16 Best Small Cruises From Around the World

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SMALL ABOARD

With their crowds, restaurants, shopping, nightclubs, and even skydiving, big cruises are like being on a floating city, and the ensuing lines and battles over poolside chairs can be a nightmare for people seeking a peaceful vacation. Small cruises carry fewer passengers and focus on destinations over shipboard activities -- but the intimacy can be costly (though also often includes all drinks, excursions, and sometimes even airfare). "They can offer fantastic value when you consider all the inclusions that come with the cost of the stateroom," says Geraldine Ree, a senior vice president at Expedia CruiseShipCenters. Here are 16 recommendations for cruises with 2,000 or fewer passengers, including some in the double digits, from insiders at Expedia, PriceLine, and CruCon.com. All prices are for a single traveler and were researched in early July.
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PANAMA CANAL: NORWEGIAN

Departure: Oct. 5
Capacity: 1,936 passengers
Starting price: $829 (about $55 a night), including kids sailing for free
Visit some of the hottest ports in Mexico and beyond without the crowds on the Norwegian Sun. This cruise includes four stops in Mexico (Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, and Puerto Chiapas) as well as a port in Costa Rica, a transit through the Panama Canal, and a day in Cartagena, Colombia.

Photo credit: Courtesy of douroazul.com

DOURO VALLEY: DOURO AZUL

Departure: Oct. 28
Capacity: 48 passengers
Starting price: $997 (about $142 a night), including all onboard meals and excursions on the itinerary
This seven-night trip showcases the unique landscapes, history, and culture of Portugal, stopping in historic cities such as Porto, Regua, Salamanca, Lamego, and Castelo Rodrigo. The Douro Prince has just 24 cabins and one suite.

Photo credit: Courtesy of lueftner-cruises.com

CLASSICAL DANUBE: LUFTNER

Departure: Oct. 21
Capacity: 168 passengers
Starting price: $1,286 (about $184 a night)
Begin in Budapest and pass through Austria's scenic Wachau region, which includes Vienna and the Slovakian capital of Bratislava. The 135-foot Amadeus Silver II is a good place to spend eight days traveling amid the countries, cultures, and history of the people in the heart of Europe.

Photo credit: Courtesy of avalonwaterways.com

DANUBE SYMPHONY: AVALON WATERWAYS

Departure: Oct. 26
Capacity: 138 passengers
Starting price: $1,619 (about $324 a night), including onboard meals, coffee service, regional wines, and Internet (which can cost a small fortune paid separately)
Depart from Vienna and sail the Danube on the Avalon Luminary, taking in Durnstein, Melk, and the municipality of Grein and its Greinburg Castle, built between 1488 and 1493. The five-night trip concludes in Passau, Germany.

Photo credit: Courtesy of americanqueensteamboatcompany.com

THE AMERICAN SPIRIT THRIVES: AMERICAN QUEEN

Departure: July 30 and Aug. 6
Capacity: 432 passengers
Starting price: $1,968 (about $246 a night) including a one-night hotel stay before departure, transfers, drinks, all onboard meals and shore excursions in every port
Experience a slice of of Americana aboard a steamboat cruise from Minneapolis through Dubuque, Iowa; Prairie Du Chien and La Crosse, Wisconsin; and Winona, Minnesota.

Photo credit: Courtesy of lueftner-cruises.com

CLASSICAL RHINE: LUFTNER

Departure: Sept. 16
Capacity: 168 passengers
Starting price: $2,101 (about $300 a night), including all meals and wine with dinner
Explore four European countries over eight days on the Amadeus Silver II, from Basel, Switzerland, to France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Port stops include Strasbourg, France; Germany's Mannheim, Ruedesheim, Cochem, and Cologne; and Volendam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Photo credit: Courtesy of vikingrivercruises.com

TULIPS AND WINDMILLS: VIKING RIVER

Departure: March 15
Capacity: 190 passengers
Starting price: $2,549 (about $283 per night), including shore excursions, onboard meals, and hotel accommodations during city portions of the itinerary
The Viking Baldur explores more than a half-dozen ports in the Netherlands including Hoorn, Arnhem, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, and Rotterdam -- that's a lot of tulips and windmills over 10 days.

