If you long for the open ocean but bristle at the thought of all-night discos, thousand-seat dining rooms or congested Caribbean ports-turned-duty-free-shopping-malls, know this: You can enjoy a cozier atmosphere, personalized setting and service, and destination-driven itineraries on a cruise. Not all cruise ships are vast, floating resorts. A burgeoning industry niche revolves around small vessels -- a wide-ranging group that includes yachts, rugged expedition ships, riverboats and classic sailing schooners -- where passenger counts top out at closer to 300, rather than 3,000.
Before we launch into our picks for the best small ship cruises, let's answer one question: How do we define "small"? For this story, we're going to stick with vessels that accommodate fewer than 500 passengers, spanning the market from rugged expedition ships to super-luxury yachts. Now check out our small ship cruise comparison below.