AdventureSmith Explorations Offers Answers to Eleven Key Questions When Considering a Small Ship Cruise
The cruise industry is experiencing a boom in new ships and passengers according to Cruise Market Watch, tracking an annual growth rate of 6.55% from 1990 to 2016. The fastest growing segment of this market is small ship cruising, reports AdventureSmith Explorations who has seen annual passenger increases of 20% or more over the past several years.
AdventureSmith Explorations’ portfolio of expedition and small ship cruises (usually under 150 passengers) ply the world’s oceans and waterways from Tahiti to Alaska, and the Adriatic to the Amazon. In any given season and in countless destinations, this Condé Nast-awarded cruise authority plumbs its inventory depths to secure the small ship and itinerary that will assure a happy client.
“With decades of frontline experience working with small ship, yacht and expedition cruises throughout the world, our staff has one goal in mind, absolute customer satisfaction,” said Todd Smith, Founder/President. When a potential client reaches Smith’s team, the caller already has decided that small is better. Then come the questions to make sure the fit is right.
“At the end of the day, creating a winning experience is a careful selection process backed by years of expertise,” he added.
Following are key questions to consider.
• Where in the world do you want to go? This depends on the kinds of experiences you want to have. Some destinations, like Alaska, offer an abundance of wildlife, culture, history and active exploration. Amazon and Baja cruises focus mostly on nature and wildlife; Asia cruises are rich with culture.
• When can you travel? If your travel dates are flexible, think seasonal experiences, weather and pricing. Consider the best time to view whales, bears or hatching penguins, the Aurora Borealis, or the Dubrovnik Summer Festival in Croatia.
• What’s your ideal activity level? “Think outside the boat!” Small ship adventure cruises inherently involve daily off-vessel excursions for viewing wildlife and exploring the environment up close. Expedition leaders and naturalist guides lead small craft excursions and hiking. Some cruises include kayaking, snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, camping, hiking, fishing, helicopter flightseeing, scuba diving and more. Ask about, for example, the length, variety and difficulty of hikes.
• What amenities do you want in your ship? AdventureSmith Explorations’ fleet of ships are scrutinized for safety, service, itinerary and credentials of expedition leaders.
– Expedition Ships (60 to 150 guests) are comfortable, sturdy and purpose-built for adventure travel in remote locations. Think ice-strengthened hulls and generous deck space for watching wildlife, with cabins located near observation decks. Cabins are often spacious, with view windows and private bathrooms. Hallmarks are a high quality of onboard service and dining, and often more common areas such as a library, lecture room, salon or bar, gym, and larger galley and dining room.
– Mid-size Cruisers (40 to 60 guests) offer the efficiency and intimacy of a small yacht but with the space and amenities typically found on an expedition ship: multiple decks, larger cabins, spacious bathrooms, ample deck space, delicious cuisine, a high crew-to-passenger ratio and veteran guides.
– Yachts & Sailboats (8 to 40 guests) vary from historic floating base camps to luxurious yachts. They offer the most active and intimate experience with the most time ashore.
• How professional and personable are guides and guest hosts? Todd Smith says, “The quality of onboard guides is one of our most important criteria when considering which small ships we represent. Each ship maintains a manageable guest to guide ratio. Sometimes specialist guides lead themed trips: photography, marine biology, food/wine and wellness.” If there’s special interest in something, be sure to let it be known.
• What will my cruise companions be like? Cruisers are couples, small groups of friends, families and solo travelers. The size, style and cost of a cruise often determines the mix. Most small ships have cabins that accommodate two people. Single and triple rooms may also be available. Some ships have a “willing to share” program for solo travelers while others have dedicated single cabins or charge a single supplement.
• Should my group or family consider a private charter? As few as 8 to 12 guests may consider a small ship charter that provides group-specific experiences, ultimate flexibility and savings (often up to 30 percent). It is advised to secure a charter a year or more out.
Are there dedicated departures for families? Families are increasingly interested in small ship travel, thanks in part to dedicated family departures that bring kids of similar ages together with guides who are experienced working with youth. The ship may include special educational programs, unique activities and family-friendly meal options. “Grandparents traveling with grandchildren especially enjoy these kinds of vacations,” Smith said.
Will my ship mates be compatible? Smith points out, “Small ship guests are usually affluent, active and educated people seeking meaningful up-close encounters with nature and culture, just like you.” Lifelong friendships are often forged on a cruise.
• How important are cruise reviews? Use reviews as a tool, but don’t rush to judgment when you read a poor review. Often this is a result of a mismatch between the style of the traveler and the type of cruise they were on. Personal referrals are the best reviews. Ask your booking agent to put you in touch with someone with similar interests who has traveled to your destination of interest. Reputable small ship cruise agencies will gladly refer past clients.
• Where’s the best resource? Sales reps at individual cruise lines don’t always sufficiently answer such critical questions as to what the activities and cabins are like. An unbiased specialist like AdventureSmith Explorations with experience aboard all the ships is prepared to go into details and make comparisons. Unlike large cruise ships, small cruise vessels fill up fast. Smith recommends booking at least nine months out for high-demand holiday cruises.