Top 10 Smallest Cruise Ships in the World

Don’t like the idea of a mega cruise ship? Learn what’s the world’s smallest cruise ship and other options for an intimate cruise.

When people think about cruising, what often comes to mind are the mega-ships that carry more passengers than the population of a small town. 

However, cruise ships come in all sizes. While smaller cruise ships may not be as popular as the vessels offered by large cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, they provide a unique experience that you can only get in a more intimate setting.

Keep reading to learn about the world’s smallest cruise ships, why some people prefer them, and why you should consider setting sail on a smaller vessel for your next cruise vacation.

What Is a Small Cruise Ship?

Small cruise ships typically carry 100 passengers or less. In contrast, the average cruise ship capacity is around 3,000 guests, and the biggest cruise ships can carry up to 7,000 guests.

Small cruise lines typically operate small cruise ships, while the major cruise lines usually only have ships that accommodate at least 1,000 guests. For example, the smallest vessels offered by cruise line giant Carnival Cruise Line are the Carnival Elation and Carnival Paradise, which each have a guest capacity of over 2,000.

What is the Smallest Cruise Ship in the World?

The Celebrity Xploration is the smallest cruise ship in the world at just 320 gross tons and a passenger capacity of 16. Royal Caribbean Group’s Celebrity Cruises operates the small vessel, and the ship mainly sails the Galapagos Islands.

Top 10 Smallest Cruise Ships in the World

There are more small cruise ships available than you might think. They are becoming increasingly popular, but one vessel is way smaller than the rest. Without further ado, here is the world’s smallest cruise ship. Plus, here are those in the running for the title based on their gross tonnage.

1. Celebrity Xploration (Celebrity Cruises)

While it is true that large cruise lines don’t usually operate small vessels, Celebrity Cruises is an exception. Accommodating only 16 guests and with only eight cabins available, the Celebrity Xploration is the world’s smallest cruise ship.

Celebrity Xploration
Celebrity Xploration

Celebrity Xploration sets sail in the Galapagos Islands, where you can see Los Lobos and Kicker Rock. The best part is that all of the cabins on this ship have a view, with some including a private veranda. Other features include a lounge and a sun deck to relax throughout your voyage. 

Although you can book one of the eight cabins individually, Celebrity Cruises mainly markets Xploration for family gatherings and getaways with friends. So gather 15 of the closest people in your life and book this all-inclusive cruise around the Galapagos Islands.

Also, in the Celebrity Cruises fleet are two other small vessels, but they don’t make the top 10. Celebrity Xpedition is at 2,842 gross tons, and the newer Celebrity Flora is at 5,739 gross tons.

  • Guest Capacity: 16
  • Gross Tonnage: 320
  • Length: 98.3 feet
  • Crew: 12
  • Entered Service: 2017

2. Safari Quest (UnCruise Adventures)

Safari Quest comes in at No. 2 on our list, offering a true small-ship Alaska experience with the ability to get up close to glaciers and to explore hidden coves and harbors along the Frontier State’s dramatic southeast coastline. Excursions by kayak and inflatable skiffs enable cruise adventurers to see Alaska and its wildlife.

Safari Quest
Safari Quest

Onboard the ship, which sails from Juneau, guests will enjoy an on-deck hot tub and fitness equipment. Underwater cameras allow guests to glimpse sea life and other ocean wonders found in this coastal destination. There are a total of 11 cabins to choose from.

  • Guest Capacity: 22
  • Gross Tonnage: 345
  • Length: 120 feet
  • Crew: 11
  • Entered Service: 1992

3. MS Panorama II (Variety Cruises)

If you’re looking for an experience of classical sailing, look no further than the MS Panorama II

This vessel features three tall sails and wood paneling to provide an authentic cruise experience. It’s motor sailed, meaning the vessel relies partially on the wind to sail – a unique feature for a cruise ship. The vessel has a speed of 10 knots and was last refurbished in 2015.

MS Panorama II
MS Panorama II (Photo Credit: Variety Cruises)

Guests can choose from 25 cabins with ocean views and have access to several indoor and outdoor lounges. You can also enjoy the outdoors, weather permitting, and entertain yourself with board games or rent equipment for water sports.

  • Guest Capacity: 49
  • Gross Tonnage: 498
  • Length: 164 feet
  • Crew: 16-18
  • Entered Service: 2004

4. Admiralty Dream (Alaska Dream Cruises)

Admiralty Dream, No. 4 on our list, cruises the exciting Inside Passage of Alaska and shines a spotlight on the region’s native peoples, the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. Cruisers have opportunities to see dance performances and carving demonstrations, and can interact with local people, including hunters and fishermen.

