Exclusivity, picturesque views, and the promise of a more authentic and immersive local experience are just a few of the reasons why travelers are choosing small ship cruises, providing them with the access to smaller ports and a world-class island escape. While the demand to explore these islands is on the rise, carriers such as Windstar Cruises – a fleet of small luxury cruise ships – are using size to their advantage to nestle in to exclusive destinations and limited access ports, particularly throughout their European itineraries.
“Arguably the most significant, systemic trend in worldwide tourism today is the demand for experiential travel, typically meant to convey the idea of more immersive, local, authentic, adventurous and/or active travel,” says Skift, the largest industry intelligence and marketing platform in travel.
The increasing demand for small ports in Europe was a significant factor behind the prolific growth of Windstar Cruises. Recognized as a world leader in small-ship cruising, Windstar has doubled the size of its fleet from three to six ships over the last two years. While these hidden gems can be found popping up in a variety of international itineraries, travelers will find them hard to miss while exploring Windstar’s European cruise portfolio. These itineraries – exclusively accessible to small ships – invite passengers to veer off the beaten path and peek inside some of the world’s most interesting and special European locales.
With its golden ochre and terracotta buildings, designer shops, and chic cafés, Portofino represents the height of Italian artistry and sophistication. Located in the province of Genoa on the Italian River, visitors to this fishing village are invited to sip a cappuccino along the fabled marina or enjoy a day of shopping in one of the town’s tempting boutiques. Perhaps the most famous landmark in Portofino is hidden in plain sight – located 56 feet underwater is Christ of the Abyss, a statue of Christ looking up towards the sky with open arms, originally created to protect fisherman and scuba divers.
Available Cruises: Riviera Enchantment, Yachting the Riviera, Glitter & Glam of the Rivieras, Grand Prix of Monaco
Located on a small island off the east coast of Peloponnese, this beautiful hamlet might have been forgotten by time. Accessible only by a narrow causeway from the mainland, the city is a myriad of streets wide enough only for pedestrians (and donkey traffic), lined with picturesque shops and ancient, but inhabited houses. In recent years, many of the historic buildings have been refurbished to adhere to the continued increase of island visitors. It’s easy to lose yourself in leisurely wandering here — after all, this region, Laconia, gives meaning to the English word laconic.
Available Cruises: Enchanting Greece & the Amalfi Coast
This is the legendary home of the nymph Calypso of Homer’s Odyssey — so, of course, it’s a day perfect to explore the shoreline of the azure waters of the Mediterranean. This less developed, but strikingly beautiful rural island is home to a variety of historical landmarks including the Ggantija Temples, which are among the world’s oldest free-standing structures. If you’re feeling a little more epicurean, Windstar invites its passengers on a foraging trip in the countryside, seeking fresh herbs and vegetables to then be savored in a sumptuous farmhouse lunch.
Available Cruise: Sicilian Splendors
Celebrities from Prince Harry to Beyoncé have made this Croatian island their go-to place for both unspoiled escape and action. Located off the Dalmatian Coast, visitors can soak up the natural beauty of the island, covered in pine and palm trees, fragrant lavender fields, vineyards, and gorgeous beaches. Those looking to explore the island can head to the town square for a look at the 16th century St. Stephen’s Cathedral, or follow the city walls to enjoy sweeping views of the Pakleni Islands from Hvar’s Spanish fortress, located atop the hill.
Available Cruise: Venetian Passageways
Until recently, this beautiful locale was Norway’s best kept secret, keeping its picturesque white-painted houses and sheltered coves tucked away and quietly hidden. It is best discovered by small ship, as it provides visitors with access to the town’s lush green forests and majestic inlets. A full day can be spent on the island, visiting such sites as the Sørlandets Art Museum, Kilden Performing Arts Centre, or Fiskebrygga, a former fish landing and home to a variety of restaurants and a renowned fish market.
Available Cruise: Scandinavian Tapestry
This small northern town is nestled in to the head of Iceland’s greatest fjord and surrounded by picturesque mountains and the Glera River, which runs through the town. Just a stone’s throw from the Arctic Circle, it offers guests a reprieve from the chilly breeze with some of Iceland’s warmest weather. This provides the perfect opportunity for visitors to ride an Icelandic horse, soak in the sky-blue Myvatn Nature Baths, or visit the flourishing Botanical Gardens. Among the most spectacular sites is the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights), which can frequently be seen on crisp nights from September through April.
Available Cruise: Around Iceland
This Pearl of the French Riviera is where French travelers come to avoid the wider-known Riviera ports, as it quietly sits in the Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. Visitors can walk to the heart of the old town to take a stroll through Cours Saleya, a popular daily market – regarded as the best in the Mediterranean – featuring the regions ripest fruits and vegetables and indigenous flowers. With produce in tow, visitors can wander the pedestrian-only streets to antique fairs and boulangeries, or just admire the heritage vessels and old Provencal fishing boats floating in the harbor.
Available Cruises: Glitter & Glam of the Rivieras
Guests to this island can join the other exclusive yachts in the harbor and explore the quaint fresh seafood restaurants and charming shops along the streets of the quiet island town of Lipari. Only reachable by sea, and only by small ships, this island in the Aeolians retains Sicilian charm with one of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean, featuring interesting lava rock formations. Storm the castle once sacked by Red Beard the pirate, peer in Bartholomew Cathedral for a look at its exquisite ceiling frescoes, or just stroll about town enjoying views of the clear blue bay and the smoke signals emanating from the neighboring island of Stromboli.
Available Cruises: Sicilian Splendors, Enchanting Greece & the Amalfi Coast
Cruise up the Guadalquivir River and be delivered at the doorstep of one of the most charming cities in Spain. As Seville is an inland city, the majority of cruise ships dock in Cadiz, nearly a two hour ride to Seville. Travelers will enjoy this towns early European renaissance, as The Old Town alone contains three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the incomparable Alcázar Palace where voices echo through the Moorish arches and Italian courtyards. Travelers are encouraged to make a special trip to wander the 18th century Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza bullring, the site of one of the most well-known bullfighting festivals in the world.
Discover the Leader in Small Ship Cruises
Want to steer clear of the crowds and sink into deep relaxation and awe-inspiring travel? Discover under-the-radar destinations and small ports that large ships can’t access with less than 300 guests, gourmet cuisine and all the comforts of a luxury cruise ship. Indulge in a one-of-a-kind adventure that delivers the perfect mix of peace and adventure surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, enchanting villages and captivating coastlines – all in private yacht style. You’ll savor the freedom to adventure; exclusive complimentary Private Events that bring you a more intimate experience, along with gourmet cuisine and world-class pampering that only Windstar delivers.