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Why Small Ship Sailings Lead to Unforgettable Experiences

Some travelers can’t get enough of the mega cruise ship experience, with all the bells, whistles and the non-stop action. Others, not so much. But small ship sailing, now that’s an entirely different story. The romance and tranquility of a sail-away takes my breath away every time, with the sails billowing high above in the balmy wind, and the emotion-laden music wafting, as we majestically set out to sea. You can feel it, right?

Here are seven reasons why I believe that smaller is better (and more rewarding) when it comes to sailing.

1. The experience is intimate.
The No. 1 reason why some travelers prefer small ships is the intimate experience that it offers.

With perhaps 350 fellow passengers - instead of the 3,000 you find on large cruise ships - the small group size makes for a warmer and more authentic experience.

“Rather than a floating city, cruising on a small ship feels like sailing in a boutique hotel, where personalized service and attention to detail are top priority,” said Lynnie Zunder, manager and cruise and vacation consultant, at Expedia CruiseShipCenters, in Ottawa, Ontario. “I really enjoy the casual atmosphere, the lack of line-ups, the ease of getting on and off the ship, the availability of spaces to relax onboard without fighting for chairs or deck space.”

2. Small ships take you to smaller, exotic ports of call.
Small ships whisk guests away to the less populated, more out-of-the-way places that the big ships simply cannot access, like a hidden harbor, a private beach, or a colorful local fishing village. There are “no mass crowds and big buses,” as Annie Davis, president of Palm Beach Travel, in Palm Beach, Florida, said. Instead, guests have opportunities to share quiet moments away from the crowds; immerse themselves in local, exotic cultures; and spend more time off the ship exploring the destination.

“People can get off the ship and walk around. They like the small, undiscovered little towns. They want to experience that,” noted Sheila Yellin, president, Courtyard Travel, in Great Neck, New York, a branch of Tzell Travel Group, and Signature-affiliated.

3. Very personalized service is the norm.
The crew on small ships develops close relationships with guests. They know your name, your favorite drink, your culinary preferences, and more. “With fewer guests onboard, experiences are more handcrafted and unique,” Davis pointed out.

Zunder shared: “On a recent cruise, I was waiting in the lobby on the first full day of our cruise, when the receptionist called out to me, by name, to ask if everything was alright and how my day was going. I was absolutely blown away. This was repeated multiple times throughout the cruise, as we came to know the amazing staff and crew onboard, and they us. By the time we disembarked the ship, we really felt like we were leaving friends behind. The staff and crew could not have taken better care of us - from the captain, to the hotel manager, to the guest services manager, right down to our very attentive room steward, we were spoiled rotten.”

4. Exclusive experiences are ready and waiting for you.
Small ships focus on immersing their guests in exclusive experiences. For instance, Zunder described: “I've enjoyed dining under the stars in front of the ancient library at Ephesus; beach parties in the Caribbean and Society Islands; and the fabulous Fire Celebration on Motu Tapu in Bora Bora.”

Davis also shared: “We had a group that sailed last year to Alaska. Because they were on a small ship, the tours are small groups. While in Wrangell, my guests had the unique experience to see a Spirit Bear (Kermode Bear) up close and personal. As avid photographers, they were able to get great shots. This was such a rare sighting.”

Travel advisors are also finding that a younger generation of travelers is drawn to the small ship experience. “They want an adventure,” said Yellin. “It’s not enough to do the same old, same old. They want something different.”

5. You will make amazing connections onboard.
It’s a close community onboard, with plenty of interaction for those who want it. The environment is social and convivial, both on and off the ship, and guests often make life-long friends.

“With such a small number of guests onboard, amazing connections happen, since those who choose to sail on small ships tend to share similar backgrounds, interests, and experiences,” said Zunder.

6. The captain is personally available.
Small ship operators are more likely to have an open-bridge policy, which means guests can

meet with the captain on the bridge - and ask all sorts of questions about where the ship currently is on the map, what’s on the charts, how the radar works, etc. Guests can enjoy building genuine relationships with the captain, the officers, the entire crew.

7. You will enjoy an authentic sailing experience.
On a small ship, you feel like you’re sailing on your own private yacht. Everything - the conversations with other guests, the nightly port talks, the excursions, the cuisine - is personal. As Davis described, “With small ship sailing, your memories are unique. You will get to know every charming nook-and-cranny of your small ship and the volumes of books in the library. You will mingle with the interesting guests onboard.”

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