The Hudson River Fall Foliage cruises were also so popular that they sold out quickly every year.

Those are just two signs of how unique the experiences afforded by small ship cruising attracts passengers from all over the world.

The Popularity of Small Ship Cruising

A recent overview of the cruising industry published by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association revealed that “river and small-ship cruising continues to gain traction among travelers, specifically the Millennial set, with a focus on the ever-expanding itineraries and destination experiences that reach far beyond walking and coach tours and endless options for the perfect ‘Instagram moment.’”

In addition, Conde Nast Traveller has written that the “really big growth” in cruise holidays “is in small-ship cruising.” A more recent article suggested that voyagers are “turning to the romance of epic voyages — as competitive bookings for 2022 and beyond show — but as they do it, they want to explore more consciously. As a result, small-ship cruise lines are taking center stage for their mission-driven approach to slow travel.”

Small ships are gaining in popularity worldwide as more people learn about these fantastic vacation opportunities. However, barring a tremendous increase in the number of new small ships being built, the number of available cabins will remain essentially the same. And even with new ships being added every year, that’s only 100 or 200 more passengers.

More people means the ships fill up faster. Booking ahead has never been more essential.

Small Ships, Big Rivers

Small ships can navigate to and through places that bigger ships can’t. They also offer a more intimate cruising experience due to the fact that they only hold a small number of passengers.

Consider for a moment, our Pacific Northwest river cruises. USA River Cruises is based in Vancouver, Washington, just north of the Columbia River. We’re blessed here in the PNW with a true abundance of natural wonders and astonishing scenery.

Just off the top of our heads, we have volcanoes draped in white snow, coastlines of striking, otherworldly beauty, plus waterfalls and greenery butting up against the starkest of red and brown deserts (also dotted with ancient volcanoes). Of course, we also have the Columbia River Gorge, a worldly wonder if ever there was one.

Millions of people travel to our region of the country every year in order to get up close to these natural attractions. Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon, attracts 2 million visitors a year all by itself!

Most of these visitors arrive via car on interstate highways. And while this is a perfectly acceptable and reasonable method of travel, it pales in comparison to seeing these same sites from aboard a small ship river cruise.

Consider just one of our most popular trips through the Pacific Northwest to get a taste of what we’re talking about here.

Journey on the Columbia and Snake Rivers

The PNW is traversed by a number of powerful rivers, including the Columbia and Snake rivers. This particular small ship trip features an itinerary that captures a lot of what’s best about small ship cruising.

For seven days and six nights, passengers aboard the M.V. Sea Lion are treated to a tremendous array of sights and experiences. Sailing on the Columbia and the Snake, one sees panoramic views of stunning landscapes while learning a bit about the area’s rich, deep history.

The itinerary includes Astoria, the Bonneville Dam, Multnomah Falls, Maryhill Museum, Hells Canyon, and more.

A word or two about the M.V. Sea Lion, one of the small ships we’re most proud to mention when discussing small ship cruising. Like all our small ship cruises, this one reaches places inaccessible to larger ships. Just 62 guests are welcomed aboard each trip, so passengers may feel more like they’re sailing on a private yacht (OK, a private mega yacht!) than a cruise ship.

Limited Quantity

What’s the most obvious difference between big and small ships? Ship size limits the number of passengers. Aboard a big ship ocean cruise, you could fit as many as 5,000 or more. There’s plenty of room to accommodate so many people from all over the world.

But on a small ship, limited to less than 500 passengers, it can feel like a more exclusive, luxury cruise ship experience. With small groups of passengers, a small cruise can also feel like an expedition cruise on an expedition ship — with you and your fellow travelers as the explorers, especially during shore excursions.

Anyway, back to the numbers. Take the following example comparing two Alaskan cruise ships:

blog alaska side by side comparison royal princess american constellation

In 2019, as many as 67,640 people could cruise the Royal Princess on its Alaskan departures. But aboard the American Constellation, only 1,925 people in the world were lucky enough to book a cabin.

Fewer people got the opportunity to cruise Alaska aboard the American Constellation in a year than the Royal Princess in one departure.

Book Early!

This is one reason our cruise experts always encourage our clients to book early; it’s easy to find a room when the ship holds 3,000 or more people. The smaller ships fill up so quickly, it’s much harder to get the departure date and cabin category you want if you wait too late to book.

Let’s look at a New England cruise.

Cruising from New England through the Canadian Maritimes is a popular cruise destination every year, especially in the fall. But the number of cruise departures is limited by season. The Carnival Sunrise only had three departures scheduled for 2019, and yet that still accommodated over 9,000 passengers! Victory I only accommodated 800 passengers in the same region.


Even if we added in more ships, the number of New England cruise cabins is still limited. Even if we added in the 20 departures of American Cruise Lines’ two ships that do New England Islands, that’s only 2,000 people.

Plus, Blount Cruise Lines’ six departures that year equaled 528 passengers. So of the three small ship cruise lines that we represent that cruise New England, only 3,336 passengers could be accommodated. That’s less than 40% of the three departures of Carnival Sunrise.

Small ship cruises are a rare and exclusive opportunity. From the luxury experience of the Victory I to the engaging opportunities with American Cruise Lines and the personal experience of Blount, these options are so limited in availability, booking your cabin is a special occasion.

Be sure to get in touch with USA River Cruises today to book your next — or your first! — small ship cruising adventure.

USA River Cruises

We can’t say it enough: Book early!

We have clients worldwide booking cruises on America’s most beautiful rivers and waterways. With such limited space available, it has never been more important than now to plan your cruise vacations ahead.

Cruise lines have already started booking for 2022, and a few are open to 2023, as well. Our cruise experts can help you plan for the future. By booking now, you ensure that your vacation is on the ship you want, the departure date you want, and with the cabin category you want.

Give our cruise experts a call to plan your 2022 or 2023 vacations: (360) 686-2920.


Small Ship Cruising
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Small Ship Cruising
Small ships are gaining in popularity worldwide as more people learn about these fantastic vacation opportunities. However, barring a tremendous increase in the number of new small ships being built, the number of available cabins will remain essentially the same. And even with new ships being added every year, that’s only 100 or 200 more passengers.
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USA River Cruises
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