The Smaller Operators - Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)

Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2017 (Berlitz Cruise Guide) (2016)

The Smaller Operators

While the major cruise lines dominate the mass market, dozens of smaller companies cater for more specialist tastes and can offer some exotic destinations.

The international cruise industry comprises around 75 companies with oceangoing cruise ships providing vacations to more than 21 million passengers a year. Most major cruise lines are owned and operated by large corporations. Other operators are family-owned cruise lines. Still others are small, with just a couple of compact-size ships. Some cruise companies don’t own their own ships, but charter them from ship-owning and ship-management companies for year-round or seasonal operation.

Some cruise lines are actually tour operators - vacation packagers, mostly in Europe, that put together airlines, hotels, car rentals, and cruises. Some own their own charter airlines. Tour operators have transferred some of their land-based tourists to the sea, aboard ships that move the destinations for them. These are the equivalent of the package vacation that first became popular in Europe in the 1970s - for example, Thomson Cruises.

These profiles, in alphabetical order, include cruise lines with boutique (very small), small or mid-size ships and small fleets, those with a small number of large resort ships, those with tall ships (with either real working sail propulsion or computer-controlled assistance), those that specialize in hardy or ‘soft’ expedition cruises, and those that cruise along coastal and inland waterways.


Germany-based AIDA Cruises is one of the Carnival brands.

Douglas Ward

Abercrombie & Kent (A&K)

Geoffrey Kent started A&K as a safari company in 1962 - there was no Mr Abercrombie, it just sounded good - and then specialized in upscale train journeys around the globe for small groups. The company got started in the cruise business when it went into a marketing agreement with the now defunct Society Expeditions in 1990. Two years later it bought the little expedition ship Society Explorer (formerly Lindblad Explorer) when Society Expeditions ceased operations. The ship, renamed National Geographic Explorer, now belongs to Lindblad Expeditions. Today, A&K specializes in escorted educational and nature cruises, and charters various ships, such as those of Swan Hellenic Cruises, for its cruise programs, taking passengers to the more remote destinations such as the Antarctic, in relative comfort. The company is also involved in river cruises and hotel barges, for which it acts as sales agents. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare.

AIDA Cruises

The former East German shipping company Deutsche Seerederei (DSR) and its marketing arm Seetours (Deutsche Seetouristik) were assigned the traditional cruise ship Arkona as part of the East-West integration in 1985, which included a contractual agreement with the Treuhandanstalt (the agency that privatized East German enterprises) to build a new ship. It did this in 1996 with the newly built Aida, designed to appeal to young, active German-speaking families. The concept was to create a seagoing version of the popular Robinson Clubs - a sort of German Club Med concept. When Aida first debuted, there were almost no passengers, and the company struggled.

In 1998 the company was sold to Norwegian Cruise Line, which sold it back to its original Rostock-based owners. P&O acquired it in 1999, and it is now a very successful multi-ship brand belonging to the Carnival Corporation, under the direct control of its Costa Cruises division (which also overseas is Spanish division, called Iberocruceros). AIDA Cruises, Germany’s largest cruise line, is known for its über-casual cruising, with main self-serve buffet restaurants instead of the traditional waiter service.

AIDA Cruises has grown up over the past few years, and no longer focuses on summer-camp style participation events. The ships have become more sophisticated, entertaining venues, and the old animateurs - members of staff who specialize in entertainment - have grown up and morphed into what are now known as Club Teams. They, along with other staff, interact with passengers throughout the ship. AIDA Cruises has its own training schools in several countries, plus a recognized training academy in Rostock.

Alaskan Dream Cruises

Allen Marine Tours is an operator of local day vessels in Alaska, operating only in Alaska and family-owned by members of the Kaagwaantaan Clans of the Tlingit people. It formed a new micro-cruise company, Alaskan Dream Cruises, in 2010 after buying two Cruise West 78-passenger vessels when Cruise West declared insolvency and ceased operations. Spirit of Columbia and Spirit of Alaska were converted into Admiralty Dream and Baranhof Dream in 2011. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare.


Azamara Journey cruising the Norwegian fjords.

Azamara Club Cruises

American Cruise Lines

ACL was originally formed in 1974, at the beginning of American coastal passenger shipping, but it went bankrupt in 1989, the ships were sold off, and the company lay dormant. The original owner, Charles Robertson, a renowned yachtsman who used to race 12-meter America’s Cup yachts, resurrected it in 2000, and built its own ships in its own wholly owned small shipyard in Salisbury, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay.

ACL’s ships (American Glory, American Spirit, American Star, Independence) ply the inter-coastal waterways and rivers of the North American East Coast between Maine and Florida, and provide an up-close, intimate experience for passengers who don’t need luxury or much pampering but do like American history and culture, as well as service from an all-American college-age staff. The ‘D-class’ vessels are less than 2,500 gross tonnage, and are subject neither to bureaucratic regulations nor to union rules.

In 2011, the company also started operating Queen of the West, a 120-passenger paddlewheel (replica steamboat) on rivers in the US Pacific Northwest. In 2012 it introduced the brand new Queen of the Mississippi, a replica steamboat, for Mississippi River cruises. Gratuities are not included in the company’s cruise fares.

Antarpply Expeditions

Based in Ushuaia, Argentina, this company specializes in inexpensive Antarctic expedition cruises, including the Falkland Isles, Shetland Isles, and South Georgia, during the Austral summer. It has one expedition ship, Ushuaia, but the quality of its voyages and operation is not as high as that of the better-run, more experienced European companies. Gratuities are not included in the fare.

Aurora Expeditions

This Australian company was founded in 1993 by Australian Mount Everest veteran and geologist Greg Mortimer and adventure travel specialist Margaret Werner. The company, which specializes in small-group expeditions, uses the chartered expedition ship Polar Pioneer for its Antarctic expedition cruise programs. Other destinations include Papua New Guinea, Australia’s Kimberley region, and the Russian Far East, for which the ship is the chartered Russian expedition vessel Akademik Shokalskiy. Gratuities are not included in the fare.


This company, based in Santiago, Chile, operates cruise ships on ‘soft’ expedition cruises to the Chilean fjords, Patagonia, and Tierra del Fuego - some of the world’s most fascinating but hostile environments. Catering increasingly to an international clientele, with Spanish as the official onboard language (English is also spoken). Don’t expect high standards aboard its two ships, but the service is very friendly, and the organization and operations are extremely good.

The company introduced a brand new ship in 2010, the 210-passenger Stella Australis, and now operates a three-ship fleet. The other two ships are Mare Australis and Via Australis. Its cruises are ‘all-inclusive,’ with an open bar for all beverages, including wine and gratuities. In 2013 the company shortened its name, from Cruceros Australis to, simply, Australis.

Azamara Club Cruises

This company, formerly Azamara Cruises, is an offshoot of Celebrity Cruises, and was created in 2007. Having started with little direction, the company was revitalized in 2009-10 by new president Larry Pimentel. It operates two 700-passenger ships, taking people to smaller ports that some of the large resort ships can’t get into.

