NEW YORK -- The cruise industry's dominant suppliers are building
large ships at a rate unprecedented in the 30-plus years of the
modern industry's history.
The new ships are so big they are rewriting the definitions of
"large" and "small" cruise vessels, making yesterday's 50,000-ton
megaship the equivalent of today's midsize liner.
But the expansion of the big-ship market also is spurring growth
among cruising's small-ship fleets. In fact, there are now more
small-ship cruise options than at any time in recent memory.
Small cruise ships not only sail throughout North America's
inland rivers and coastal ports, but across international waters to
Europe, Asia and the Far East.
Even among small ships, passenger capacities and tonnages, not
to mention relative levels of service and accommodations, can vary.
But for general purposes, "small" cruise ships are generally
considered to be vessels of 350 or fewer passengers and measuring
no more than 20,500 gross registered tons. (GRT does not represent
a ship's weight, but cubic feet of enclosed, revenue-earning
Although these smaller vessels generally lack the varied facilities
and around-the-clock activity of the large cruise ships, they offer
passengers a more intimate atmosphere akin to sailing aboard a
The smaller vessels also feature smaller drafts, allowing the
ships to venture into harbors and even small bays that are off
limits to bigger ships.
So even as small ships journey to areas also served by large
vessels (including Alaska and the Caribbean), the experiences are
The growing number of small-ship cruise options is an indirect
result of cruising's increasing popularity as a mainstream vacation
As more and more vacationers opt for big-ship cruises, the
number of experienced cruise passengers seeking alternative sailing
experiences also is growing.
As a result, small-ship operators are rising to the challenge
with an expanded group of vessels and international
American Classic Voyages (ACV) offers a broad selection of
small-ship steamboat cruises on U.S. rivers, plus coastal voyages
in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest.
Delta Queen Coastal Voyages, ACV's coastal-cruise division,
recently reached an agreement with CruisExcursions.com to create detailed port briefings
and maps for 44 destinations, including the coastal U.S.
Later this year, Delta Queen Coastal will offer nine-day
Columbia River journeys, departing roundtrip from Portland, Ore.,
aboard the 161-passenger Columbia Queen.
Rates, including port charges, transfer and taxes, start at
$2,210 per person in May and $2,410 in June for an inside
Another small-vessel operator, Clipper Cruise Line, is offering
a 14-day voyage from Nome, Alaska, across the Bering Strait to
Petropav-lovsk, Russia, departing Aug. 18.
The journey, aboard the 128-passenger Clipper Odyssey, is a
first-time itinerary for Clipper.
Rates start at $6,510 per person and include roundtrip air from
Anchorage to Nome and from Petropavlovsk to Anchorage, plus one
hotel night in Anchorage.
Meanwhile, Clipper's 122-passenger Clipper Adventurer will
explore Ireland's heritage and culture during a nine-day cruise to
the coastal towns of the Emerald Isles.
The voyage is followed by two hotel nights at Adare Manor,
located on the banks of the River Maigue. The journey begins June
28, with a reverse itinerary offered July 4.
Rates start at $5,185 per person. The cost includes roundtrip
air, one hotel night in West Sussex, England, and one hotel night
in Kent, England.
"Clipper Adventurer is designed for the traveler seeking natural
beauty, cultural interest and the best on-board speakers, a
'National Geographic on Steroids' experience," said Jeff Drew,
Clipper's senior vice president of sales.
Small-ship operator Cruise West, under a five-year partnership
agreement with Temptress Adventure cruises, will offer a series of
seven- and nine-day cruise packages to Costa Rica, Panama,
Honduras, Guatemala and Belize aboard the 100-passenger Temptress
From November to April, Temptress Explorer will offer roundtrip
voyages between Costa Rica and Colon, Panama.
During the same period, the company will offer a nine-day
itinerary between the same ports, with the addition of visits to
the Darien Jungle and the San Blas Islands.
Star Clippers, which offers a variety of itineraries aboard
three replica clipper ships, will sail to the Caribbean,
Mediterranean and Far East in 2001.
The line's largest vessel, the 5,000-ton Royal Clipper, is more
than twice the size of sister ships Star Clipper and Star Flyer,
and is marketed by the company as the world's largest sail-powered
This summer, Royal Clipper will offer seven-day Mediterranean
cruises departing roundtrip from Cannes, France, with port calls in
Costa Smeralda, Sardinia; Calvi, Corsica; Livorno and Portovenere,
Italy, and Monte Carlo, Monaco.
An alternate itinerary, offered every other week, calls at
France's Hyeres Islands; Mahon, Menorca; Palma, Majorca; Barcelona
and Cap Cruies, Spain, and St. Tropez, France. Weekly departures
are set to operate between May 26 and Oct. 6. Rates start at $1,445
per person, excluding air fare.
Windstar Cruises also is featuring Mediterranean cruises on its
fleet of small ships this summer.
The 308-passenger Wind Surf will offer 26 Mediterranean and
Adriatic/Amalfi coast sailings from May 5 to Nov. 3. Cruisers also
can book consecutive seven-day sailings to create 14-day journeys
at a special discount.
Thirteen of Wind Surf's Med cruises will focus on France and
Italy, cruising between Nice, France, and Rome. Ports of call
include Monte Carlo, St. Tropez, Portofino, Portoferraio and
Portovenere, Italy, and Porto Vecchio, Corsica.
The Adriatic and Amalfi coast cruises venture between Venice and
Rome, calling at Amalfi and Messina, Italy; Corfu, Greece, and
Dubrovnik and Rab Island, Croatia.
Windstar's cruise/air transportation packages for Wind Surf's
European voyages start at $3,531 per person.
Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Great Lakes Cruise Company is offering
cruises on all five Great Lakes between June and November aboard Le
Levant, a 90-passenger French cruise ship.
Le Levant will offer nine-day cruises visiting Chicago and
Toronto on June 3 and Sept. 10. Great Lakes also is offering
nine-day itineraries on Aug. 29, Sept. 5, Sept. 22 and Sept. 29
aboard another small ship, the Columbus.
American Safari Cruises, which specializes in California wine
country voyages, offers four- and five-day sailings on the Napa and
Petaluma rivers this fall aboard the 22-passenger Safari Quest.
The ship will make 14 departures between Oct. 1 and Nov. 16,
with four-day cruises departing on Fridays and five-day cruises
departing on Mondays.