Admiralty Dream
Admiralty Dream (Photo Credit: Alaskan Dream Cruises)

Glacier cruising via expedition vessels provides outstanding experiences, and beach landing craft offer land explorations guided by experts. Dining specialties feature locally caught king salmon, halibut, and crab, among other Alaskan delicacies.

  • Guest Capacity: 49
  • Gross Tonnage: 540
  • Length: 143 feet
  • Crew: 21
  • Entered Service: 1979

5. Aqua Mare (Aqua Expeditions)

The Aqua Mare, No. 5 on our list, is considered a super-yacht designed for exploring the extraordinary Galapagos Islands. Personalized services and naturalist guides make a Galapagos cruise on this ship truly magical.

Aqua Mare
Aqua Mare (Photo Credit: Aqua Expeditions)

Onboard the ship, cruisers find panoramic dining venues, outdoor lounge and barbecue areas, a swimming platform, and a Jacuzzi, perfect for relaxing after a day spent exploring the region’s wildlife and nature. With elegant interiors and just seven suites, the ship has more living and gathering spaces than most other yachts of similar size.

  • Guest Capacity: 16
  • Gross Tonnage: 629
  • Length: 163 feet
  • Crew: 16
  • Entered Service: 1998

6. National Geographic Sea Lion and Sea Bird

Next on our list of the world’s smallest cruise ships is the National Geographic Sea Lion and the identical sister ship, Sea Bird.

As you can guess from any National Geographic cruise, this ship was designed to navigate passages rich in wildlife inaccessible to larger ships. The vessel has all the innovative tools you need to explore, including a SplashCam and a hydrophone that enable you to look and listen beneath the waves.

Sea Lion
Sea Lion (Photo Credit: National Geographic)

Enjoy excursions that include kayaking and other adventures to explore the beautiful natural world of your destination. You may not have known that National Geographic offered cruises, but now that you know, they are definitely worth looking into.

  • Guest Capacity: 62
  • Gross Tonnage: 630
  • Length: 147 feet
  • Crew: 31
  • Entered Service: 1981

7. Le Ponant (Ponant)

Le Ponant is next on our list. This three-masted ship was refurbished in 2022 and features common areas with expansive water views. The small ship offers 16 elegant staterooms and is known for its gourmet cuisine served in the ship’s single dining venue, Le Diamant.

Le Ponant
Le Ponant (Photo Credit: Korvil / Shutterstock)

The ship hoists its sails and navigates by the wind as much as possible on each cruise, giving cruisers a unique, environmentally responsible experience not typically available on cruise ships.

  • Guest Capacity: 32
  • Gross Tonnage: 1,189
  • Crew: 33
  • Length: 288 feet
  • Entered Service: 1991

8. MS Monet (Noble Caledonia)

The MS Monet, No. 8 on our list, was built to cruise the turquoise waters of the Adriatic and Aegean seas. The ship’s goal is to offer a private yacht/country house hotel experience with an attentive crew and upscale onboard areas. Indoor and outdoor dining areas give cruisers a choice of venue, and guests can enjoy their meals al fresco with ocean views.

MS Monet
MS Monet (Photo Credit: Noble Caledonia)

Guest speakers and an expedition team provide insights during the ship’s island-hopping itineraries. Gathering spaces include an indoor lounge, and the ship also features a deck-side Jacuzzi.

  • Guest Capacity: 50
  • Gross Tonnage: 1,453
  • Length: 220 feet
  • Crew: 29
  • Entered Service: 1998

9. Chichagof Dream (Alaskan Dream Cruises)

The Chichagof Dream is outfitted for active explorations of the thrilling Alaskan coast as well as its remote wilderness areas. Special expedition and landing crafts allow guests to enjoy shoreside hikes. Glacial fjords are seen up close in skiffs, and guests of all skill levels are invited to kayak. The ship even has custom-built kayak launchers that make loading and unloading easy.

Chichagof Dream
Chichagof Dream (Photo Credit: Alaskan Dream Cruises)

Meals feature freshly caught Alaskan seafood, and the ship encourages holistic experiences too, such as in its Himalayan salt room. Expedition leaders help cruisers learn about the geography and ecology of Alaska’s pristine Inside Passage.