The company specializes in providing high-quality dining, and the ships try to provide a floating ‘country club’ experience. They are in direct competition with the ships of Oceania Cruises - except that Oceania doesn’t charge extra to dine in its specialty restaurants. But Azamara has longer port stays and more overnight port stays than Oceania - a bonus during longer itineraries.

The onboard experience is similar to that aboard the ships of parent company Celebrity Cruises (including rather tacky art auctions), but modified to suit those who want a more personal and more sophisticated cruise experience aboard smaller ships. Its strengths are the food and European-style service, and each ship has two extra-charge restaurants in addition to the main dining venues. Included in the fare are gratuities to dining and housekeeping staff, wine with lunch and dinner, coffee and tea 24 hours a day, and shuttle buses in ports of call, where needed. Complimentary standard spirits, wines, and international beers throughout the ship during bar opening hours were introduced in March 2013. One area where Azamara Club Cruises tries to differentiate is by providing long-stay port days - including several overnight stays - as well as the company’s ‘AzAmazing Evenings’ cultural excursion programs.

Blount Small Ship Adventures

Founded in 1966 by the late Luther H. Blount, an engineer and inventor of the American steam trawler, who built his cruise vessels in his own shipyard in Warren, Rhode Island, the company started as a family-run venture. Today, as the oldest US-flag cruise line still operating, it is run by his daughter, Nancy Blount.

Cruises are operated like private family outings, using two unpretentious ships that were specially constructed to operate in close-in coastal areas and inland waterways of the eastern US seaboard, with forays to the Bahamas and Caribbean during the winter. The onboard experience is strictly no-frills cruising in really basic, down-to-earth surroundings that have a 1950s feel.

Its early-to-bed passengers - average age 72 years - are typical of those who don’t like glitz or trendy. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare. Blount Small Ship Adventures introduced select beers and house wines with lunch and dinner on cruises in 2013.


Asuka II leaving port.

Douglas Ward

CDF Croisières de France

Founded and wholly owned by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL), CDF Croisières de France was created in 2007, with headquarters in Paris. The brand is now under the overall control of Pullmantur Cruises, also owned by RCCL. The company devotes all its resources to cruising for French-speaking passengers, with one ship, the former Horizon and Zenith. The emphasis is on fine French cuisine and all-inclusive pricing. Gratuities are included in the fare.

Celebration Cruise Line

This company, a one-ship operation, is owned by Celebration Cruise Holdings, which also owned the now defunct Imperial Majesty Cruise Line, whose reputation suffered from high-pressure telemarketing campaigns. Its Bahamas Celebration operates two-night cruises from the Port of Palm Beach to the Bahamas.

Despite the company’s claims to ‘international gourmet dining,’ the ship provides a highly programmed but absolutely basic party getaway cruise with very standard food, and with much pressure for onboard revenue from its dining, casino, and shore excursion operations.


Crystal Serenity alongside in Malta.

Crystal Cruises

Club Med Cruises

Club Med became renowned for providing hassle-free vacations for the whole family. The first Club Med village was started in 1950 on the Spanish island of Majorca, but the concept became so popular that it grew to more than 100 vacation villages throughout the world.

Club Med Cruises, an offshoot of the French all-inclusive vacation clubs, introduced its first oceangoing cruise vessel in 1990, the computer-controlled sail-cruise ship Club Med II (extensively refurbished in 2008). Aboard the all-inclusive ship, the gentils ordinaires serve as both super-cruise staff and ‘rah-rah’ cheerleaders, carrying out entertainment and activity programs, for the mainly French-speaking passengers. Club Med II has a sister ship, Windstar Cruises’ Wind Surf, which also provides a relaxed onboard experience. Gratuities are included in the fare.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages

This UK-based company, which has existed for many years as a sales and marketing organization representing several small cruise lines, now charters two older ships owned by other companies. The company, whose owners originally worked for the now-defunct CTC Cruises, specializes in adults-only (16 and over) cruises from several UK ports, and provides traditional cruise features such as mid-morning bouillon, and captain’s welcome and farewell dinners. The onboard product, particularly the food, is at the lower end of the market. Discovery (to be withdrawn at the end of 2014) and Marco Polo are the featured ships for ex-UK cruises (Discovery replaced Ocean Countess in early 2013), while Astor is marketed and operated on behalf of Transocean Cruises. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare.

Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises was founded in 1988 by Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK), the world’s largest cargo ship and transportation logistics company - with a fleet of more than 700 ships. The American-managed company is based in Century City, Los Angeles. Crystal Harmony, the company’s first ship, was built in Japan, and debuted in New York in May 1990 to great acclaim. Meanwhile, Crystal Cruises introduced two new ships, Crystal Symphony in 1995, and Crystal Serenity in 2000, one built in Finland, the other in France.

In 2006 Crystal Harmony was transferred to parent company NYK as Asuka II for its Asuka Cruise division, for Japanese speakers. Crystal Cruises continues to provide excellent food and service aboard its two spacious ships (Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony), including an excellent Nobu sushi/sashimi bar aboard Crystal Serenity.

The ships operate worldwide itineraries with flair. Both ships are superbly maintained, and passengers who seek fine food in a sophisticated setting should be delighted with their choice of ship and company. Open-seating dining was introduced in January 2011 for the first time, or passengers can opt for a choice of fixed-time dining. In spring 2012 Crystal Cruises adopted all-inclusive pricing, with drinks, wines, and gratuities included in the fare.


Disney takes its brand to Alaska.


Disney Cruise Line

It was Lawrence (Larry) P. Murphy, executive vice-president of the Walt Disney Company, who was the guiding light in the early 1990s behind the expansion of the company into the cruise business. Previously, Disney had flirted with cruising by participating in a licensing agreement with a Florida-based cruise line, the now-defunct Premier Cruise Lines, with three vintage ships based in Port Canaveral. Murphy and other Disney executives explored the possibility of creating their own ships when the licensing agreement ran out. They concluded that pairing with an established cruise line wouldn’t work because of Disney’s policy of generous spending on the guest experience.

The solution: create a new cruise line, wholly owned and controlled by Disney and to be known as Disney Cruise Line. The company committed an astonishing $1 billion to the project.

Its two mid-size ships, Disney Magic (1998) and Disney Wonder (1999), the first cruise ships since the 1950s to be built with two funnels, cater to loyal Disney followers, and everything aboard the ships is Disney - every song, every piece of artwork, every movie and production show - and Mickey’s ears adorn the ships’ funnels. But there’s no casino and no library. However, its ‘rotation dining’ concept proved to be completely Disneylogical; you move, together with your waiter, to each of three identically sized restaurants - each with different decor - in turn.

One new, larger ship, Disney Dream, joined the fleet in 2011, and sister ship Disney Fantasy arrived in 2012.