Photo credit: Courtesy of amawaterways.com

MEKONG RIVER: AMA WATERWAYS

Departure: Oct. 16
Capacity: 124 passengers
Starting price: $2,749 (about $393 a night), including excursions, onboard meals, and drinks
River cruises are among the best ways to see Southeast Asia, Ree says, recommending the seven-night Mekong River Cruise aboard the AmaDara as a breathtaking showcase with immersive excursions in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Photo credit: Courtesy of vikingrivercruises.com

RHINE GETAWAY: VIKING RIVER

Departure: April 4
Capacity: 190 passengers
Starting price: $2,749 (about $393 a night), including reduced airfare and transfers from 150 U.S. cities, guided tours in every port, free Internet, all onboard meals, and all beverages, including alcohol
This seven-night cruise provides travelers with in-depth views along the Rhine, starting in Basel, Switzerland, and including stops in Germany's Breisach, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Ruedesheim, Koblenz, and Cologne, and ending in Amsterdam.

Photo credit: Courtesy of azamaraclubcruises.com

WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN EUROPE: AZAMARA CLUB

Departure: Aug. 29
Capacity: 690 passengers
Starting price: $2,859 (about $357 a night), including onboard drinks
Well-traveled ports such as Venice, Italy, as well as Montenegro and Croatia and other emerging destinations, are stops along a nine-day cruise aboard the Azamara Quest.

Photo credit: Courtesy of pandaw.com

HALONG BAY AND RED RIVER: PANDAW

Departure: Aug. 17
Capacity: 32 passengers
Starting price: $3,250 (about $325 a night), including all meals, excursions, entrance fees to places being visited, and gratuities for staff
Travel the stunning Halong Bay and Red River in Northern Vietnam in one of 16 teak cabins aboard the Angkor Pandaw, with access to an enclosed panoramic dining room and open-air lounge. The 11-day journey heads into the country's interior to explore off-the-beaten track villages and tribal areas.

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ALASKA: OCEANIA

Departure: Aug. 21
Capacity: 684 passengers
Starting price: $3,299 (about $330 a night), including airfare, drinks, and unlimited onboard Internet
This 10-night cruise aboard The Regatta sets out from Seattle but shows off a broad swath of Alaska, sailing the Inside Passage for stops in Ketchikan, Sitka, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, and Wrangell before a final docking in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Photo credit: Drono del Aire/shutterstock

GALAPAGOS OUTER LOOP: CELEBRITY

Departure: Sept. 12
Capacity: 96 passengers
Starting price: $4,049 (about $578 a night), including onboard meals and some drinks
The Galapagos are among the priciest small-cruise options, but there's no better way to see this remarkable destination and its wildlife. Mega cruise line Celebrity offers a little-known small-ship option: The Xpedition, which stops in about a dozen ports for an in-depth look at the islands.

Photo credit: Courtesy of croisieuroperivercruises.com

SOUTHERN AFRICA: AFRICAN DREAM

Departures: January
Capacity: 16 passengers
Starting price: $4,779 (about $597 a night), including a one-night hotel stay in Johannesburg, all onboard food and drinks, and all excursions listed in the itinerary
The recently completed eight-cabin African Dream spends nine days along the Chobe and Zambezi rivers in Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia, starting in Johannesburg, South Africa. The size allows for game viewing from the boat observation deck while feeling completely immersed in the sights and sounds of nature. The fascinating itinerary includes Chobe National Park, Impalila Island, and Victoria Falls.

Photo credit: Courtesy of pandaw.com

RIO, IGUACU FALLS: AMAZON DREAM

Departure: Sept. 21
Capacity: 18 passengers
Starting price: $5,195 (about $371 a night), including all excursions listed on the itinerary and all onboard meals
Cruising on a small vessel along the Amazon is a bucket-list experience. The 15-day land and cruise itinerary aboard the Amazon Dream riverboat explores lesser-visited areas and scenic regions along the Amazon between Santarem and Belem, beginning in Rio de Janeiro with a three-night stay in a luxury hotel on Copacabana beach, and including two nights in Iguacu before spending nine days on the river.

Photo credit: IssyMom/shutterstock

GLACIER SOUTHBOUND ALASKA: REGENT SEVEN SEAS

Departure: Aug. 16
Capacity: 700 passengers
Starting price: $5,999 (about $857 a night) including nearly everything -- airfare, a luxury hotel package, shore excursions, beverages, gourmet dining, free Wi-Fi, and all gratuities
The ship will take passengers from Anchorage to stunning Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and more.