The Best Small Cruises in the USA

Dolphins in Baja California.
Dolphins in Baja California. (Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions).
  • 01 of 05

    Olympic Wilderness and San Juan Islands: Adventure Life

    Kayaks on a dock.
    Kayaks lined up and ready to hit the waters of the Pacific Northwest. (Courtesy of Adventure Life).

    Ship: Wilderness Discoverer
    With a passenger capacity of 76, this small ship has the ability to explore the shallow inlets and passages of the West coast. Each room abroad the ship has an outside-facing window and TV that broadcasts highlights from the day's journey. A hot tub, sauna and small gym are also available.

    Highlights: Sailing from Seattle, Washington, the Wilderness Discoverer hits Pacific Northwest hotspots like Olympic National Park, three of the San Juan Islands and Deception Pass State Park. During the seven-night voyage, adventurers have the chance to kayak through a protected bay off of Sucia Islanda, (population four) bird watch for puffins on National Wildlife Refuge, Protection Island, and hike through the rainforest in the Olympic Mountains. The third day is reserved for “Captains Choice,” a day for the Captain to choose a course through the San Juans and surprise guests with whatever the sea might have to offer that day. 

     

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  • 02 of 05

    San Diego, California to Vancouver: Silversea

    A Silversea's cruise ship
    A view of the Silver Explorer. (Courtesy of Silversea Cruises).

    Ship: Silver Explorer
    The Silver Explorer has space for 130 passengers and a fleet of zodiacs for adventuring. The two dining options onboard offer fresh regional dishes. There is also an outdoor bar, and two lounges to relax and sightsee in. 

    Highlights: The 11 day cruise embarks from San Diego, California and winds along the western coast of the US through Oregon, Washington and the San Juan Islands before ending in Vancouver, Canada. The tour is unique in that it stops in Monterey and San Francisco, where guests have the option to disembark and explore beachside towns like Pebble Beach and Carmel-By-The-Sea in addition to San Francisco must-sees such as the Haight Ashbury and Fisherman’s Wharf. The cruise past Port Angeles and Olympia along the Washington Coast offers the perfect opportunity to kick back on the deck and scan for eagles, seals and maybe even the rare killer whale.

     

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  • 03 of 05

    Seattle to Juneau: UnCruise Adventures

    Cruise passengers in Alaska.
    UnCruise passengers out on a skiff in Alaska. (UnCruise Adventures).

    Ship: Variety 
    Passengers riding with UnCruise Adventures may find themselves abroad one of six vessels. None of them hold more than 80 passengers and all are equipped with adventure equipment such as paddle boards, kayaks, and wetsuits. They're even outfitted with yoga mats if you want to practice your downward dogs at sea.

    Highlights: This 12-day journey through Alaska and Canada’s inside passages sails out of Seattle, Washington and takes guests right into the forested islands of the San Juans. Stops along the way to the disembark point in Juneau, Alaska include Ketchikan the “salmon capital of the world” and home to the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles, as well as the glacial valleys of Misty Fjords National Monument. Wildlife sightings are a daily occurrence; adventurers have the chance to spot orca and humpback whales going through Stephens Passage and black bears and minks along the shore throughout Alaska.

     

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  • 04 of 05

    Baja California: Lindblad Expeditions

    A cruise passenger interacting with a gray whale.
    A Lindblad Expeditions passenger interacts with a gray whale in Baja.

     Ship: National Geographic Sea Bird or Sea Lion
    The newly redone twin vessels both hold 62 passengers in 31 outside-facing cabins. Each has a sundeck and open bow for maximum wildlife viewing. 

    Highlights: Lindblad Expeditions partners with National Geographic to take guests out and experience the world’s seas and beaches with the experts. This particular expedition leaves from La Paz, California and ventures along the entire Baja peninsula. The main attraction is the opportunity to spot and interact with gray whales. The Lindblad company is the only one of its kind allowed to enter the whale birthing lagoons, and during a two-day stop at Laguna San Ignacio, guests explore the waters on traditional boats known as pangas, and observe and photograph mothers and calves in their natural habitats. The majority of the trip is spent island hopping in the Sea of Cortez, stopping for hikes, and snorkeling off of the beaches. 

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  • 05 of 05

    Hawaiian Seascapes: Adventure Life

    The coast of Hawaii.
    The coast of Hawaii. (Courtesy of Adventure Life).

    Ship: Safari Explorer
    This luxurious 60-guest craft has an onboard wine library and spa area with hot tub, sauna and yoga classes. Every room comes equipped with heated floors as well as amenities like bathrobes and binoculars (a cruise must-have).

    Highlights: An 8-day mix of culture, wildlife and outdoor adventure, the Safari Explorer takes guests from Moloka’I Island through Hawaii’s countless coves and beaches before ending at Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island. The first day of the journey guests have the option of taking lessons in traditional practices like poi making, and taro patches or hiking through waterfalls in the Halawa Valley. From there, a cruise through the Humpback National Marine Sanctuary offers a chance to spot dolphins and whales. Each day is filled with opportunities to snorkel, paddleboard and swim through the islands.