Disney, of course, is all about families with children, and the ships cater to both. You can buy a package combining a short stay at a Disney resort and a cruise. Disney has its own cruise terminal at Port Canaveral, Florida, its design being an imaginative but close copy of the Ocean Terminal in Southampton, UK, frequented by yesteryear’s ocean liners but little used today. The terminal and pier were extended in 2010 and connected to a new parking garage. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare.


Hapag-Lloyd’s Bremen in the Corinth Canal, Greece.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Etstur Cruises

Based in Istanbul, this company (Ets Ersoy Turistik Servisieri) - the largest tourism group for domestic travel, vacations, and cruises in Turkey - was founded in 1991 by two brothers. It charters the Aegean Paradise (formerly Delphin Voyager) from the ship’s Greek owners. Operations and marine catering are outsourced to specialist companies. Etstur also sells other cruise line’s products, including river cruises, to its Turkish clientele base.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

This Norwegian family-owned and family-run company was founded in Hvitstein, a town on Oslofjord, Norway, in 1848. Today, a fifth-generation Olsen, Fred Jr, runs the company from its headquarters in Suffolk, England. The group also has interests in the hotels, aviation, shipbuilding, ferries, and offshore industries. The company specializes in cruises for adults who are usually retired and of senior years - typically over 65.

Aboard the ships, interior design reflects traditional design features, and dressing for dinner is expected on four nights during a two-week cruise. Many theme cruises, such as gardening and horticulture, and Scottish country dancing, hosted by recognized television celebrities, are regular features. The company welcomes solo passengers as well as couples and delivers a quintessentially ‘British’ cruise experience, albeit by a mainly Filipino hotel service staff.

The first ship dedicated exclusively to cruising debuted in 1987, and now ships cruise year-round out of UK ports such as Dover, Southampton, Liverpool, Newcastle, Greenock, Leith, Belfast, and Dublin (ideal for anyone based in the UK to join one of the ships without having to fly), with some ships operating fly-cruises from Canary Island ports, or Caribbean ports such as Barbados in winter.

Coffee- and tea-making facilities are provided in each cabin. Smoking is allowed only on the open decks, and nowhere inside the ships. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare, but are automatically charged to your onboard account. Drink prices are extremely reasonable aboard the company’s ships, where the social scene is courteous, friendly, and warm, and gentlemen hosts are onboard each cruise for unaccompanied women who would like dancing partners.

FTI Cruises

This company, part of the Munich-based FTI Touristik (founded in 1983), bought its only ship from Saga Cruises in 2011 and started its cruise operations in May 2012 for the German-speaking market. The ship, Berlin, is well-known in Germany, being the multi-year star of the TV series Traumschiff (Dream Ship), the long-running show that preceded Aaron Spelling’s The Love Boat series in the US.

Galápagos Cruises

Metropolitan Touring, Ecuador’s foremost tour and travel company is based in Quito and sells its cruises through general sales agents such as the North American Dallas-based Adventure Associates. Its pocket-size ships, the well-run Isabella and Santa Cruz, visit the Galápagos Islands with all-Ecuadorean crew and food. Go for the destination, not for the ships, which are old and have few facilities. Gratuities are not included in the fare.

G Adventures

This Canadian company, based in Toronto, was founded in 1990 as GAP Adventures by Bruce Poon Tip, using only his own personal credit cards. The company has a grassroots approach to travel, creating meaningful, memorable adventures on the path less traveled. It has grown into one of the world’s largest adventure travel companies, with over 850 employees, and charters small ships suitable for expedition-style cruises. Its present ship is the 58-cabin MS Expedition.

Grand Circle Cruise Line

Ethel Andrus, a retired teacher, wanted to share her vision of helping Americans lead more vital, challenging, and politically active lives. She founded the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in 1958. The company has exclusive charters for its small group travel (the company’s foundation has donated more than $91 million to cultural, educational, and humanitarian organizations since 1992). For many years, this Boston-based travel company (its brands are Grand Circle Travel, Overseas Adventure Travel, and Grand Circle Cruise Line) has chartered riverships and small ocean-going vessels. The company now has three of its own custom-designed and custom-built sea-going ships for in-depth coastal cruises for two groups of 25 persons each (Arethusa, Artemis, Athena). However, general cruise/travel agents cannot easily book into the company’s cruise programs.


Sea shanty session aboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa.

Douglas Ward

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Germany’s two most famous ocean liner companies, the Bremen-based Norddeutscher Lloyd and the Hamburg-based Hamburg America Line, merged in 1970 to become Hapag-Lloyd. The company no longer operates regularly scheduled transatlantic crossings. Instead, it promotes five ships in three different market segments.

Two small ships are in the specialized expedition cruise market: the 164-passenger Bremen and the 184-passenger Hanseatic (run by Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises); one is in the mid-price market (the 684-passenger Columbus 2), and two (the more formal 400-passenger Europa and the more informal 516-passener Europa 2) are in the luxury market. All provide destination-intensive cruises aimed at the German-speaking market, with occasional dual-language cruises for English-speakers.

Aboard Europa and Europa 2, gratuities are not included in the fare, but Columbus 2 operates certain cruises as ‘all-inclusive.’ Two ships operate an annual around-the-world cruise, which typically starts in November-December and lasts for three or four months. The Columbus 2 charter ends in April 2014, however. After this date Hapag-Lloyd will concentrate only on its luxury and expedition cruise clientele. The staff on board makes all its own breads and soups, pâtés, jams, and preserves - all from scratch.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises also supports the annual Stella Maris Vocal Competition, which allows up-and-coming vocalists from around the world to compete for the prestigious Young Talent Development Prize and a contract with the prestigious Deutsch Grammophon record label.

Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises

The company operates two specialist expedition cruise ships, the 164-passenger Bremen and the 184-passenger Hanseatic. There are occasional dual-language cruises for the English-speaking market, but all the crew speak English anyway.

Both ships carry a fleet of Zodiac inflatable rubber craft for shore landings in the polar region and other destinations with no pier facilities. They have excellent cuisine, proper boot-washing and storage stations, lecture rooms, extensive libraries, and other expedition facilities to suit adventurous itineraries, plus some of the world’s best expedition leaders.

Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises is a member of IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators), a body committed to the highest standards of responsible tourism to Antarctica and to operating its ships in the most environmentally friendly manner, accompanied by the very best expedition leaders in the business.

Hapag-Lloyd publishes its own excellent handbooks (in both English and German) on expedition regions such as the Arctic, Antarctica, Amazonia, and the South Sea Islands, as well as exclusive maps. Gratuities are not included in the fare.

Harmony Cruises

This company, founded in 2011, is a relatively new entrant to cruise tourism. A subsidiary of Polaris Shipping (owner of a fleet of 16 bulk ore carriers and one container ship), it is based in Seoul, South Korea, and targets the Korean-speaking market. Its single ship, Club Harmony (formerly Costa Marina) is specifically geared to Korean tastes, and operates itineraries that highlight Southeast Asia, and particularly Japan. The cruise operation began in March 2012, with the ship based on Seoul, South Korea. The ship is on a three-year charter.

