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Best Honeymoon Cruise Ships: 9 Small Ships for Big Romantics

A short list of intimate, small-ship sailing options for all you romantics out there. These ships have cozy romance written all over them, whether due to their look, their onboard vibe, their itineraries, or some intangible 'other.'

My friend Kelly recently got married, and asked me the question I get all the time: "We want to take a cruise for our honeymoon," she said. "Which one would you recommend?" For her and her intended, I ended up recommending an Alaska cruise aboard NCL's Norwegian Pearl, but that's because it seemed most "them." For my own cruise honeymoon (which was actually a pre-neymoon, a few months before the event), I chose a much smaller and more intimate option, sailing aboard Windstar's motor-sail ship Wind Surf in the western Mediterranean -- a trip my wife still holds up as the gold standard whenever I suggest another cruise: Will it be as good as Windstar?

Working on the presumption that a lot of other people will share my wife's taste (and mine), I've compiled a short list of intimate, small-ship sailing options for all you romantics out there. These ships have cozy romance written all over them, whether due to their look (sails are always a good sign, as are sleek, yacht-like lines), their onboard vibe (subtle service, lots of pampering), their itineraries, or some intangible "other." This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it's a considered list, taking into account certain honeymoon-specific criteria. For instance, I discounted many very romantic-looking sailing ships and other small vessels because their cabins all have bunk beds.

Honeymoon Cruise: Abercrombie & Kent on the Nile

Winding its way through Egypt, the Nile is romantic in that old-movie, pith helmet, "Meet me at the Casbah" kind of way. Luxury adventure travel company Abercrombie & Kent offers 11-night "Splendors of the Nile" cruisetours that include flights, hotel stays in Cairo, and four nights aboard the 80-passenger Sun Boat IV, sailing from Cairo. All told, the trip visits Luxor, Denderah, the Pyramids of Giza, Memphis, Sakkara, Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Aswan. Sun Boat IV offers large, luxuriously appointed cabins, an elegant lounge and bar, sun decks, and a heated plunge pool. Rates from $6,870 per person, including airfare, hotels, and guided tours. .

Honeymoon Cruise: American Safari Cruises' Safari Explorer in Hawaii

High-end adventure travel line American Safari is best known for its Alaska cruises, but in 2011 and 2012 its 36-passenger Safari Explorer yacht will be sailing weeklong Hawaii cruises between Maui and Kona and concentrate on the islands' more natural and historic sights, with hikes, kayaking, snorkeling, biking, destination meals, and other activities included. Safari Explorer is a beautifully appointed vessel, with large, comfortable cabins (each with king- or queen-size beds, picture windows, flat-screen TVs, and bathrooms with heated tile floors), a lovely dining room and separate lounge, an on-deck hot tub, a sauna, and a wellness program offering massage and yoga classes. Fares are all-inclusive, covering off-vessel excursions as well as all drinks and etc. Hawaii fares from $4,995 per person, with sailings beginning November 6,

Honeymoon Cruise: Arabella in the Caribbean

Several notches smaller and more laid back than Sea Cloud, Star Clippers, or Windstar's sailing ships, the 40-passenger Arabella spends her winters in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, her summers sailing the New England coast, and her springs and falls on the Chesapeake Bay. Onboard life is completely casual and almost completely unstructured. Crew and passengers alike tend to go barefoot, and days are divided between sailing time, watersports, and time ashore -- including dinner: Unlike almost any other cruise vessel, Arabella ferries her passengers ashore every night for dinner at a local restaurant or yacht club, included in the cruise price. Cabins are small (honeymooners, beware the Category C cabins with their upper and lower bunk-beds), but comfortably appointed, and include nice touches like a turndown service and pillow chocolates. Caribbean rates start from $1,450 per person, but you should spring for the $2,550 Category A cabins, which are the only ones with queen-size beds.

Honeymoon Cruise: Paul Gauguin Cruises' Paul Gauguin in Tahiti and the South Pacific

Tahiti is romance, and Paul Gauguin is Tahiti, as far as cruises go. Built in 1997 specifically for the Tahiti market, the lovely 332-passenger vessel was operated for years by Regent Seven Seas Cruises, but is now owned by Pacific Beachcomber, an operator of luxury destination resorts in French Polynesia. The whole experience speaks romance, from the itineraries (Tahiti and the Society Islands itineraries sail from Papeete and include time in Raiatea, Motu Mahana, Bora Bora, and Moorea) to the upscale staterooms (70% with private balconies), the fine service and dining, and pricing that includes wines, spirits, and gratuities. Prices for weeklong Tahiti itineraries start around $3,500 per person, including air from Los Angeles. Besides its basic Tahiti & Society Islands cruises, the ship also offers several variants, including trips that venture as far as New Zealand.

