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Small Ships Making Big Waves: Growing Demand For Luxury Cruises


Wealth Of Geeks

You won't find waterparks or mega theatres on small cruise ships. Instead, small cruise ships like award-winning Silversea's Silver Cloud can pull up next to a glacier in Alaska and pluck some ice for an authentic Alaskan cocktail hour. Luxury small ship cruising is surging in popularity, with the number of ships set to double by 2030.

Small ship cruise lines typically offer up to 50 percent more personal space per person compared to their mega-ship counterparts. Service levels are significantly higher with one-to-one service levels or nearly double the amount of crew per passenger.

But perhaps the biggest draw for travelers considering a small ship cruise: adventure. Small ships can easily navigate remote harbors of coveted destinations that typical cruise ships can't get anywhere near.

"Just as travelers on land are making their booking decisions based on their personal comfort level, cruisers are doing the same. Small-ship cruising addresses two big trends among cruisers that we've seen as a result of the pandemic: a growing interest in intimate cruising, with fewer passengers onboard and a greater space-to-guest ratio, and the desire to have more bucket list-worthy travel experiences," comments Colleen McDaniel, Editor-in-Chief of Cruise Critic.


Smaller Means More Spacious

While a mass-market cruise ship can carry up to 7,000 passengers and weigh more than 225,000 tonnes, luxury ocean liners usually accommodate far fewer passengers. Generally speaking, the guest capacity of these elite vessels falls under 1,000 people.

For instance, Regent's 'Seven Seas Explorer' weighs 55,254 tonnes and can accommodate 750 passengers. Despite being much smaller in size, Seven Seas Explorer provides 2.5 times more space per individual on board.

In addition, the ratio of passengers to crew members is significantly higher on Seven Seas Explorer compared to most other large vessels, ensuring that travelers receive an unprecedented level of service with nearly 2.5 times as many crew members for every passenger.


A Focus On Itineraries & In-Port Experiences

With small-ship cruising, the environment is more relaxed and laid back. Rather than pushing for huge crowds and supercharged activities as a mega-ship does, this type of cruise opts for educational enrichment experiences that attract fewer guests. You won't feel like you're in an overfilled auditorium or theater with high-production shows here; rather, it's a much simpler setting where everyone can truly enjoy themselves.

"Many small ships also have a greater focus on itineraries and in-port experiences versus their larger counterparts. Smaller ships are able to visit a number of destinations the larger ships can't, and they tend to have more off-the-beaten-path destinations on their itineraries.

"For travelers who have put their adventures on hold for an extended period of time, this is something that's really enticing – the ability to hit a number of dream destinations in one trip and have those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. We've seen a number of non-cruisers embrace cruising for this reason as well – particularly in the growing expedition market – as cruising can really deliver an experience you're unable to replicate easily on land," comments McDaniel.


Ultra-Luxury Market Growing

Panache Cruises, specializing in luxury cruise vacations, has seen a significant increase in sales from cruise lines Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Seabourn, Oceania, Azamara, and Explora Journeys. Before the pandemic, these six cruise lines had 28 ships between them; during the pandemic, that number jumped to 35 ships and is projected to reach 56 vessels by 2030.

"Small ship luxury and ultra-luxury cruising is growing in demand, with customers wanting to travel further and for longer but in luxurious surroundings. Everything is usually included too on an ultra-luxury cruise from flights, transfers, exquisite cuisine, personal almost one-to-one service, excursions, WiFi, all tips and gratuities, all drinks including premium spirits, vintage wines, cocktails, and Champagne," comments James Cole, the founder and managing director of Panache Cruises.

"Following the pandemic, we're seeing a shift in the priorities of travelers. Small ship ocean cruising has certainly become more attractive due to smaller passenger numbers and the fact that small ships often offer up to 50 percent more personal space per person compared to the largest cruise ships. This is mainly because smaller ships are operated by luxury and ultra-luxury cruise lines where service levels are much higher. As a general rule, a luxury cruise will have nearly double the number of crew for each individual passenger," continues Cole.


