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by Shirley Linde
A small ship is part cruise ship and part private yacht. You have many of the advantages of cruising, but you can go to remote locations and out-of-the-way ports where big ships can’t go.
Typically, there are no group games, few announcements, no assigned dining room seating. Instead of bingo, you have the opportunity to visit the bridge at any time and stand at the helmstation, or on a very small ship perhaps take the helm yourself. Instead of a cruise director, you have historians, naturalists and other experts who give talks and slide shows and join you at dinner, perhaps an author or a wildlife photographer. Sometimes there is a casino, more likely not, or it will be small. Sometimes there is a piano bar or a band and a dance floor, but just as often there is a local band brought on board for dancing on the aft deck. Instead of spending much time inside the ship, you spend most time outside at destinations.
Usually there is focus on learning about the environment and people and cultures of the area, with some lectures by naturalists and historians, wildlife excursions with guides, and a library with books and videos on the destinations. You might learn about ancient roots of civilization while viewing Mayan ruins or archeological sites in the Greek Islands or you might get close to nature watching the courting dances of blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos, or feeding bananas to lemurs in the Seychelles. Because there are fewer people, you have the opportunity to meet with speakers in informal conversations. The lectures, the artworks, the closeness to the environment all provide a profound sense of place to the destinations.
Because of their turn-on-a-dime maneuverability the small ships can get into secluded coves and remote places inaccessible to bigger ships, going up rivers to where they are just navigable or going to places that can be reached only by water and are less often visited.
Because of the small number of passengers, the itinerary can be flexible. You can stay for the evening for a local festival, stop to watch a whale, or launch a zodiac in minutes if there is something special to see.
Shirley Linde is the editor of SmallShipCruises.com.