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Small Cruise Ships Offer Adventure, Luxury, Intimacy or Access to More Places, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, the small ship market was booming.  The fact that they carry vastly smaller passenger loads than their big-liner competitors may give these ships a distinct competitive advantage among future passengers who want more social distancing.  Small cruise ships hosting anywhere between 20 and 500 passengers are positioned as an alternative to mega-ships such as the Queen Mary 2 and the Symphony of the Seas.  Although they typically have fewer restaurant/onboard activity/entertainment venue choices, they offer higher staff-to-passenger ratios (often one staff member for every two passengers onboard small ships, compared to about one crew member to two-and-one-half or three passengers on large ships).  Also, small ships can cruise into shallower waters and far smaller inlets, so that abundant wildlife might be seen, or smaller ports might be enjoyed.  Seattle-based Un-Cruise Adventures, for example, owns and operates nine small ships with capacities of between 22 and 86 guests.  Passengers may explore the inner reaches of coasts in Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Central America and the Galapagos in kayaks, paddle boards and skiffs launched directly from the ships’ sterns.
With fewer passengers, there are no long lines to face in order to get on or off the ship.  Passengers tend to get to know each other well, often forming lasting friendships.  Future cruises reuniting former shipmates have been common.
Small ships’ kitchens and dining rooms are under pressure to produce delicious, memorable food that rivals the numerous dining venues found on large ships.  Small ships have access to locally sourced ingredients, while the ships’ crews make extra efforts to invite passengers to join them at their tables in order to maximize a convivial atmosphere.
Top small ship cruise lines include Seabourn (a luxury line that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Carnival Corporation), Silversea Cruises and smaller ships in the Regent Seven Seas Cruises line.  Even smaller ships are owned and operated by Lindblad Expeditions (which purchased the Via Australis ship based in Patagonia), Variety Cruises, based in Greece and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, based in Germany.
Another booming area in cruising has been expedition-style ships, in which passengers travel on small ships to experience hard-to-reach destinations such as Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands or Papua New Guinea.  Cruise Industry News reported that 39 expedition ships were expected to launch between 2019 and 2024.  Royal Caribbean Cruises purchased four expedition ships in 2018 as part of its $1 billion investment in a two-thirds stake in Silver Seas Cruises Ltd.
As of mid-2023, Ritz-Carlton had two relatively small cruise ships, the Evrima (298 passengers) and the Ilma (448 passengers), with routes in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean as well as Atlantic crossings.  Other luxury hotel/travel firms plan to enter the cruise industry, including Four Seasons, Orient Express and Aman.

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