Award-Winning Cruise Line

On Windstar's small, luxurious sailings and all-suite yachts, you can journey to exotic locations far beyond the beaten path. Explore captivating ports of entry, secluded harbors, and remarkable cultures that will leave an indelible mark on your memory. Windstar Cruises recently won the award in the Luxury Category for Best Shore Excursions by Cruise Critics' Editors' Awards in 2022.

The exclusive cruise line is widely acclaimed for its outstanding service as well as for transporting savvy vacationers. Its friendly crew members and kindred passengers aboard the ship often form lasting relationships during the voyage – some even reuniting annually.

"Expect once-in-a-lifetime shore excursions and chatting with the Captain on the open Bridge. There's a Watersports Platform on the stern with complimentary activities. We have exceptional, locally sourced culinary experiences from some of the most recognized chefs in the world. All this is on yachts with an unpretentious and relaxed ambiance serving between 148 to 342 guests," comments Windstar President Christopher Prelog.

Two popular destinations for Windstar Cruises are the Panama Canal, Cartagena, San Blas Islands & More itinerary, which goes from Aruba to Panama City (and the reverse), and cruises to the Middle East, which will be a first for Windstar, beginning November 2023, on the all-suite, 312-guest Star Legend.


The Popularity of Sailing Vacations Is Surging

2022 has seen an exponential rise in interest in sailing vacations, particularly skippered/crewed charters. Since 2018, the number of catamaran charters rented with skippers to assist with sailing has more than doubled (+133 percent) in select destinations like the Mediterranean, according to Dream Yacht Worldwide, one of the world's leading ocean tourism companies.

"Sailing vacations continue to gain popularity as a different way of experiencing the world and bringing people together – Dream Yacht Worldwide wants to make the transformative experience of sailing as easy as possible for as many as possible by offering customizable experiences using the knowledge and expertise of our team of sea professionals," shared Dan Lockyer, Vice President of Global Tourism, Dream Yacht Group.

In light of the surging demand for Marine tourism and industry analysis confirming its growth, Dream Yacht Worldwide will introduce 150 new boats for the upcoming season. They also have a by-the-cabin offering, a great introduction to the intimate/small cruising industry. The yachts are typically 54 to 62 feet, have private bathrooms and bedrooms, and come with two crew members, a captain and Hostess/cook, and a max of 12 guests or six cabins.


The Future of Cruising

The post-pandemic world has left people eager to explore the places they have been longing to visit. In 2023, luxury cruises will become the obvious choice for savvy travelers looking to get the most bang for their buck.

When you compare current rates of upscale hotels and account for restaurant bills and other expenses like airfare or car rentals necessary to explore multiple cities – it all adds up quickly. Not only can cruising provide unbeatable value in terms of cost, but they also offer a unique experience that allows passengers to truly immerse themselves in new cultures and destinations.

"Take, for example, the Caribbean, where Windstar sails in the winter months to smaller ports and less-visited bays away from the crowds on ships so small you can swim in the sea right off the back of the yacht. Seven-day cruises are available from $1,899 per person and include accommodations, all meals, non-alcoholic drinks, and even snorkel equipment. Plus, there's the benefit of included travel between islands like Tortola, Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Barts, Virgin Gorda, and Antigua, adding variety to a traditional one-stop beach vacation," says Prelog.

"Assuming a luxe hotel in the Caribbean at $400/night (and we're being generously low on this) for seven nights, $20/day for a snorkel equipment setup for a few of those days, and around $200/day per person in food and drinks, you're already over $4,900 for two people," he continues.

Cole shares similar sentiments. "I think also there is a growing awareness about the 'total cost' of a cruise and not just the initial price to get on board. When you factor in all the extra costs for drinks, specialty restaurants, excursions, and gratuities, it is often comparable to the cost of a luxury cruise, where these elements are generally included in the ticket price.

"I think people are becoming more savvy about this, and as a result, more and more people are trying a luxury cruise for the first time with lines like Oceania, Azamara, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, and Seabourn."

Windstar's President sums up this growing demand perfectly. "My travel prediction for 2023: luxury, and particularly small ship cruising 'off the beaten path,' is the future in the cruising sector."


This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.