Hebridean Island Cruises

The company (formerly Hebridean International Cruises) was set up in 1989 under the Thatcher government’s British Enterprise Scheme, and has its headquarters in Skipton, Yorkshire. It operates one all-inclusive boutique ship, Hebridean Princess, which conveys the atmosphere of English country-house life - think Laura Ashley fabrics and soft furnishings - and specializes in cruises for mature adults. Gratuities and all port taxes are included, as are most excursions. The ship runs cruises around the Scottish islands. There are occasional sailings to English ports, the Channel Islands, and Norway. Each cabin has coffee- and tea-making facilities. Gratuities are included in the fare. The Queen granted Hebridean Island Cruises a royal warrant in her jubilee year.

Heritage Expeditions

This youth-minded adventure travel company, based in Christchurch, New Zealand, focuses on small group expedition-style cruising - specifically to Antarctica, the Sub-Antarctic and Russian Far East. The company was founded in 1985 by biologist Rodney Russ who worked for the New Zealand Wildlife Service for many years. The company’s single ship, Spirit of Enderby was formerly Professor Khromov, a small Russian oceanographic research vessel.

Henna Cruises

Henna Cruises is owned by the HNA Group (Hainan), a multi-enterprise industry group that covers air transportation (Hainan Air), airport management, hotel (this division provided the accommodation for the 16th Asian Games in 2010), logistics, real estate, tourism, and other related businesses. It has five airlines, including Grand China Express - among the largest regional airlines in China operating over 30 aircraft on 80 domestic routes. In 2012, this company purchased the former Pacific Sun (originally Carnival Cruise Lines’ Jubilee) from P&O Cruises Australia and became the first mainland China-based company to own and operate a cruise ship for its domestic market. The slogan of HNA Tourism Group is ‘My Travel, My Life.’ Henna (the ship’s new name) started operations in January 2013.

HNA Tourism Group

The HNA Group, a holding company with four divisions, services the domestic Chinese travel market. The company started Hainan Airlines, whose first flight was in 1993. HNA Tourism Cruises Yacht Management was founded in 2011 to operate cruises and it became the first cruise ship operator in mainland China. Its single ship Henna (formerly Pacific Sun) established voyages between Sanya and Tianjin.


The company is an amalgamation of two shipping companies (OVDS and TVDS) and provides year-round service along the Norwegian coast, calling at 33 ports in 11 days. Hurtigruten, formerly known as the Norwegian Coastal Voyage, has also recently developed expedition-style cruises, albeit aboard ships that have been converted for the purpose, rather than specifically built for expedition cruises. So, as long as you think utilitarian and modest decor, you’ll get the idea of life aboard one of the Hurtigruten ships, which are practical rather than beautiful. Even aboard the newest ships, the food and service are fairly basic - there’s a lack of green vegetables - but the ships provide a great way to see many, many ports along the coast of Norway in a comfortable manner.

Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit was the godmother of the newest ship, Fram, a 318-berth expedition-style vessel built for polar and Greenland cruising.


Founded originally as one of the Iberojet (tour operator) companies, this venture company is 75 percent-owned by the Carnival Corporation and 25 percent by the Orizonia Corporation. The company’s ships operate well-organized, all-inclusive cruises for the Spanish-speaking market, in direct competition to Pullmantur Cruises. The onboard product has developed well and now provides a well-established style of cruise and service for the family-friendly cruise segment of Spain’s growing cruise market, with two ships: Grand Celebration (which will be moved to the Costa Cruises fleet in April 2015 to become Costa Celebration) and Grand Holiday. Gratuities are included in the fare.

Island Cruises

Island Cruises was founded as a joint venture between Royal Caribbean Cruises and the British low-cost tour operator First Choice Holidays. Its first ship started operations in 2002. However, in 2007, First Choice merged with Germany’s largest travel company TUI, to become TUI Travel. Its two-ship fleet was reduced to one ship (Island Escape) in 2009, and the company is presently operated as a sub-brand of Thomson Cruises.

It provides its mainly British passengers with an ‘all-inclusive’ cruise experience in ultra-casual, lager lout-style surroundings. Its self-serve, self-carry buffet meals from an always-busy, congested café are the mainstay of the ‘culinary’ offerings, although slightly better food can be had in a smaller extra-cost dining venue. Gratuities are not included in the fare.

Lindblad Expeditions

Lars-Eric Lindblad started the whole concept of expedition cruising with a single ship, Lindblad Explorer, in 1969, taking adventurous travelers to remote regions of the world. Today, his son, Sven-Olof Lindblad, runs the company, but with an array of small ships. It’s all about nature, wilderness, wildlife, off-the-beaten-path adventures, and learning. Zodiac inflatable craft are used to ferry participants ashore in remote Arctic and Antarctic polar regions.

The ships carry excellent lecturers, who are more academic than entertaining. In partnership with the National Geographic Society, the company operates the wholly owned National Geographic Endeavour and National Geographic Explorer (both with ice-strengthened hulls), together with two small ships (National Geographic Sea Bird and National Geographic Sea Lion) for coastal or ‘soft’ expedition-style cruising in, for example, Alaska. National Geographic photographers take part in all cruises. Zodiac inflatable craft are often used for shore landings, and the ships have extensive libraries. Gratuities are not included in the fare.

The National Geographic Society celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2013, when the company also purchased Orion Expedition Cruises, based in Sydney, Australia. Orion Expedition’s ship, also called Orion, was renamed National Geographic Orion, when the ship was transferred from Orion Expeditions to the Lindblad fleet in March 2014. Built in Germany, this ship is a little gem, with handcrafted cabinetry in every cabin, together with marble bathrooms and a health spa and gymnasium.


Louis Olympia off Santorini, Greece.

Douglas Ward

Louis Cruises

In the 1930s and 1940s, Louis Loizou became the undisputed father of tourism in Cyprus. His venture into sea tourism started with the charter of ships transferring immigrants from Cyprus to other continents. His son, Costakis Loizou, who took over the running of the company after his death in 1971, started organizing short cruises from Cyprus and in 1986 Louis Cruises was officially founded with the acquisition of the company’s first fully owned ship, Princesa Marissa.

Today, Louis Group owns almost two dozen hotels in the Greek islands and Cyprus, together with a multi-ship fleet of mainly older, small and mid-size ships which operate principally from Greece and ports in the Mediterranean. Louis Cruises charters two of its ships to TUI Travel’s UK-based Thomson Cruises and has over the years chartered some of its ships to many major UK and European tour operators.


Osaka Shosen Kaisha was founded in 1884 in Osaka, Japan. In 1964 it merged with Mitsui Steamship, to become Mitsui OSK Passenger Line (MOPAS). It is now one of the oldest and largest shipping companies in the world.

