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Going On A Cruise? Try The Smaller Boats

If you want to kick back and relax without thinking too hard about your itinerary, your destinations or dinner, your best bet is a cruise aboard one of the big mainline cruise ships, no question. They all offer reasonably priced, all-inclusive getaways aboard a giant floating resort.

But if your style is to get active, get educated or get away from the crowds, then you might want to consider a smaller cruise line, says KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley. 

“It’s a totally different experience,” Brumley said. “That’s the beauty of small ships. They’re usually focused on education, and you can get to places that the people who are on the big ships can’t get into.”

Brumley worked for National Geographic’s cruise line on the Baltic Sea. National Geographic boats often include wildlife education, photography workshops, and kayaking in secluded areas. They’re not the only provider, of course. Brumley also recommends Quark Expeditions or American Safari.

“The other options are tall ships,” Brumley said. 

And yes, he’s talking about masts and billowing sails. They’re smaller than the big ships but not tiny by any means. Companies like Windstar and StarClippers can have up to 300 passengers.

“They’re beautiful ships, and they’ll bring up these beautiful sails,” Brumley said. “In the evening at sunset, you’ll be cruising and drinking a glass of wine. I would think that’s a very nice way to go.”

Still too big? Try a river cruise in Europe, or a trip withIsland Windjammers, whose boats carry just a handful of people.

“You have a private chef, it’d be a great way to go,” Brumley said.

There are price differences, of course. Where a big ship with 1,500 or more people can run anywhere between $700 and $3,000, the smaller ships can be considerably more expensive.

The most important thing, Brumley says, is to know what kind of experience you want in advance, and select accordingly.


Matthew Brumley is the founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which organizes group travel to destinations around the world for various clients, including KPLU. "Going Places" is our new travel segment exploring all aspects of getting from Point A to Point B. Tell us what you think about responsible travel, or suggest topics for future installations of this series. Have a travel hangup or a tip? Let us know in the comments.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.