  • Guest Capacity: 76
  • Gross Tonnage: 1,471
  • Length: 207 feet
  • Crew: 25
  • Entered Service: 1984

10. Hebredian Princess (Hebridean Island Cruises)

The final ship in our list is Hebridean Princess, a small luxury vessel that plies the waters off the coast of the Scottish Highlands, the Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland, and destinations farther afield such as  England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and the Channel Islands.

Hebridean Princess
Hebridean Princess (Photo Credit: Paul Wishart / Shutterstock)

With a cozy Inglenook fireplace in its main lounge, the ship offers individually designed staterooms. Experts in maritime history, ornithology, archaeology, and horticulture entertain guests onboard the ship.

  • Guest Capacity: 48
  • Gross Tonnage: 2,112
  • Length: 236 feet
  • Crew: 38
  • Entered Service: 1964

Why Choose a Small Cruise Ship?

Some people prefer to be on small vessels rather than larger ones which often are compared to small cities at sea. There are a variety of reasons why. Let’s look at the top reasons the world’s smallest cruise ship may appeal to people. 

Fewer People

One of the top reasons people choose to travel on smaller cruise ships is that fewer guests are on board.

When there are 3,000-plus passengers onboard, you may have trouble relaxing by the pool or feel a little crowded at dinner. While a smaller cruise ship is indeed smaller in size, fewer passengers mean fewer people to deal with overall.

Oasis Class Cruise Ship

Another reason fewer people onboard can be good is that it provides a more intimate setting for meeting other passengers. On a large cruise ship, even cruising for 30 days, you’ll still see new faces on disembarkation day. What’s more, when you meet someone once, you may never see them again on your cruise unless you exchange information.

Read Also: Top 10 Biggest Cruise Ships in the World

While many people don’t go on cruises to spend time meeting strangers, for others, meeting new people is what a cruise is about. A small vessel is conducive to this goal, as you’ll likely see the same people daily. This allows you to get to know each other and spend time together. You may get to know the crew even better. 

More Luxury

You’ll find that many small cruise ships offer “luxury” experiences because they prioritize the individual guest experience. This luxury may be seen in the ship’s cabins, staterooms, dining options, spa, and other recreational offerings.

With fewer guests onboard, the crew may focus more on each guest’s needs. You may even find that some cruise ships have almost one crew member for every guest on board, providing outstanding, attentive service. 

Visit Remote Areas

One of the most significant advantages of smaller cruise ships versus much larger ones is that they can more easily visit remote areas and hidden gem destinations. 

The smaller size of these ships makes it easier to enter smaller ports, do some river cruising, and dock at smaller islands that larger vessels can’t reach.

Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands (Photo Credit: Peter Sobolev / Shutterstock)

For example, the Galapagos Islands off the northwest coast of South America is a popular destination for small cruise ships as the region is largely inaccessible to large vessels. Other destinations that smaller ships may more easily access include polar regions, the interior of France, and Fiji’s Out Islands.

Moreover, smaller ships translate to a smaller environmental footprint to minimize harm to the destination. Now that you know why small cruise ships should be on your list, let’s address some final questions.

FAQ

What is the tiniest cruise ship in the world?

The tiniest cruise ship in the world is the Celebrity Xploration offered by Celebrity Cruises. The ship has a guest capacity of 16 and sails around the Galapagos Islands. 

What are small cruise ships called?

Some are called small yachts instead of cruise ships. However, this is largely inaccurate, as, unlike a typical yacht you can rent, cruise ships always have a set itinerary. While some vessels, such as the Celebrity Xploration, can also be booked by one party, there is still a fixed itinerary. 

What is the difference between a small cruise ship and a ferry?

The difference between a small cruise ship and a ferry is that small cruise ships are recreational vessels with a set itinerary and call at ports along the way. In contrast, ferries are not recreational and are only designed to carry you from point A to point B.

What is the best small cruise ship?

The best small cruise ship for you depends on what you are looking for. If you seek adventure at the ports, you should choose expedition-driven ships such as National Geographic Sea Lion. If you prefer to relax in luxury, something like the Le Ponant may be the best choice for your needs. 

Recap

To recap, the world’s smallest cruise ship is the Celebrity Xploration from Celebrity Cruises. However, a variety of other vessels are worth exploring. The benefits of a small-ship cruising can be summed up as fewer people, more luxury, and more remote destinations. If you want to explore the Galapagos Islands, you should definitely do it on a small cruise ship!

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