As a general definition, a Small Ship Cruise is a cruise taken on a ship that holds fewer than 500 passengers. The term is applied more to the luxury cruise market than it is to day cruisers, scenic tours or thrill rides. Great Lakes cruises, even those in the luxury class, are generally on ships small enough to fall under this 500 passenger line. There are multiple reasons for this, but the two biggest are the size of the passage from the ocean into the Lakes, and the depth of many of the harbors, which would be too shallow to accommodate some of the huge ocean-going liners.

So, what is the advantage of a cruise on a smaller vessel? Well, many people like smaller more intimate cruise ships because there is a greater opportunity to meet new people and get to know them. In this age of mega-liners that remind us of floating cities, it is nice to be able to slow-down and relax in a place that doesn’t bustle like Metropolis on a Saturday night.

Cruises are about relaxing and smaller liners will often provide a quieter atmosphere that allows more crew interaction and a more peaceful experience. There is less noise, and often a less rigid ship-board schedule.

Larger ships are usually are associated with longer luxury-type cruises, while smaller vessels can be hired for weekend cruises, day or dinner trips, and sometimes even for catered parties and events. Tall Ship fans will appreciate that all of the Tall Ships operating on the Great Lakes fall into the under 500 passenger category.

Just because these liners are smaller does not mean they are without luxuries. Liners like the Clelia II and the Pearl Mist not only boast state-of-the-art systems, but also include amenities like private patios and luxury appointments. As an example, Travel Dynamics operates the Clelia II and describes her as being “…decorated with rich fabrics, handsome wood, polished brass, rare antiquities and fine works of art…” That does not sound like the rowboat out back, and indeed it is not. These are luxuriously appointed mini-yachts that are designed to make any trip a pleasure.

That doesn’t mean that all vessels for hire on the Great Lakes are luxury yachts, there are many smaller ferries and day cruisers that are less luxurious but every bit as much fun. Even a two hour dinner cruise can be relaxing. Or, you can climb aboard a schooner and watch the fireworks over the harbor.

Whether you are looking for a luxury experience, a dinner cruise or a great adventure on a Tall Ship, the Great Lakes are waiting with a small ship cruise just for you.