Benefits of small ship cruising: Get to ports off-limits to mega-cruisers

With so few passengers on board, you can also visit a destination without dominating it

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The Independent Travel

I have two, well trafficked confessions that always elicit stifled horror from my well-travelled chums. The first is my unabashed adoration of Las Vegas, the sequin-spangled city where everyone can unbuckle his or her belt a notch, both literally and metaphorically. That’s bad enough, I know. The second, though, often induces greater astonishment: I love cruises.

Don’t get me wrong: I shudder at the idea of bulk-bought sailing, buffets piled high with junk food, and entertainment even less appealing than late night on Channel 5. In some ways, I’m an unlikely cruise devotee. I loathe forced fun or even any group activity (I skip classes at the gym to avoid the temptation to backtalk the instructor). Yet I believe the experience of sailing on top-tier lines like Windstar or Azamara offers an unparalleled combination of indulgence and convenience.

The indulgence is down to the onboard experience; indeed, staterooms on these high-end ships can cost more than a suite at the Lanesborough in London, yet are somehow seen as déclassé. Nothing pleases me more than sipping an espresso in the morning, reading a book on the balcony as the ocean glides past. Then again, I also love lolling on a sun bed during a day at sea, deliciously under-scheduled. The ultimate example of that came during a six-day transatlantic voyage with Cunard. Instead of waking and reflexively checking my phone for the day’s appointments, I had six sea-days without a single obligation. Instead, I could spontaneously fill them, with lectures, say, or a stint at the gym, or just relish the chance to do absolutely nothing. It’s hard to replicate that same experience in even the fanciest hotel: who can stifle that guilt-tripping voice reminding you of the wonderful sights you should be seeing just minutes away?

The convenience, though, is the clincher for cruising, especially on smaller ships of 200 or fewer passengers. While you doze, rocked to sleep by the waves, the captain effortlessly shuttles between destinations which otherwise might be hard or expensive to reach. 

Small ships can also access ports off-limits to mega-cruisers, like Mykonos, nixed from the itineraries of floating city-ships for its unpredictable high winds. There’s an added benefit to smaller craft, too: with so few passengers on board, you can visit a destination without dominating it, like eavesdropping on a place. Compare that to 2,000 or so folk I once watched disgorged on to Key West’s Duval Street and who turned even the bars of the backwaters of that isolated town into extensions of the ship’s saloon, rather than quirky hideouts in the Keys.

The combination of laziness and indulgence that the best ships offer is, at least to me, unbeatable. If only there was a way to take a cruise that includes Las Vegas.