Are you tempted by the idea of a cruise, but wary of committing too much of the holiday budget and your annual leave to something you might not enjoy? Booking a mini-cruise of two to four nights is a low-risk way of dipping a toe in the ocean of available cruise lines and ships.
Most cruise lines scatter a few short sailings through their calendars. It's not just a way of attracting first timers, but can also be a lure to win over regular cruisers from other lines. It is also a good chance to try a different style of ship.
Offering short taster voyages makes particular sense on an ultra-luxury line such as Silversea (silversea.com), where a typical eight-night cruise in the Mediterranean starts at around £2,000 per person in the cheapest cabin in spring and is nearer £3,000 per person in high summer (excluding flights). So, new this year, Silversea is offering eight "sampler" cruises in Europe of three to six nights, departing March to June and starting at £1,040pp.
Pre-inaugural short voyages on brand new ships are always popular, often snapped up by a line's loyal customers who get advance booking and want bragging rights to being first on board. Two-night cruises from Southampton on Royal Princess (prin cess.com), departing on 9 and 14 June went on sale last Tuesday and are selling fast.
While a short cruise lets you get to know a ship's facilities and cuisine, it is worth remembering the atmosphere can be quite different from a longer cruise on the same vessel. Mini-cruises from Southampton on P&O ships are known as party cruises, attracting lots of hen and stag groups. A less boisterous crowd is more likely on longer voyages.
* A three-night cruise aboard P&O's Aurora, calling at St Peter Port, Guernsey and Zeebrugge (for Bruges), departs Southampton on 22 April, and costs from £249pp with Go Cruise (01952 402301; gocruise.co.uk/ad).
* Silversea (0844 251 0837; silversea.com) offers three nights aboard the Silver Wind, sailing from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (for Rome), calling at Monte Carlo (overnight) and Livorno, from £1,040pp, including drinks and gratuities but not flights.
* Try rock climbing and go ice-skating aboard the big American ship Adventure of the Seas on a two-nighter from Southampton, calling at Le Havre. Departs on 7 May, from £219pp (0844 488 3084; virginholidaycruises.co.uk).
* From May to October, Cunard (0843 374 0000; cunard.co.uk) has 12 two-night cruises from Southampton to Hamburg on the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Elizabeth. The cost, from £399pp, includes return flights.