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 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. Options include Dublin to Stockholm in June and Dublin to Southampton in August 2021.
2. Seabourn - Gems of the Irish Sea
The lovely 458-guest Seabourn Quest sails out of Dover in July 2021 on this 14-night voyage combining Ireland with calls in England and Scotland. You'll visit smaller ports like Bantry and Killybegs, along with the cities of Dublin, Belfast and Glasgow, and you'll have the opportunity to explore the Lake District with a rare call in Barrow-in-Furness.
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 2021, 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, Scotland & Isles of Scilly
Silversea's popular Silver Wind, carrying a reduced capacity of just 274 guests following her refurbishment later this year, sails from London Tower Bridge to Reykjavik in June 2021. Highlights include the monastic huts and amazing birdlife of the Skellig Islands, the exotic flora of Tresco Abbey Gardens and Iona's historic Abbey, said to be the cradle of Christianity in Scotland.
5. Saga - Romantic Ireland
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 June 2021 calls at ports including Bantry, Killybegs 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.
7. Tradewind Voyages - British Isles and Ireland Explorer
New cruise line Tradewind Voyages launches in May 2021, operating the world's largest square-rigged sailing vessel, the Golden Horizon. A debut season includes the 14-night British Isles and Ireland Explorer sailing from Greenock to Harwich. Discover Belfast's botanical gardens and follow in the footsteps of giants at the otherworldly Giant's Causeway, then journey south to Dublin for Guinness tasting at the Guinness Storehouse. Visit Rosslare, where you can cycle the Waterford Greenway, and Baltimore in Ireland's southernmost parish, before continuing to Scilly Isles, Falmouth and the Channel Islands.