Old-timey big romance found on small ships

Remember the steamships in old movies? Everyone was dressed in tuxedos and gowns, drank champagne, and danced the night away. Although that style of cruising has faded away, it is still possible to have romance on the high seas - look for it on small cruise ships.

My wife and I have tried six small lines, some better than others. For us, the whole point of a winter getaway is just that, to get away - from e-mail, ring tones and teen angst.

We sailed on two of the best-ranked small-ship lines, Silversea Cruises and SeaDream Yacht Club. Both have fine service, great food and comfortable accommodations, but they are markedly different in ambience.

We took the Silversea Silver Shadow out of San Diego for a trip along the Mexican Riviera. The ship is opulent, with large staterooms, walk-in closets, marble baths, and teak-furnished balconies. I remember thinking it had the feel of an exclusive boutique hotel. No appointment was overlooked; so much so, I thought it a bit snobbish.

Much to the chagrin of my wife, I consider a nice shirt and slacks dressing up and a sport coat formal attire, so I felt a tad out of place, surrounded by tuxedos and gowns on the "gala formal evening." Fortunately, the ship offered course-by-course in-suite dining. We might have been out of place, but at least we didn't go hungry.

The smaller SeaDream Goddess is more yacht than cruise ship. The atmosphere on that cruise from San Juan to St. Thomas was relaxed and inviting without pretense.

We felt right at home - they even gave us embroidered pajamas. The ship offers intimate spaces, like the cushioned lounges for two (they call them Balinese beds). The layout is such that it is rare to see more than a dozen fellow passengers at a time. There are no announcements or scheduled activities to disturb the quiet.

Dining is open-seating style, so we could choose to sit alone or with other guests. One evening, we had a private dinner on the open deck, under the stars in St. Barths. I may not have been in top hat and tails, but I felt like Fred Astaire just the same.

One more touch made this the near-perfect cruise - the touch of the masseuses. We had the best massages ever, on land or sea, on this ship. We were relaxed in body and mind. What could be more romantic?

Aboud Dweck lives in Media, Delaware County.