But one of the joys of cruising by small ship is that it can offer a new perspective on familiar destinations, taking you to hidden harbours, remote islands and unexpected attractions that you may not even have realised were there.
Ireland is just such a destination, often overlooked by UK cruisers due to its geographic proximity. For many Brits, our experience of Ireland is limited to a long weekend in Dublin, or perhaps a circuit of the classic tourist highlights such as the Ring of Kerry. Plenty of mainstream cruise lines visit Ireland, but calls are usually limited to Dublin and Belfast, with little opportunity to really delve into the island's rich culture, history and natural beauty.
A small ship cruise to Ireland offers many more possibilities, from port-intensive itineraries combining Ireland with the Scottish islands to expedition-style voyages exploring the rugged west coast. It's also possible to combine your cruise with an overland tour, or a journey on the luxurious Belmond Grand Hibernian train. Here are a few of the small ship sailings that have caught our eye:
1. Azamara - Ireland Intensive
All three of Azamara's small ships, each carrying around 700 guests, will be circumnavigating the Emerald Isle during the next couple of years. Highlights of this 12-night intensive voyage include Waterford, with its fascinating Viking and Norman heritage, and Galway, the 2020 European Capital of Culture and gateway to Connemara National Park. Departures are round-trip from Southampton in May and August 2020, or June and August 2021.
2. Seabourn - Gems of the Irish Sea & Hebrides
The lovely 458-guest Seabourn Quest sails out of Southampton in July 2020 on this 15-night voyage combining Ireland with the west coast of Scotland. You'll visit smaller ports like Bantry and Killybegs, along with the Scottish isles of Mull and Bute, and you'll have the opportunity to explore Staffa and the legendary Fingal's Cave by zodiac.
3. Hebridean Island Cruises - Gaelic Heritage
The quirky little Hebridean Princess, our favourite country house hotel at sea, makes a rare foray across the Irish Sea in September 2020, with this island-hopping itinerary that combines the southern Hebrides with Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. You'll visit the Titanic Museum in Belfast, take a tour of Mount Stewart's elegant gardens and cruise beautiful Strangford Lough on a round-trip voyage from Oban.
4. Silversea - Expedition Ireland & Isles of Scilly
Silversea's popular Silver Cloud, fully refurbished in 2017 and transformed into a 260-guest expedition ship, sails from London Tower Bridge to Dublin in May 2020. Highlights include the monastic huts and amazing birdlife of the Skellig Islands, the exotic flora of Tresco Abbey Gardens and the spectacular Giant's Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
5. Saga - Ireland's Romantic West Coast
Saga's new 999-guest Spirit of Discovery has been garnering rave reviews from Mundy clients, and she's a particularly good choice for solo travellers. This round-trip voyage from Southampton in September 2020 calls at ports including Cobh, Galway and Waterford, and the all-inclusive fares represent excellent value for money, with home pick-up and travel insurance included in the price.
6. Crystal Cruises - Emerald Isle Immersion
One of our favourite ships at sea, the 980-guest Crystal Serenity, sails from Dover to Belfast in August 2021 on a week-long itinerary that includes Cobh, Waterford and Dublin. This is also an opportunity to tick off a few other British Isles that you may not have visited, with calls in Guernsey and Anglesey.