Cruise destinations


The best person to ask about when to travel to each cruise destination is, quite simply, the skipper. Because these cruises are all about what you are going to see when you wake up in the morning, as opposed to what the breakfast buffet is going to be like. Therefore, the dates of travel are usually linked to wildlife sightings or the best sailing weather. In Antarctica, Nov-Mar is not only the best to go, it is the only time. For Arctic small cruises, it’s the summer. If you want to see porpoises, basking sharks and whales in Scotland, the summer months are also best. The Galapagos have animal magic going throughout the year.
Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jul | Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec

When not to go on a small ship cruise


  • For Arctic cruise destinations, you’re really looking at summer. From October to March, much of the land becomes icebound, and ships cannot pass. Darkness descends as the Polar night begins – scuppering would-be sightseers. The exception is a small number of Northern Lights cruises– see our Northern Lights guide for more information.
  • If you’re worried about the cold, spring and autumn are not the best times to book an Arctic cruise. July and August enjoy the warmest weather and sunniest days.
  • If you want to sail right around Spitsbergen, the late summer is best as the ice melts. But don’t leave it too late – by late September the northern shores will be iced in again.
  • The wildlife in Kamchatka is extraordinary. However, if you want to see Wrangel Island’s polar bears your safest bets are July and August.
  • Burma experiences monsoons and wild storms from May until early October. So, as this definitely isn’t a time for plain sailing, you won’t get cruise dates during this period.

What happens when


Lara Paxton at our supplier, The Small Ship Cruise Collection: “Our small ship cruises only happen when the weather is going to be OK. So, for example, we do small cruises around Cuba, but they only go December until April. They don’t want to be there during the hurricane season; that would not be a fun cruise.”
Charlotte Caffrey, co-founder of our supplier Aqua-Firma, advises on when to go on a small cruise vacation to Svalbard in the Arctic: “The seasons are very different. In June, there’s a lot of snow and ice, so you’re able only to visit parts of Spitsbergen. As the season goes on, you get a melting of the ice so you can do a circumnavigation. It’s a longer trip and you’re getting very different aspects of the Arctic. By September, there’s no longer 24-hour daylight; you’ll get more evening time. The birdlife stays from around June into early September – there’s a lot of food around and the breeding activity is really high. So you have to think: what do I want to see? How long do I want to be there? Which parts do I want to explore?”
Colette Dubois at our supplier, St. Hilda Sea Adventures: “The best time to see birds and other wildlife in Scotland, where we take our guests, is June. The autumn is also a lovely time but you will see fewer birds. For the weather often June is the best month too. People worry about midges in Scotland, but we absolutely never have midges on the boat because there is always a breeze”.

The small ship cruise calendar


It’s not all ice and polar bears in Kamchatka. You’ll see brown bears feasting on salmon in a landscape dotted with delicate summer wildflowers along Eastern Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula in July. If you cruise along the peninsula’s coast in September, the landscape will be painted in vivid autumnal reds and oranges.
Photo credits: [Top box: Murray Barnes] [Lara Paxton quote: Alessandro Caproni] [Colette Dubois quote: Paul Wordingham] [Our nature pick - bear with salmon: Harald Deischinger]
Written by Catherine Mack
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