From the Mediterranean to Northern Europe and inland rivers, find your escape on a small-ship cruise
It’s almost summer, and we’re headed back out in the world — on the road, in the air and over the water. Remember what a purgatory travel was last year? When it seemed next to impossible to begin your day in Europe and finish it stepping off a Southwest Airlines at Dallas’ Love Field? Let’s all pledge to avoid that experience this year. We’ve curated a small collection of travel finds sure to throw you into a lower gear. Enjoy.
Story and photography by Shilo Urban
From submarine rides and kingsized beds to celebrity chefs, the benefits of today’s luxurious small ships are a far cry from those on the floating cities that sail with thousands of tourists. Even better, small ships carry a few dozen to a few hundred travelers
They include scaled-down diminutive cruise liners, swanky super yachts, long-and-lean river boats and high-tech expedition vessels. Offering personalized service and intimate atmospheres, these nimble watercrafts can travel off the beaten path to unique ports and shallow channels. Fares often include excursions, and queues are largely nonexistent. Some of the most exciting new cruise ships at sea are also the smallest — and with easy-breezy embarkations and smooth logistics, you’ll feel far from the madding crowd.
The European cruise season runs from April through November, with Christmas market itineraries in December. Like any trip to the continent, the toughest part is narrowing down where to go
Do you want to explore the sun-splashed Italian Riviera, emerald-green Norwegian fjords or Bavarian rivers lined with fairy-tale castles? You have three basic regions to choose from: the Mediterranean, Northern Europe and inland rivers. And booking a summer cruise on one of these new ships is still possible if your itinerary is flexible; there, and should be you’ll have plenty of options for autumn, too.
With vivid-colored technicolor coastlines and picture-perfect islands, the Mediterranean is what vacation dreams are made of. You’ll sail to one phenomenal stop after another in Spain, France, Italy and Greece — or even Turkey, Israel and Egypt.
Two impressive small ships debut in the Med this August, starting with the Emerald Sakara, a 100-passenger yacht with a watersports platform for kayaks and underwater scooters. Arriving next, the Seabourn Pursuit features 132 all-suite accommodations, plus two dozens of Zodiacs and two custom-built submarines. In the 300-passenger range, the Ritz-Carlton’s new Evrima boasts two-story suites and a chic silhouette that looks perfectly at home off the shores of St. Tropez.
If you yearn for cooler temperatures and a chilled-out pace as well, head to Scandinavia, the Baltics or the British Isles. Discover rushing waterfalls and rough-hewn natural beauty, quiet seaside hamlets and glittering modern cities.
Long-standing luxury lines shine in this region and, including Windstar’s Star’s three-masted ships and the ultra-posh Regent Seven Seas Splendor (with perks like insuite caviar service and cashmere blankets). Swan Hellenic’s new SH Diana carries just 192 passengers; the expedition ship traverses dramatic Nordic wilderness where the Northern Lights dance and polar bears roam.
Medieval villages and hillside vineyards unfurl before you on a river cruise through the heartlands of Germany, France, Austria, Hungary and beyond. Trips on the Danube and Rhine rivers are perennially in demand, as are Christmas market tours.
In addition to eye-level water views and ever-changing scenery, travelers enjoy an unhurried cruise with the smoothest sailing around. River ships are all roughly the same size to fit into locks and under bridges, and each carries, each carrying about 200 passengers. The new Riverside Luxury Cruises line launched this year with three vessels that are making waves with their king-sized beds and private butlers.
No matter which destination you choose, look for a boat with amenities that match your interests — and a schedule that fits your preferred travel pace. A good travel agent can take care of the details, so you can sit back, relax and watch the world cruise by.