests. These sleek, four-masted sailing yachts are the envy of more conventional cruisers as they slip their moorings and glide peacefully out to sea.

Wide open teak decks and hidden nooks for private moments ensure that you can meet fellow guests or find a romantic hideaway - and if you lament the lack of private balconies, actually the whole ship becomes your own verandah space.

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Windstar Cruises in Mykonos

5, 6 & 7. Sea Cloud, Sea Cloud II and Sea Cloud Spirit

These three small cruise ships, Sea Cloud (64 guests), Sea Cloud II (94 guests) and Sea Cloud Spirit (136 guests) are really something to see: these majestic vessels are sailed by hand, in a manner so authentic that a centuries old ritual is brought to life every time the crew hoists the sails (it takes almost an hour!). Just imagine being a part of that: a cruise on one of these vessels is a most unforgettable adventure.

As you can imagine, the atmosphere on board is very special: you feel the passion of the team and their extraordinary pride and commitment. And on board Sea Cloud, built in 1931 as a private yacht, the original cabins have a character and style you will find nowhere else at sea.

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Sea Cloud Spirit

8. Hebridean Princess

Who would imagine that a former car ferry could end up as one of the most sought-after small cruise ships with a loyal following of dedicated aficionados from all walks of life? The late Her Majesty the Queen selected this little ship for a major birthday celebration, and we can see why. Intimate, unpretentious, with a Scottish country house feel and great service, Hebridean Princess is a true home from home and one of the best small cruise lines out there.

The ship is also inextricably linked with the Scottish waters in which she sails, visiting the Western Isles and further afield. Her long history in the region means she is extremely well connected, so doors open for her passengers wherever she goes.

Request a Hebridean Island Cruises brochure >

Hebridean Princess

9 & 10. Silversea Expeditions' Silver Endeavour & Silver Origin

One of our favourite small luxury cruise lines, Silversea's small expedition cruise ships enjoy the food and service levels of the classic fleet alongside an extraordinary programme of wildlife and wilderness adventures, on, under and beside the water. Silver Endeavour (200 guests) visits the polar regions and points between, while the new Silver Origin (100 guests) is based year-round in the glorious Galapagos Islands.

Your expert expedition team makes sure you have the most exciting, informative and stimulating experience as you journey the world, to its most remote landscapes and habitats.

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Silver Origin in the Galapagos

11 & 12. Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II

Designed to provide an unrivalled level of luxury, Scenic is one of the best small luxury cruise lines in the industry, with Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II being some of the most advanced expedition ships in the world, with a sleek, modern design delivering once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Spacious suites, all with private balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows and a choice of ten different dining experiences is an incredible feat given the ships only carries 228 guests (200 in the polar regions) with toys on board including a helicopter, seven-seater submersible, a fleet of zodiacs plus kayaks, snorkelling and scuba diving gear. These groundbreaking smaller cruise ships are a great choice for those who want to explore the world without sacrificing on comfort and style, and they're arguably the most luxurious vessel at sea with polar capabilities, but there is still plenty to tempt those travellers who prefer finding hidden coves in the Med to pursuing polar bears through the Arctic.

Scenic Eclipse in Antarctica's Lemaire Channel

13 & 14. Emerald Azzurra and Emerald Sakara

Emerald Cruises' first luxury yacht, the 100-guest Emerald Azzurra, and sister ship Emerald Sakara, turn heads with their striking profile and stylish décor. The small cruise ships' intimate size allow you to explore smaller ports and hidden coves in destinations including the Croatian coast.

Facilities include an infinity pool and wellness area, with a marina at the back of the yacht, allowing you to hop straight into the water and have fun with a host of water toys. With only 50 suites on board, this truly feels like your own private yacht, and there are several options for an intimate after dinner drink or a catch up with friends.


As always, if you have any questions or want to chat to us about anything, simply leave an enquiry or give us a call on 020 7399 7670, and find out more about small ship cruises here:

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, SeaDream, Ponant, AmaWaterways and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Danube, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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