It entered cruise shipping in 1989 with Fuji Maru, the first cruise ship in the Japanese-speaking domestic market (now no longer in service). The company specialized in incentive meetings and groups at sea rather than cruising for individuals. But the company steadily changed to more cruises for individuals. The company operates a single ship, the highly comfortable Nippon Maru (extensively refurbished in 2010), based in Japan for Japanese-speaking passengers. Gratuities are included in the cruise fare.

Noble Caledonia

London-based Noble Caledonia, established in 1991, operates two boutique-size sister ships, Caledonian Star and Island Sky, each carrying around 100 passengers. It also sells cruises aboard a wide range of small-ship and expedition cruise companies as well as river cruises. It markets to British passengers of mature years, and operates cruises, generally in sheltered water areas, with cultural interest themes, and so is not recommended for children.

The company, whose financial partners include Norway’s Salen family, who were very involved with expedition cruising in the past, has an excellent reputation for well-organized cruises and tours, accompanied by good lecturers. It specializes in itineraries impossible to operate aboard larger ships. A Commodore Club gives repeat passengers advance information about new voyages and special offers. Gratuities are not generally included in the fare, unless otherwise stated in the brochures - whether printed or on the Noble Caledonia website.

NYK Cruises

Nippon Yusen Kaisha, the world’s largest shipping company, owns the well-known US-based upscale brand Crystal Cruises. It created its own NYK Cruise division - today branded as Asuka Cruise - in 1989 with one Mitsubishi-built ship, Asuka, for Japanese-speaking passengers. In 2006, the company sold the original Asuka to Germany’s Phoenix Reisen, and the former Crystal Harmony was transferred from Crystal Cruises to become Asuka II. The ship, known for its excellent Japanese and western food, operates an annual around-the-world cruise, plus a wide array of both short and long cruises in the Asia-Pacific region. Coffee- and tea-making facilities are provided in each cabin, as is a large selection of personal toiletries. Gratuities are included in the cruise fare.


The horseshoe staircase aboard Oceania’s Marina.

Douglas Ward

Oceania Cruises

The company’s ships provide faux English charm in a country-club atmosphere ideal for middle-aged and older couples seeking relaxation. Cruises are usually 10-14 days. Its trademarks are comfortable cabins, warm and attentive service, and fine dining combining French culinary expertise and top-quality ingredients. Breads and baked goods, such as Poilâne-quality croissants, are outstanding.

In 2006, Oceania Cruises was bought by Apollo Management, a private equity company that owns Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and 50 percent of NCL. The brand was placed under the umbrella of Apollo’s cruise brand, Prestige Cruise Holdings. With Insignia, Nautica and Regatta now very well established and with two new, much larger and faster ships - the 1,250-passenger Marina (2011) and Riviera (2012) - the company is set to grow.

With multiple-choice dining at no extra cost, the 700- and 1,250-passenger ships suit those who prefer mid-size ships to large resort vessels. Bottled mineral water, soft drinks, and beer are included in the price. Gratuities are added at $10.50 per person, per day, and butler-service suites have an additional charge of $3 per person. Bar drinks and spa treatments have 15-18 percent added.

Oceanwide Expeditions

Founded in 1961 as the Dutch ‘Plancius Foundation’ to operate cruises around Spitzbergen (Norway), the company changed its name in 1996 to Oceanwide Expeditions in order to offer adventures farther afield. It specializes in small group polar expedition voyages and active shore visits rather than employing experienced lecturers. It operates two expedition ships, Ortelius and Plancius, and charters others as needed.

One Ocean Expeditions

Based in Toronto, Canada, this small company was founded by Andrew Prossin. It doesn’t own any expedition ships itself, but charters them from the Russian pool of specialist vessels. Environmental responsibility is a key ingredient for its staff, all of whom are personable and very customer-oriented. The company operates two sister specialist polar expedition ships, Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Sergey Vavilov, on its Arctic and Antarctic programs.


The Paul Gauguin was built specifically to navigate the islands of French Polynesia.

Paul Gauguin Cruises


P&O is a growing force in Australia.


P&O Cruises (Australia)

Founded in 1932, this Australian division of P&O Cruises provides fun entertainment for the beer-and-bikini brigade and their families, and specializes in cruises in the Pacific and to New Zealand. The line is maturing, though, becoming more of a mainstream operator - particularly so with its latest ships, three larger, more contemporary hand-me-down vessels (Pacific Dawn, Pacific Jewel, Pacific Pearl) from P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises - sister companies that are part of the Carnival Corporation. The ships have open-seating dining and specialty restaurants such as Australian celebrity chef, Luke Mangan’s ‘Salt Grill.’ Gratuities are not included in the fare.

Passat Cruises

This company is a sort of born-again Delfin Cruises, which was declared bankrupt in 2010 with the loss of many jobs. The new owner operates the same ship and some of the same management team. The ship, Delfin, has a loyal following, and the new company is trying to continue its traditions. Marketing of the ship is now under the UK’s Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV).

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Created by the Boston-based tour operator Grand Circle Travel, Paul Gauguin Cruises took over the marketing and operation of Paul Gauguin in 2009 from Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which had operated the ship since its inception. Also in 2009, the ship was bought by the Tahiti-based investor Richard Bailey and his company Pacific Beachcomber, which owns Polynesian resort hotels (including four InterContinental Hotels). The company acquired a second ship, Le Levant, and renamed it Tere Moana. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare.

Peter Deilmann Cruises

Peter Deilmann, a former seagoing navigator, had a dream: to create a cruise company in the best German tradition. He founded his company in 1972. For many years, it also operated a fleet of up to eight riverships and was instrumental in creating some excellent river cruises in Europe. The company got into financial difficulties after its founder died in 2003, and his two daughters, who took it over, were unable to keep the river cruise division afloat. The division went into administration in 2009, and the two daughters were declared bankrupt in 2011. However, the oceangoing division is healthy under a new equity investment partner, and operates a single cruise ship with opulent interiors, the 548-passenger, Germany-flagged Deutschland, on worldwide itineraries.

Phoenix Reisen

Based in Bonn, Germany, the company for many years operated low-budget, tour-operator-style destination-intensive cruises for German speakers. It now has a loyal, widespread audience and more contemporary ships, with better food and service, particularly aboard Amadea and Artania.

To keep costs down, Phoenix charters its ships for long periods. It is consistently praised for its extremely good itineraries, particularly on world cruises, its pre- and post-cruise programs, and its excellent value for money. The utterly comprehensive Phoenix brochure provides photographs of its captains and cruise director, as well as bar lists and drink prices - a refreshing change from the brochures provided by most cruise companies. Single-seating dining is standard, as are low drink prices, and there is no constant pushing for onboard revenue - again different from most rivals.

Phoenix acquired Artania (formerly P&O Cruises’ Artemis and originally Royal Princess, named by Princess Diana) in 2011, and also operates the lower-priced Albatross (originally named Royal Viking Sea). Gratuities are included in the fare.

Plantours Cruises

This company, based in Bremen, Germany, provides low-budget cruises for German speakers aboard its single small, chartered cruise ship, Hamburg, which was formerly Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ original Columbus. The company also sells cruises on the rivers of Europe and Russia. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare.

