Forget the old adage that 'big is beautiful', for it would seem that nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to cruising, writes Anthony Collins. 

Small is definitely superior if you want to get in to the places that some of the giants of the ocean can only dream about.

And that is something we were delighted to discover for ourselves when we embarked on a Scandinavia and St Petersburg cruise with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines that showed off the Baltic at its best.

Our 24,000 ton ship Braemar, with a capacity of just 929 passengers, had the advantage over vessels up to four times its size.

And that advantage, which we found on our 14-night cruise from Dover, included being able to pass through the majestic Kiel Canal in Germany - inaccessible to larger ships as they would crash into the overhead bridges.

The 61-mile long canal - which cuts around 200 miles off the alternative journey around north Denmark - was the first of what turned out to be many highlights.

In fact, as this particular cruise coincided with a host of summer festivals, we were treated to the splendid sight of the Tall Ship parade in Kiel boasting a wonderful variety of sail boats.

From there it was a short journey to the German seaside resort of Travemunde, which gave us the chance to visit the beautiful medieval town of Lubeck - a deserved UNESCO world heritage site with more than 1,000 historic buildings.

Next up was the Swedish capital of Stockholm, where golfer Tiger Woods once lived while married to his au pair and which now boasts an Abba museum since last year.

After enjoying a walking tour of the historic old town, we visited the somewhat different Vasa Museum, built like a dry dock to store a virtually intact 17th century warship recovered from the Baltic in 1965.

Unlike the Mary Rose in Portsmouth, the low saline levels in the Baltic meant the timbers of the ship were perfectly preserved.

After another day at sea, during which you could soak up the sun, enjoy a leisurely lunch, or take part in various activities ranging from dance classes and spa treatments to guest lecturers, it was time for another major highlight - St Petersburg in Russia.

Unlike the rest of our stops, you need a visa if you want to explore St Petersburg on your own. But with two days to visit the magnificent palaces of the tsars you are better off on escorted tours.

We visited the amazing Peterhof Palace, conceived by Peter the Great and dubbed the Russian Versailles, before heading to the fabulous Hermitage Museum which boasts works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Michelangelo among its collections.

With a night time boat trip on St Petersburg's waterways, followed by a next day excursion to the palace of Catherine I, it would be easy to think that nothing could possibly compare.

But that would be a great disservice to the Estonian city of Tallinn, which seems to have emerged in recent years as one of the must-see places to visit.

The UNESCO world heritage site boasts an almost time-warp medieval walled town complete with fairy-tale turrets and lots of cobbled side streets.

As an added bonus, although none was needed, we were in Tallinn at the same time as its Song and Dance Festival which only takes place every five years, with more than 40,000 people taking part.

Another day at sea brought us to our final port of Copenhagen in Denmark, where our ship could not have been more central if it had been lowered by giant aircraft.

With the sights so close at hand, and a later sailing time than most cruise ships, there was plenty of opportunity to visit a Viking ship museum housing five 11th century Viking longboats recovered in the 1960s.

Fact File The 14 night Scandinavia and St Petersburg cruise was with Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines, sailing from Dover. For further information, or to book a cruise, telephone 0800 0355 150 or visit - 0845 163 3832?

Fred Olsen has more than 53 per cent repeat cruisers on its fleet of four ships which will collectively visit 246 ports in 85 countries next season.

The overall cruising industry is still growing, with 1.7 million cruisers a year worldwide, helped by a more generous baggage allowance, such as Fred.Olsen's 90kg, compared to the usual 23kg for airlines.

All food on board its ships is free, with Fred.Olsen now also offering a £10 per person per night drinks package.