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Small Ships Docking Advantages – City Centers and Secluded Ports

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As I design trips, there’s a lot of nuance and little details that can elevate the overall journey. I found the same with cruising, and how small ship cruising has made me so appreciate how a great parking place – okay, the proper term is docking location – can have a big impact on your experience in port, so that inspires this week’s article…

Small Ships Docking Advantages – City Centers and Secluded Ports

I’ve been a fan of small ship cruising for the last 20 years, where we cruise in ships designed for 1000 or fewer guests, and typically more in the range of 300-650 people.

Contrast that to the images you see on TV of the large mega-ships, which are usually 5000 people or more. Zip-lines, racetracks, rock-climbing walls, and waterparks fill these ships to make them the objective of travel experience.

For those who want to explore the world and immerse themselves in the destination, small ships fulfill that desire by taking you into the center of the location.

Instead of big ships that dock far away in industrial spots, small ships bring you closer to the heart of charming towns. It feels like strolling off the boat and diving into the local scene. Forget the crowds and chaos; small ships let you explore freely. They cruise into those small, dreamy ports where big ships can’t squeeze in. This gives you more time to enjoy the natural atmosphere of each place without any hustle and bustle.

My recent ‘Winter in the Med’ cruise was the perfect example of having a great ‘parking place.’

In Nice, we were docked in the old port right near the city center – look at this amazing location we were in. Most large ships anchor in Villefranche and then you have to travel to Nice, about a 25-minute drive. In Marseilles, we were able to dock and walk right off the ship to key sights like the Cathedral Cathédrale Basilique Sainte-Marie-Majeuree. Larger ships dock at a port that is a 15-minute drive from the city center.

The true adventure starts when small boats sail into hidden ports, allowing access to places big ships can only wish to visit. This unique feature opens up a world of discovery right in your footsteps, allowing you to immerse yourself in each destination’s local culture, history, and natural beauty without the usual crowds.

But it’s not just about docking in small city center locations – small ships pack a punch in service. With fewer passengers, you get more attention.

As you travel the world, here are some of the hidden gems with small ship docking spots.

Bordeaux, France 

Bordeaux is a great place to visit on a small ship cruise. It is a city renowned for its historical beauty and delicious vineyards that produce some of the world’s best wines. Here, you also explore the city’s delicious food, and art scene, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

I was spoiled on a cruise with Seabourn back in 2019, where we docked right in the heart of Bordeaux for two days. It was so easy to walk right off the ship and be in the center of town.

Bordeaux is all about wine, so the two days gave us the opportunity to explore both the right bank wineries that are more oriented to Merlot, and the left bank wineries where Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant. Each day we walked about a block from the ship to the meeting place for our wine tours, and we were able to use the remainder of each to explore the key sights, which were so convenient to walk to.

Corinth Canal, Greece

Sailing through the Corinth Canal aboard a small ship is an experience like no other, offering a unique perspective on Greece’s ancient marvels. It’s a shortcut that connects two big seas, the Aegean and Ionian. This narrow waterway unveils a journey through time, surrounded by ancient ruins and incredible scenery, like something out of a myth. It’s a particular passage that connects the seas and makes you feel connected to the history of the place.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Corinth twice and see the canal from above, but actually cruising through the canal is definitely on my bucket list.

Seville, Spain

Arriving in Seville via small ship means docking near the vibrant heart of this passionate city. Here, you find the rhythm of Flamenco, discover the labyrinthine streets of the historic center, and delight in tapas at hidden gemstones recognized only by the locals. Seville unfolds a rich cultural dance that reflects Spain’s lively spirit, creating an enchanting, life-filled experience.

Azamara’s ships with about 700 guests is small enough to navigate the Guadalquivir River, and docks in the heart of Seville next to the Plaza de Espana. Larger ships have to dock in Cadiz, which is about 80 miles away.

Ísafjörður, Iceland

The remote beauty of Ísafjörður is reserved for those who arrive by small ship, ready to embrace the untouched wilderness of Iceland. This secluded port is your gateway to the Arctic Circle’s breathtaking landscapes, where the dramatic fjords meet quaint fishing villages. Imagine kayaking in pristine waters, hiking through landscapes so raw and beautiful they seem otherworldly, and observing charming puffins in their natural habitat. Moreover, the serene ambiance of this secluded Icelandic gem provides a memorable experience with its peacefulness and natural beauty.

Windstar has an Around Iceland’ itinerary that visits this port as it circumnavigates Iceland.

Tahiti/French Polynesia

Tahiti, the actual tropical paradise, is allured with crystal-clear waters and overwater bungalows.

Exploring on a small ship lets you find famous spots, hidden lagoons, and secret coves, like little slices of paradise all your own. It feels like diving into a dream world of crystal-clear water and soaking up the rich culture of French Polynesia.

Growing Popularity of Small Ship Cruises

Small ship cruising is fantastic for a personalized experience. With fewer people on board, the crew gets to know you and makes you feel special during the whole journey, which helps to create an intimate atmosphere.

However, food is a big part of this journey as on small ships, chefs can create menus inspired by local dishes. With fewer people to cook for, they have the time to prepare delicious meals that give you a taste of the culture.

Small ships can also create amazing experiences. Silversea has itineraries where they dock in the center of London, and they pay to have the Tower Bridge lifted for the ship to sail up the Thames River. Imagine being on that ship for such an extraordinary experience.

Small ship cruising is like having a key to secret gardens worldwide. It’s not just about going places; it’s about really getting to know them, making friends along the way, and collecting stories that feel like they’re yours alone.

With small ship cruising, you get to sneak into the heart of cities and hidden spots that big ships just wave at from a distance.