Where once the mere mention of a cruise ship would immediately conjure up images of massive, majestic liners and thousands of passengers, a change has been sweeping through the cruise industry over the past decade as travelers increasingly look for smaller boats and more exotic destinations.

The Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance (http://nichecruise.com) recently reported that the number of beds available globally on small ships has risen from 200,000 in 2005 to an expected 500,000 by the end of 2010.

Steve Odell, Silversea Cruises' senior vice-president for Asia-Pacific, has witnessed first-hand the growth of the trend. His company now has five smaller, luxury liners cruising the world's waters offering from 86 to 270 suites for cruises to destinations as diverse as the Arctic to the Canary Islands.

He says people's tastes are changing, as are the market demographics.

"In the past 12 months we have seen China establish itself as our largest market for the first time,'' Odell told Relaxnews. "And the demographic is really interesting. We are finding our Chinese clients are looking to go for more relaxed, exotic destinations such the Arctic and Antarctic and to travel in groups. The average age is also between 35 and 45 which is much younger than anywhere else but we are finding overall that getting younger people on cruises is in fact become a global trend.''

The Cruise Line International Association (http://www.cruising.org) certainly agrees with Odell's claims about Antarctica. It says that destination is growing in popularity more than any other in the world.

According to the CLIA, Antarctica was in 2000 only targeting less than one percent of all cruises yet by 2009 the destination had seen a 23 percent rise in the number of cruise tourists it was attracting - even though only less than three percent of all liners head there.

The smaller boats are the ones that can negotiate the more tricky waters, says Odell, and so they are offering more choice to the modern cruise passenger.

"Boutique cruises like ours are becoming increasingly popular as people want to make more of an escape,'' he says. "With smaller boats you have more flexibility - you can get into ports and destinations where the bigger boats can't go."