The Unexpected Delights of Small Ship Cruising

18 May 2017
Read Time: 5.2 mins

Whether it’s a walk through pristine forest in Japan or a cooking lesson in the Estonian countryside, sometimes the most cherished travel memories are not of the big-ticket variety. While the world’s largest cruise ships offer their own kind of holiday fun, those in search of a more boutique holiday experience could very easily fall in love with small ship cruising. With a more nimble vessel and fewer travelling companions, small ship cruising offers the perfect combination of old-world luxury and authentic, exclusive travel experiences. You never know what you’re going to discover at the next port…

Gems of Japan

Stone sculpture overlooking water in Kenroku-en Garden in Kanazawa, Japan There are three must-see gardens in Japan and Kenroku-en Garden in Kanazawa is one of them. Image: Getty

Located on the west coast, Kanazawa is one of the most beautiful cities in Japan. Luckily for visitors, the city is relatively compact, with the most important sights located around the green core that is formed by Kanazawa Castle Park and Kenroku-en Garden. Set on a hilltop, Kanazawa Castle Park offers views in all directions and on a clear day you can see as far as Mt Hakusan (2,702 metres). For a peaceful and contemplative walk, a visit to Kenroku-en Garden is a must. Part of the joy is simply wandering around and enjoying the perfect vistas and quaint traditional tea houses dotted amongst the green expanse. Kanazawa is also known for its exceptional handcrafts, such as lacquerware, Kutani-style pottery.

View of Todorki Waterfall in Ihasaya City, Nagasaki Clear streams flow through the Todoroki Gorge, creating over 30 waterfalls. Image: Getty

Nagasaki is another exceptional place to visit in Japan, for all sorts of reasons. Most notably, there is the legacy of World War II, and wandering through the Nagasaki Peace Park, Atomic Bomb Museum and Glover Garden is an experience you will never forget. Away from the city, in the Nagasaki region, a beautiful place to visit if you have time is Todoroki Gorge. Here you’ll find the breathtaking Todoroki Falls, named after the deafening roar made by the water as it hits the plunge pool. Surrounded by lush greenery and tall trees, it is a refreshing escape for any traveller.

Epic Iceland

View of Blue Lagoon in Iceland Volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, lava fields, glaciers and the stunning Blue Lagoon are just part of the dramatic landscape of Iceland. Image: Getty

A land of fire and ice may not sound like the most relaxing holiday destination but if it’s unique and unforgettable experiences you’re after, Iceland is hard to beat. The capital, Reykjavik, is the perfect introduction to Iceland’s culture, as you’ll discover at the Reykjavik Art Museum and the National Gallery. Cafe culture is also big in Reykjavik so even though you’re at the top of the world, good coffee is still thankfully easy to find. The real reason to visit Iceland, of course, is for the dramatic scenery, and once you leave the capital behind, your own momentous travel experience can really begin.

Icebergs in Jokulsarlon Lagoon, Iceland Where else in the world can you watch icebergs fall into lagoons and explore boiling mud pools? Image: Getty

One of Iceland’s highlights is the enormous Vatnajokull Glacier – so vast that it is often called an icecap. The 600-metre thick sheet of ice sits above active volcanoes, one of which erupted in 1996, gouging out an unusual crater in the ice. Another remarkable only-in-Iceland experience is to explore the geothermal wonder of the boiling mud pools at Namaskard and the steam vents of Lake Myvatn’s craters.

Tallinn’s Secrets

View of Tallinn, Estonia with Baltic Sea in the background Toompea Hill in Tallinn’s Old Town is, according to legend, the burial mound of Estonia’s mythical hero, Kalev. Image: Getty

Estonia’s capital on the Baltic Sea is a fascinating place to explore. The cobblestone Old Town is true to its fairytale reputation, considered by UNESCO to be an “exceptionally complete and well preserved example of a medieval northern European trading city”. While popular with tourists, there are still secrets to be uncovered. For example, at one special point in Town Hall Square, a stone marks the location from which all five of the city’s medieval spires are visible.  Another hidden gem is the little lane between Vene and Muurivahe Streets, known as St Catherine’s Passage, where craftspeople still make and sell their handmade treasures.

The Pristine Kimberley Coast

View of Gantheaume Point, Broome, Western Australia Rocky inlets and shallow bays are well within reach on a small ship cruise. Image: Getty

The wild and breathtaking coastline of Australia’s Kimberley region is simply one photo opportunity after another. And that’s before you even leave the ship. In this part of the world, there is so much natural beauty to behold. Standout sights include the Buccaneer Archipelago which is home to more than 800 islands, the King George Falls – the highest single-drop falls in Western Australia, and the Kimberley’s mysterious Bradshaw (Gwion Gwion) paintings, dating back some 20,000 years.


Boutique travel experiences around Japan, Europe, the Kimberley Coast – and more – are available on an APT Small Ship Cruise. Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals.


Erin Bennion

Based in Brisbane, Erin is a writer with a penchant for using fancy old French words wherever possible and an insatiable hankering for trawling through vintage markets in small Scandinavian towns (no really). One of her dreams is to take her family to see General Sherman in Sequoia National Park and give that old guy a group-hug. Don’t follow her, she could end up anywhere. Twitter @erinbennion