Polar Latitudes

Founded by Shanchen Ting, the company’s president is John McKeon. The US-based company was founded to create opportunities for people to experience polar travel in a small group environment, with a specific focus on Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia. The company operates one chartered ship, the 112-passenger Sea Explorer (formerly Corinthian II). The charter is shared by Quark Expeditions.

Ponant Cruises

The company was founded in 1988 by Philippe Videau and Jean-Emmanuel Sauvé. It started life as La Compagnie des Iles du Ponant, and is a subsidiary of the state-owned CMA CGM (Compagnie Maritime Atlantique/Compagnie Générale Transatlantique), both of which began in 1855 but merged in 1977 to become the world’s third largest container shipping firm.

The cruise company, whose head office is in Marseille, France, was created in 1988, and operates one boutique-size high-tech sail ship, Le Ponant, for French speakers. In 2004, the company bought the Paris-based tour operator Tapis Rouge International, which specializes in upscale travel. Three new small ships - Le Boréal, introduced in 2010, L’Austral, introduced in 2011, and Le Soleal, introduced in 2013 - provide more space and more options for passengers, with a fourth (Le Lyrial) due to join the fleet in 2015. The company was purchased in 2012 by Bridgepoint, a European private equity company (who also own the Pret chain of cafés and Leeds Bradford International airport). Ponant increasingly markets cruises in both English and French to international passengers, and onboard announcements are made in both languages. Gratuities are not included in the fare.

Portuscale Cruises

Portuscale Cruises was introduced to the marketplace in March 2013. Founder Rui Alegre, the driving force behind Portuscale Cruises, acquired four ships following the collapse of Classic International Cruises. The company promotes the use of Portuguese artisan items (each ship has coffee cups with its name on them, for example) and artwork and soft furnishings all with a Portuguese connection. TDS (The Discoveries Continue) is the marketing tag line. Each ship is typically placed in a different, dedicated, language-specific market.

Pullmantur Cruises

The company was set up as part of Pullmantur, the Spain-based holiday tour operator founded in 1971. Its cruising division was established in 2000 when it bought Oceanic (then known as the Big Red Boat) from the defunct Florida operator Premier Cruise Lines. In 2006, Pullmantur Cruises was bought by Royal Caribbean Cruises. The company, mainly serving the Spanish-speaking market, operates all-inclusive cruises for families with children to the Caribbean and Europe and, during the South American summer, serves the Brazilian market. Although most passengers are Spanish, the company now also markets heavily to US and other cruise goers. Gratuities are included in the fare.

Quark Expeditions

The company was founded in 1991 by Lars Wikander and silent partner Christer Salen (formerly of Salen-Lindblad Cruises). Based in Darien, Connecticut, it specializes in providing up-close-and-personal expedition cruises to some of the world’s most remote regions and inaccessible areas.

In its formative years, Quark Expeditions chartered Russian icebreakers to take adventurous, hardy outdoor types to the polar regions and has years of experience in taking participants to Antarctica. Quark Expeditions has always been committed to minimizing the environmental impact of operating in ecologically sensitive areas.

In 2007, it was sold to the UK’s First Choice Holidays (founded in 1973), merged with Peregrine Shipping, and then in 2007 was bought, along with First Choice, by the large German travel company TUI.

Cruising with Quark Expeditions is all about being close to nature, wilderness, wildlife, off-the-beaten-path adventures, and learning. The company, an associate member of IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators), a group committed to the highest standards of responsible tourism to Antarctica, Quark Expeditions still specializes in Russian icebreakers, the most powerful in the world, to provide participants with a truly memorable expedition experience. This is adventure cruising for toughies. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare.


Seven Seas Voyager in Santorini.


Regent Seven Seas Cruises

This company has a complicated history. It was born out of Seven Seas Cruises, which was originally based in San Francisco to market the cruise ship Song of Flower (belonging to ‘K’-Line, a cargo operator based in New Jersey), as well as expedition cruises aboard the chartered Hanseatic (then belonging to Hanseatic Tours). The lyre, logo of that ship, became RSSC’s logo.

For many years, the company was part of the Carlson group, and operated as Radisson Seven Seas Cruises. Carlson Hospitality Worldwide ventured into cruising via its Radisson Hotels International division - hence, Radisson Diamond Cruises (when Radisson Diamond joined in 1992). In 1994 Radisson Diamond Cruises and Seven Seas Cruise Line merged to become Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, and in 2007 it became Regent Seven Seas Cruises. It strives to pay close attention to detail and provide high-quality service aboard its fleet of three small cruise ships (Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Navigator, and Seven Seas Voyager) operating worldwide itineraries. (A fourth ship, the new Seven Seas Explorer, is scheduled for delivery in 2016.)

In 2007 the company was bought by US-based investment group Apollo Management, and, together with Oceania Cruises, was placed under the umbrella of its Prestige Cruise Holdings. The company spent $40 million to refurbish its three ships in 2009-10.

It provides drinks-inclusive cruising, which means that drinks and gratuities are included in the fare, as are shore excursions - even delightful illy coffees are included. Passengers pay extra only for laundry services, beauty services, casino, and other personal items.

Saga Cruises

Saga, based in Folkestone, England, was created by Sydney de Haan as a company offering financial services and holidays to an over-60s clientele. As the company’s success grew, it reduced this limitation in 1995 to the over-50s and allowed companions older than 40. Its popular travel flourished because it was good at providing personal attention and competent staff. Instead of sending passengers to ships operated by other companies, it decided to buy its own ships and market its own product under the Saga Holidays brand.

Saga Shipping (Saga Cruises), the cruising division of Saga Holidays, was set up in 1997 when it purchased Saga Rose (formerly Sagafjord), followed not long after by Saga Ruby (formerly Vistafjord) and, in 2010, Saga Pearl II (formerly Astoria). Saga Sapphire arrived in 2012.

Another brand, Spirit of Adventure, was added in 2006, the year that parent company Saga and Britain’s Automobile Association merged. The ‘Adventure’ cruise brand ended in November 2013 when Quest for Adventure became Saga Pearl II again.

The cruise company emphasizes British seamanship and training, and its fleet manages to retain the feel of traditional, elegant, adults-only cruising aboard Saga Pearl II and Saga Sapphire. Saga Cruises offers open-seating dining, friendly, attentive service from a mainly Filipino hotel service crew, and its ships have many single-occupancy cabins. It takes care of all the many little details other lines have long forgotten.

All gratuities are included in the fare. Coffee- and tea-making facilities are provided in each cabin on Saga Pearl II.

Sea Cloud Cruises

The company was founded in 1979 by a consortium of ship-owners and investors known as the Hansa Treuhand (active in commercial vessel management, engineering, and construction), headquartered in Hamburg, Germany. It owns and operates two real tall ships (sailing vessels), the legendary Sea Cloud (built in 1931, with 32 sails, for the cereal heiress Marjorie Merryweather Post) and Sea Cloud II, with 24 sails.