Honeymoon Cruise: Sea Cloud Cruises' Sea Cloud in the Mediterranean

If you're looking to sail like a captain of industry (and his or her spouse) aboard a private yacht, circa 1900 to 1930 or so, look no farther than Germany-based Sea Cloud Cruises. The line's flagship -- the four-masted, 64-passenger Sea Cloud -- is an actual yacht of the period, built in 1931 for Wall Street tycoon E. F. Hutton and his wife, heiress and businesswoman Marjorie Merriweather Post. Originally outfitted with exquisite detail, the ship was returned to her glorious style when bought by German economist and seaman Hartmut Paschberg in 1978 and refurbished for passenger service. Passengers with the deepest pockets can book PostÂ?s own museum-like suite, with its Louis XIVÂ?style bed and nightstands, marble fireplace and bathroom, chandeliers, and intricate moldings. The other original suites are similarly if less sumptuously furnished. Standard cabins are comfortable, but lack the suitesÂ? time-machine quality. On deck, things are suitably nautical, but spaces like the onboard restaurant (the former salon from Hutton and Post's day) are downright Edwardian and very formal. Mediterranean cruises sail from Nice, Venice, Valetta, and Piraeus/Athens. Fares start around $5,000 per person.

Honeymoon Cruise: SeaDream's SeaDream I and II in the Caribbean

The twin 110-passenger mega-yachts SeaDream I and SeaDream II are the go-to line for a truly luxurious yet active and casual cruise. In the Caribbean, the vessels offer 5-, 7-, 9-, and 14-night sailings that visit yachting ports and harbors like St. Barts, Bequia, Guadeloupe, Jost Van Dyke, Montserrat, Peter Island, St. John, and Virgin Gorda -- and in some ports (like St. Barts) they stay all night so guests can sample the nightlife. On itineraries that visit the British Virgin Islands, there's a luxe beach barbecue once per cruise, complete with caviar and champagne. Onboard, the vibe is pure relaxation, from the surprisingly large spa to the Balinese sun beds that line the rail on Deck 6, each in its own raised, semi-partitioned Â?bedroom" with an extra-thick mattress, teak bed table, and large shade umbrella. Some guests spend the night in them, with pillows, duvets, and reading lights brought out by the crew. Five-course dinners in the Dining Salon frequently incorporate ingredients from local markets. After dinner, social passengers gather at the open-air Top of the Yacht Bar for cocktails and quiet music. SeaDream also offers itineraries in the Mediterranean. For 2011, per person prices for weeklong Caribbean cruises start around $3,300.

Honeymoon Cruise: Silversea's Silver Cloud and Silver Whisper in Northern Europe

If your idea of a romantic honeymoon includes sailing the most luxurious of the luxury lines to centuries-old European capitals, visiting grand palaces and sampling the best cuisine, then the 296-passenger Silver Cloud and 382-passenger Silver Whisper's Baltic Sea itineraries are for you. Silversea is the absolute cream of the crop among the highbrow luxury lines, with its exquisite cuisine, roomy suites, and innumerable all-inclusive niceties. Add a nicely understated, fine-tuned sense of design and exceptional, spot-on service, and you basically can't go wrong. Per person prices for weeklong 2011 Baltic voyages start around $4,400.

Honeymoon Cruise: Star Clippers' Star Clipper in the Caribbean

Star Clippers operates large, fairly traditional sailing ships that marry 19th-century designs with 20th-century materials, contemporary interiors, and engines for additional power. Its largest ship, the five-masted, square-rigged Royal Clipper (launched in 2000), offers luxurious cabins and suites, three pools, a small gym and spa, a multilevel dining room, and a retractable watersports marina for easy access to kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, water-skiing, and swimming -- plus an incredible feeling of history, grace, and overall romance. Though she's built for speed (she can make up to 19 knots under sail, which is pretty damn fast), life aboard Royal Clipper is casual all the way, with few organized activities. Days are spent exploring small yachting ports, using the ships' complimentary watersports equipment, sunbathing, and helping as much or little as you like with the sails. Cuisine is typically continental, served in casual open seatings. After dinner, couples drift up to the open-air Tropical Bar or indoor piano bar, or back to their cabins. Itineraries for 2011 sail among the islands of the southeastern Caribbean (Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Kitts, etc.) and among the British Virgin Islands. Prices start around $2,200 per person.

Honeymoon Cruise: Windstar Cruises in the Greek Isles

My own personal honeymoon line, Windstar mixes an always-casual onboard vibe with beyond-the-norm itineraries and first-class service and cuisine. Its three ships are technically motor-sail vessels, combining 19th-century sailing-ship technology with modern engineering, adding up to ships that are huge by sailing-ship standards, with at least 21,489 square feet of computer-controlled staysails that furl and unfurl at the touch of a button. (The ships are able to travel at upward of 12 knots under sail power alone, though usually the sails operate more as a fuel-saving aid to the diesel engines.) On board, stained teak, brass details, and lots of navy blue fabrics and carpeting lend a traditional nautical ambience, and cabins and public rooms are more what you'd expect on a medium-sized cruise ship than on a sailing ship. In 2011, all three of the Windstar ships -- the four-masted, 148-passenger Wind Star and Wind Spirit and the five-masted, 312-passenger Wind Surf -- will be sailing the Greek Isles at some point during the year, and the Greek Isles are, of course, absolutely one of the most romantic sailing regions on earth. Per-person rates start around $3,000 for weeklong cruises, double-occupancy.

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