The m/s Paul Gaugin off the coast of Bora Bora (photo: Paul Gaugin Cruises)

3 Unforgettable Small Ship Cruise Vacations

By Kellie Davenport

So you’ve read our guide to small ship cruising and your interest has been piqued. What’s next? Choosing where to go! These small ship cruise vacations are guaranteed to make your journey memorable. To book your stateroom—or discover even more amazing small ship cruise destinations—contact an AMA Travel cruise specialist online, or by phone at 1-866-989-6594.

Paul Gauguin Cruises: m/s Paul Gaugin
Round trip from Papeete
Year-round departures
Seven-night cruise from $3,995 USD + $139 taxes/person (including round trip airfare from Los Angeles)

On the ship
Paul Gauguin is the undisputed king of the seas in French Polynesia. The cruise line has just one ship, purpose-built with an onboard marina to sail year-round through the turquoise lagoons near Tahiti, Bora Bora and Fiji. Housing 332 passengers, the m/s Paul Gauguin offers laid-back hospitality with a largely Polynesian crew. The almost-all-inclusive pricing includes onboard gratuities and all beverages, including select wines and spirits. Canadian residents save 10 to 25 percent on standard fares throughout 2018 and 2019. AMA members also receive a $100 USD/person onboard credit on select sailings.

Taste of the town
Bora Bora is better known for beaches than city life, but a visit to Viatape, the island’s largest town, promises some tasty diversions. At Bloody Mary’s, a legendary watering hole, pull up a “bar stump” and sip the establishment’s namesake cocktail, served bold and spicy. Munch on deep-fried fish and shrimp as you admire Mount Otemanu in the distance. Before leaving, peruse the wall of fame for celebrity patrons, from Prince Rainier of Monaco to Diana Ross to Mr. Bean.

Overnight stay
A Romantic Escapade excursion includes an overnight stay in an overwater bungalow at a posh resort in Bora Bora or Moorea. You can kick back with champagne, a candlelit dinner and a fresh breakfast delivered by a traditional outrigger canoe. It costs extra, but it’s a romantic way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or honeymoon.

Motu Mohana
Get off deck for a day on Paul Gauguin Cruise’s private motu (islet) near Taha’a. Dotted with swaying palm trees, the white-sand shores of Motu Mohana provide a picturesque home base for snorkelling and diving the South Pacific waters, which teem with colourful sea life. Grab a drink from the floating bar and savour local flavour with a traditional Polynesian barbecue during this complimentary island excursion.

small ship cruise vacations vietnam canoe
An even smaller boat ride in Vietnam (photo: Damien Donnelly)

Azamara Club Cruises: Azamara Quest
Round trip from Singapore
November 26–December 6, 2018
Inside stateroom: from $3,848/person (including taxes)
Oceanview stateroom: from $4,098/person (including taxes)

On the ship
Thanks to its size, the ship delivers you directly to the heart of cities like Bangkok—no industrial ports and three-hour-long bus rides here! While it’s on the larger side of the small-ship spectrum—holding 690 passengers—the Azamara Quest is still a boutique experience. It’s nearly all-inclusive with complimentary wine, beer, spirits, soft drinks, hot beverages and gratuities. One of many culinary highlights is the chef’s table at Prime C steakhouse (extra cost), which features multiple courses with perfectly paired wines. For a bit extra, you can book a massage or treatment at the onboard spa. AMA members receive up to $200 USD/stateroom onboard credit on select sailings.

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AzAmazing evenings
Most Azamara sailings include a once-in-a-lifetime complimentary shore excursion. On this sailing, passengers are treated to a traditional Vietnamese folk show at the lush Binh Quoi Village. Surrounded by coconut palms, babbling creeks and colourful lanterns, dancers perform to musicians playing moon lutes, k’ni fiddles and zithers. The AzAmazing Evening includes an open bar, sweets, fruit and cheese.

Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, played a pivotal role in the Vietnam War. Today, it’s a place unlike any other in Southeast Asia, marrying French colonial and traditional Asian influences. During two port days in the centre of this historic city, book a shore excursion like the Highlights of Ho Chi Minh walking tour. You’ll explore Notre-Dame Cathedral, shop the stalls of Binh Tay Market and sample a Bahn Mi sandwich, Vietnam’s famed street food.

Check out this melting pot of Asian cultures pre- or post-cruise. Stroll on the aerial walkway of the Supertrees, a futuristic “forest” of 50-metre-tall structures that harvest solar energy. Order the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal: Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle. For about two bucks Canadian, you can savour the award-winning dish in Chinatown.

small ship cruise vacations portofino
Beautiful seaside Portofino (photo: Kavalenkava Volha/Alamy)

Windstar Cruises: Wind Surf
Rome to Barcelona (or reverse)
Seven-night cruise
May–November, 2018 departures
Oceanview stateroom: from $2,699 USD + $165 taxes/person

On the ship
The Wind Surf is the world’s largest sailing yacht, accommodating 310 guests. It uses a combination of sail and engine power. The ship features Windstar’s water sports platform—a mini marina off the hull of the ship with windsurfing and snorkel equipment, paddleboards and kayaks. Another unique feature is the open bridge policy, which allows passengers to visit the captain and other crew as they steer the vessel. AMA members receive a $50 USD/person onboard credit on select sailings.

Channel your inner Julia Child on a culinary trek through a French Riviera olive grove. Windstar’s once-in-a-lifetime Ultimate Olive Oil Experience transports you from Cannes to the Domaine de La Royrie, a family-run olive operation. Owners Monique and Lionel Brault give you a personal tour of the groves, where you’ll learn the secrets of producing the perfect virgin olive oil and taste several varieties. The day concludes with a multi-course lunch prepared using Domaine oils.

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This sophisticated Italian town, with its terracotta buildings, chic cafés and the swanky Belmond Hotel Splendido, is the perfect launching point to see more rustic coastal communities. Book a boat excursion to visit fishing villages only accessible by water. The car-free town of San Fruttuoso, surrounded by imposing cliffs, boasts a remarkable 10th-century abbey. Further up the coast, Camogli is a typical fishing village that once housed a bustling shipyard.

Monte Carlo
Squeezed into just 200 hectares, Monaco is the world’s second-smallest country, preceded only by the Vatican. And Monaco’s capital exudes glamour through every inch of its 60-hectare space. The Wind Surf drops anchor in the city’s famed harbour, where you can make like the locals and see and be seen on the beach. Or book a shore excursion for a guided walking tour of the Old City, accessible by elevator from Monaco Rock. Plan on going in May? You might catch the legendary Monaco Grand Prix Formula 1 race.