The company has many corporate clients who charter the two tall ships, while a number of upscale cruise and travel companies sell cruises to individuals. The onboard style and product delivery are quite upscale, with elegant retro decor and fine food and service. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare.


Originally founded in 1986 as Signet Cruise Line, the company, then owned by Norwegian industrialist Atle Brynestad, had to change its name in 1988 as a result of a lawsuit brought by a Texas ferry company that had already registered the name Signet Cruise Lines (no ships were ever built for cruising, however).

In 1998, a consortium, which included the Carnival Corporation and Norwegian investors, bought Seabourn Cruise Line and merged its operations into Cunard Line, which was acquired from Kvaerner. The fleet then included its three present ships plus Seabourn Goddess I and Seabourn Goddess II (bought by SeaDream Yacht Cruises in 2002 and named SeaDream I and SeaDream II) and Seabourn Sun (which became Holland America Line’s Prinsendam). The Carnival Corporation acquired 100 percent of Seabourn Cruise Line in 1999.

Three new, larger ships joined the company between 2009 and 2011. All three have an aft water-sports platform, as well as more dining and spa options, more space, and more passengers. Seabourn Cruise Line was briefly rebranded as The Yachts of Seabourn in 2009-10, but then became simply Seabourn. The company is managed from within the Holland America Line headquarters in Seattle, US. Gratuities are included in the fare.

In February 2013, the three smaller ships were sold to Xanterra Parks & Resorts, parent company of Windstar Cruises. Seabourn Pride was delivered in mid-2014; Seabourn Legend and Seabourn Spirit will be delivered in April and May 2015, respectively.


Seabourn Odyssey’s watersports platform.


SeaDream Yacht Club

Larry Pimentel, an American, and his Norwegian business partner Atle Brynestad, founder of Seabourn Cruise Line (now called, simply, Seabourn), jointly created the company by buying the former Sea Goddess Cruises’ ships. They introduced them in 2002 to an audience anxious for exclusivity, personal pampering, and cuisine prepared to order.

The two ships, SeaDream I and SeaDream II, have been refreshed several times - although SeaDream I is in a better shape than SeaDream II - and are often chartered by companies or private individuals who appreciate the refined, elegant, but casual atmosphere on board. The 100-passenger ships operate year-round in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, and provide all-inclusive beverages and open-seating dining at all times, and a high degree of personalized service, all in a cozy, club-like atmosphere, with great attention to detail and personal idiosyncrasies. Atle Brynestad is the company’s chairman and sole owner, while Larry Pimentel is now with Azamara Cruises. Gratuities are included in the fare.

Serenissima Cruises

Vladimir Esakov, the owner/operator of the Russian rivership Volga Dream, purchased the former MS Andrea (a Hurtigruten vessel) in 2012, renamed it Serenissima and formed Serenissima Cruises to market the ship. The company has a long-standing association with the UK’s Noble Caledonia,

Silversea Cruises

Silversea Cruises is a mostly privately owned cruise line. It was founded in 1992 by the Lefebvre D’Ovidio family from Rome (previously co-owners of Sitmar Cruises; 90 percent partners are the Lefebvre D’Ovidios, 10 percent by V-Ships) and is based in Monaco.

Antonio Lefebvre D’Ovidio was a maritime lawyer and professor of maritime law before acquiring and operating cargo ships and ferries in the Adriatic. He took the family into partnership with Boris Vlasov’s Vlasov Group (V-Ships) to co-own Sitmar Cruises until that company merged with Princess Cruises in 1988.

Silversea Cruises has generated tremendous loyalty from its frequent passengers, who view the ships as their own. All seven Silversea ships have teak verandas and all-inclusive beverages. Open-seating dining prevails at all times, and the company is known for its partnership with the hospitality organization Relais & Châteaux. A new, larger, 540-passenger all-suite luxury ship, Silver Spirit, debuted at the end of 2009, while Silver Whisper and Silver Shadow were refurbished in 2010 and 2011. Silversea Cruises has three specialist ships for expedition cruising (Silver Explorer, Silver Galapagos and Silver Discoverer, added in 2008, 2013 and 2014, respectively). Gratuities are included in the fare for all ships as part of the company’s ‘all-inclusive’ culture.


Top of the Yacht Bar aboard SeaDream I.

SeaDream Yacht Club

Star Clippers

Swedish-born yachtsman Mikhail Krafft founded Star Clippers in 1991 with Star Flyer and then Star Clipper, both true tall ships. The company went on to build the largest tall ship presently sailing, the five-mast Royal Clipper, a truly stunning ship under sail. Friendly service in a casual, extremely laid-back setting, under the romance of sail (when there is enough wind) is what Star Clippers is all about, and the food variety, creativity, and quality are all extremely good.

These real tall (sail-cruise) ships sail in the Caribbean, Baltic, and Mediterranean. Gratuities are not included in the fare.

Star Cruises

Presently part of the world’s third-largest cruise operator, the company was incorporated in 1993 as a subsidiary of Malaysia’s Genting Berhad, set up in 1965 by the late Tan Sri Dr Lim Goh Tong as an Asian multinational corporation. Today, Star Cruises is formally known Star Cruises/Genting Hong Kong but still comes under the umbrella of Genting Berhad. The group’s various business include palm oil production, power generation, property development, biotechnology, oil and gas production, together with leisure activities including resort hotels and casino/entertainment complexes in Malaysia, Manila, and Singapore, and cruise ships. Almost single-handedly, Star Cruises opened up the Asia-Pacific cruise region (except for Japan).

Genting Hong Kong operates ships dedicated to specific markets. Its brands include Star Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line (jointly owned with Apollo Management).

Star Cruises also owns the pier facility in Langkawi. Its marketing base is in Hong Kong. Its ships are MegaStar Aries (1991), Star Pisces (1990), SuperStar Aquarius (1993), SuperStar Libra (1988), and SuperStar Virgo (1999). A brand new large resort ship is scheduled for delivery in 2016. Gratuities are included in all fares.

Swan Hellenic Cruises

Founded in 1954 By R.K. Swan, the company chartered small cruise ships for years. The company was bought by P&O Cruises in 1982, then it changed hands when Carnival Corporation merged with P&O in April 2004. In 2007, the Carnival Corporation disbanded Swan Hellenic, and its single ship (Minerva II) was transferred to the Princess Cruises fleet to become Royal Princess (now P&O Cruises’ Adonia). Some months later, a semi-retired Lord Sterling purchased the brand from the Carnival Corporation and joined forces with the UK’s Voyages of Discovery to operate as a separate brand. So, the ‘swanners,’ as its clever passengers are called, now have their own ship (Minerva).

The company’s strengths are its program of highly academic lecturers and speakers, in a small-ship setting that is unpretentious but comfortable, and includes gratuities, drinks (on Antarctic voyages), tailor-made shore excursions, and entrance fees to museums and places of interest. The company operates special-interest themes such as archaeology, history, nature, and wildlife. Coffee- and tea-making facilities are provided in each cabin. Gratuities are included in the fare.


