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Travel experiences

Why small is beautiful

1st June, 2020

By Lesley Bellew

Be warned. Step on to an elegant boutique ship and you’ll be hooked.

With almost one member of crew to every passenger expect to be completely and utterly indulged – the wine waiter will know your name and favourite tipple before your first day on board is over and if you want tea brought to your cabin at 7am every day or a gin and tonic at 6pm, consider it done!

Nearly everyone chooses a cruise to explore particular destinations, but actually, it’s the intimacy and friendliness of the ship’s community that really makes a small cruise ship experience so special.

Familiar faces – when going on tours, at lectures, in the library and at mealtimes make for early ‘hellos’ with other guests which in turn become occasional stops to share stories of the day’s wildlife sightings or excursion highlights.

It builds throughout the sailing and before you know it you’ll be chatting over coffee, meeting for a drink in the bar and enjoying the company of so many like-minded souls.

All-inclusive, adults-only sailings have their own unique ambience and it makes socialising easy because there’s no worry about who is going to pay for coffee or the bar bill!

It’s an elegant holiday style that offers the ultimate in relaxation – no noisy gaming machines or casinos, no gimmicks or pushy sales, no long queues and no children to be entertained.

The ship becomes a home-from-home with cabins that combine gorgeous textures with soothing colour schemes and practical pleasers such generous storage space and top-quality beds with fine linen, USB points for techies and a kettle for making tea and coffee.

Do as much or as little as you like, read a book from the library on your balcony or poolside sunbed (often the smaller the ship, the bigger the library!), take leisurely walks around the deck to clock up some miles while looking out to sea before a drink on an outside terrace.

There’s an intimate atmosphere but plenty of options to join in some fun from daily quizzes to quoits, or start a new arts and crafts hobby, learn to dance, even join bridge sessions – there’s always beginners to advanced options.

With a nod to wellness, swim some lengths in the pool, relax and chat in the hot tubs or head to the spa for some special pampering and the gym for a workout while looking to sea or become a regular at Pilates, yoga and Tai Chi classes.

Keep up the healthy lifestyle port days by simply wandering into town. Remember, many small ports await, from Mykonos in the Greek islands to Hvar in Croatia, while Greencastle and Killybegs in Ireland make for charming calls – all without the drag of being in a giant harbour alongside half a dozen megaships.

Choose from short to full-day tours; excursion times are staggered to create a smooth disembarkation and there’s always help with private excursions and ‘go-it-alone’ recommendations on everything from the best shopping tips to regional restaurants, hiking trails and top attractions from the well-travelled tours team. Pick their brains to make the most of going ashore!

Smaller ships also suit single travellers very well with welcome events for solos and the Maitre d’ is always attentive to single diner’s wishes; arranging for guests to sit on a large table of other single guests or a smaller table to suit their wishes.

Expect exceptional dining options. On a small ship, executive chefs have their own budgets and are not constricted to a two-week revolving menu. In Norway, look forward to feasting on everything from fresh salmon to moose salami after the chef returns from market or the sweetest, freshest fruit when sailing in the Med.

All-inclusive means no extra charges in specialty restaurants and on Saga’s Spirit of Discovery, for example, the seafood sharing platter in the Coast to Coast restaurant would, as one passenger put it ‘cost an arm and a leg in a London hotel’. The Club by Jools, a 1950s cabaret lounge cum steakhouse is another innovative space to meet newly made friends for drinks and lean on the bar to soak up the foot-tapping music vibe music before tucking into dinner.

Other musical treats include a pianist playing favourite tunes during afternoon tea, chamber music and jazz sessions, guest musicians and singers as well as cabaret-style shows – and when the day is nearly done hit that dancefloor!

Free feel to dress up in the evenings, but if that’s not your thing give it a miss. It’s all about choice and if your idea of putting on the style is eating al fresco and enjoying an ice cream by the pool that’s what you can do.

So dive in, it’s likely you’ll never want to leave the ship and your new cruise ‘family’ – and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.