Best Boutique Cruise Line (2016)


Our 10 winners for Best Boutique Cruise Line, as voted on by USA TODAY 10Best readers, bring something extra to the cruising experience, whether it be small ships with attractive passenger-to-staff ratios, luxury amenities, unique on-board activities and excursions or all-inclusive fares.

  • Variety Cruises

    Variety Cruises

    Variety Cruises' 12 luxury yachts (the largest accommodates 72 guests) offer an intimate ambiance, attentive service and soft adventure at a host of unique ports. The small ship sizes means yachts can anchor in secluded lagoons for a swim stop or dock right in the heart of a destination to give passengers more time to explore a port.
    Photo courtesy of Variety Cruises

  • Lindblad Expeditions

    Lindblad Expeditions

    When Lindblad Expeditions partners with National Geographic, you know it's bound to be good. These small-ship voyages truly are expeditions. Comfort and service are of the more practical variety, and entertainment means taking a Zodiac to see Galapagos wildlife up close or guided star gazing in the clear Arctic air at night. The largest ship only holds 148 passengers, which guarantees a more intimate experience.
    Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins / Lindblad Expeditions

  • Un-Cruise Adventures

    Un-Cruise Adventures

    Un-Cruise Adventures doesn't cater to the typical cruise crowd who expect casinos, elaborate musicals and on-board waterparks. Instead, the fleet of eight ships takes passengers on eco-adventures to destinations inaccessible to larger ships. Itineraries might involve snorkeling with sea lions in the Sea of Cortez, retracing the footsteps of Charles Darwin in the Galapagos or taking a "polar bear plunge" in Alaska.
    Photo courtesy of Un-Cruise Adventures

  • Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

    Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

    Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection refers to their fleet as "luxurious floating boutique hotels," hotels that carry guests through European, Asian and Egyptian waterways. Decor is plush and colorful, service exceptional and the cuisine holds its own against the most luxurious ocean vessels. Passenger-to-staff ratios are among the best in river cruising.
    Photo courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

  • Hurtigruten


    Hurtigruten's smallish ships bring passengers through some of Norway's most spectacular scenery with opportunities to visit Norwegian towns big and small. The comfortable ships offer a casual cruising atmosphere, known for passenger camaraderie and an extensive line-up of tours, all of which can be pre-booked online.
    Photo courtesy of Claire Netting / Hurtigruten

  • Island Windjammers

    Island Windjammers

    Casual cruising is the name of the game aboard Island Windjammers' fleet of tall ships and motorsailers. What the ships lack in cruise amenities – you won't find a casino or theater on board – they make up for in a delightful "island Life" mentality, where teak decks and al fresco dining areas set the stage for blissful relaxation.
    Photo courtesy of Island Windjammers

  • Sea Cloud Cruises

    Sea Cloud Cruises

    Sea Cloud Cruises imbues the windjammer experience with luxury and sophistication. Both the Sea Cloud I or II are appointed with marble fireplaces, teak wood furnishings and antique touches. Afternoons are spent watching the crew at work or lazing in the sun with a good book. Meals, often served al fresco, include complimentary wine.
    Photo courtesy of Sea Cloud Cruises

  • Crystal Cruises

    Crystal Cruises

    Crystal Cruises proves that luxury need not come in a small package. Passengers aboard any of Crystal's three ships enjoy some of the best passenger-to-staff and passenger-to-space ratios of any line, and Crystal has become synonymous with fine dining at sea. It also boasts a top-notch enrichment program.
    Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises

  • Star Clippers

    Star Clippers

    Star Clippers sets out to recreate the golden age of tall-masted sailing, and they do so with modern and elegant, yet informal touches. Passengers can learn knot-tying or navigation 101 or enjoy loads of open deck space – more than on some large cruise ships. Passengers are invited to participate in the sailing process, and time at ports often extends into the evening or overnight.
    Photo courtesy of Star Clippers

  • International Expeditions

    International Expeditions

    International Expeditions, a largely land-based tour company, operates a small fleet of ships that take passengers to some of the world's most exotic locations. Most popular are the Amazon River cruises aboard La Estrella Amazonica and Galapagos cruises aboard 32-passenger Evolution. One of the company's newest offerings takes visitors to the shores of Cuba on the masted 48-guest Panorama or 46-guest Panorama II.
    Photo courtesy of International Expeditions

The top 10 winners in the category Best Boutique Cruise Line are as follows:

  1. Variety Cruises
  2. Lindblad Expeditions
  3. Un-Cruise Adventures
  4. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
  5. Hurtigruten
  6. Island Windjammers
  7. Sea Cloud Cruises
  8. Crystal Cruises
  9. Star Clippers
  10. International Expeditions

10Best Local Experts and Editors picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Doug Parker (Cruise Radio), Fran Golden (USA TODAY), Gene Sloan (USA TODAY) and Stewart Chiron (The Cruise Guy) were chosen based on their extensive experience with the cruise industry.

Other nominees for Best Boutique Cruise Line included Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Ponant, Quark Expeditions, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises and Windstar Cruises.

Congratulations to all of our winning cruise lines!

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Doug Parker

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Doug Parker

Fran Golden

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Fran Golden

Gene Sloan

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Gene Sloan

Stewart Chiron

Stewart Chiron

Stewart Chiron