Sea lion with Silver Galapagos in the distance.

Silversea Cruises

Thomson Cruises

Thomson Cruises’ first foray into cruising was in 1973 when it chartered two ships, Calypso and Ithaca, from the Greek-owned Ulysses Line. It was not a success, and the company withdrew from cruising two years later. Ulysses Line became known as Useless Line.

The company started again in 2002 after seeing rival tour operator Airtours operate ships successfully. Thomson Cruises charters its ships, preferring instead to leave ship operations, management, and catering to specialist maritime companies. The company operates cruises for the whole family aboard its ships - Thomson Dream, Thomson Majesty, and Thomson Spirit - catering principally to the British market, but also to the Scandinavian market. Basic gratuities are included in the price

Thomson Cruises operates sub-brand Island Cruises, with just one ship, Island Escape, for the ultra-casual market. The company owns its own airline, Thomson Airlines, part of the TUI Travel group.

Travel Dynamics International

Founded by brothers George and Vasos Papagapitos, the company specializes in providing small and boutique cruise ships to culturally minded passengers. Long a provider of vacations and cruises to university alumni, cultural associations, and museum groups, the company seeks out unusual itineraries and destinations according to a group’s interest or travel theme. It is also known for its US Great Lakes cruises (with its chartered ship Yorktown), cruises to remote regions, and for its academically trained lecturers. Gratuities are not included in the fare.

TUI Cruises

The German-owned TUI Group has several divisions, but started its own cruise line in 2009 with Mein Schiff 1, a mid-size ship (formerly Celebrity Galaxy) that underwent a massive reconstruction program. Mein Schiff 2 (formerly Celebrity Mercury) was added in 2011. Two new ships - Mein Schiff 3 debuted in spring 2014, while Mein Schiff 4 arrives in 2015.

Aboard all TUI Cruises ships, all cabins have their own espresso machine, and there is a wide choice of dining venues and food styles, with an emphasis on healthy eating. Much emphasis is placed on the extensive wellness facilities aboard its ships. Gratuities are included in the fare.

Un-Cruise Adventures

This micro-cruise line was founded in 1997 as American Safari Cruises. It was bought in 2008 by InnerSea Discoveries, owned by the former chief executive officer of American Safari Cruises, Dan Blanchard. ASC It bought the website and database files of now defunct Cruise West in order to expand its reach to small-ship enthusiasts, and has a fleet of very small motor yacht-type vessels for six to 86 passengers taking expensive cruises in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. While the vessels are decent, the onboard facilities are few and the one-seat dining experience is quite casual. However, they all have superb Tempur-Pedic mattresses. The advantage of these intimate vessels is that they really can take you up close to fascinating parts of Alaska that larger ships can’t reach. Gratuities are not included. InnerSea Discoveries changed its name to Un-Cruise Adventures in 2013.

Venus Cruise

Founded in 1988, the company’s headquarters are in Osaka, Japan. Venus Cruise, which was first known as Japan Cruise Line, is owned by four ferry companies: Shin Nipponkai Ferry, Kyowa Shoji, Hankyu Ferry, and Kanko Kisen. As Japan Cruise Line, the company at first operated company and incentive charter cruises before branching out into cruises for individuals. The company, catering exclusively to Japanese speakers, has a single ship, Pacific Venus, which operates an annual around-the-world cruise as well as shorter Asia-Pacific cruises. Gratuities are included in the cruise fare.

Viking Ocean Cruises

A sister company to the long-established Viking River Cruises, the company aims to provide both oceangoing and river cruises to the same market segment - a unique approach in the cruise industry at present. Its chairman is Torstein Hagen, originally a one-third owner of the long-defunct Royal Viking Line.

A sneak preview of one of a pair of 928-passenger, mid-size ships on order for this new company reveals that, for their size, the ships will offer an outstanding array of public rooms and dining options. The first ship, Viking Star, is scheduled to debut in spring 2015, with Viking Sky and Viking Sea to follow in 2016 and 2017, repectively.

Voyages of Discovery

UK-based Roger Allard and Dudley Smith jointly founded the company to offer low-cost cruises aboard comfortable and roomy but older small ships, to UK passengers, but with good food and service. The company’s Discovery is one of the former ‘Love Boats’ of US television fame, but is now operated by Cruise & Maritime Voyages. It was replaced by Voyager in late 2013. Voyages of Discovery went public in 2006 and, with the help of Lord Sterling of Plaistow, purchased Swan Hellenic Cruises. It now operates both brands from its HQ in the south of England, and also owns the premium brand Hebridean Island Cruises.


Aegean Odyssey in Ko Samui, Thailand.

Douglas Ward

Voyages to Antiquity

Founded in 2007 by Gerry Herrod, who formerly created the now defunct Ocean Cruise Lines, the company has just one ship, Aegean Odyssey, painstakingly converted into a comfortable cruise ship with a fairly handsome profile. It operates seven- and 14-day cruises to ancient lands, specializing in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions and Asia. The cruises are aimed at British and American passengers who seek educational experiences. Gratuities to dining and housekeeping staff are included, as are most shore excursions and wines with lunch and dinner.

Windstar Cruises

Founded by New York-based Karl Andren in 1984 as Windstar Sail Cruises, the company built high-class sail-cruise ships with computer-controlled sails, outfitting them in a contemporary decor designed by Marc Held. The first ship, Wind Star, debuted in 1986 to much acclaim, and was followed by Wind Spirit (1988) and Wind Surf (1990).

Windstar Cruises was sold to Holland America Line in 1988. The company, with headquarters in Seattle, US, was sold again in 2007 to the Ambassadors Cruise Group, wholly owned by Ambassadors International. It was purchased again in 2011 by Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

The style is casual and unregimented, but smart, with service by Indonesian and Filipino crew. The ships carry a variety of water-sports equipment, accessed from a retractable stern platform. Itineraries include off-the-beaten-track ports not frequented by large resort ships. The onboard product is decidedly American ultra-casual, with unfussy bistro-style cuisine, and service that lacks the finesse and the small details that could make it a much better experience overall. Gratuities are not included in the fare.

In 2014, Windstar took delivery of the former Seabourn Pride, now renamed Star Pride. Between mid-2014 and mid-2015, Windstar Cruises will take delivery of the other two Seabourn ships - Seabourn Legend (to be renamed Star Legend), and Seabourn Spirit (to be renamed Star Breeze).

Zegrahm Expeditions

This small expedition cruise company, which takes inquisitive travelers to remote or unusual destinations, including the Arctic and Antarctica, was founded in 1990 and bought in 2009 by TUI Travel. Although it doesn’t own any ships, it charters high-quality specialized vessels. It also sells cruises operated by other expedition companies and operates safaris and small-group adventure vacations. Two- or three-week expedition cruises are headed by experienced leaders and expert naturalists. Gratuities are not included in the fare.