I talked to several people about European river cruising this week and was struck by the misperceptions they had about this form of cruising. While it is a type of cruise, river cruises are distinct from their ocean going counterparts in most ways. Knowing some of the key differences is helpful to decide if a European river cruise is for you.
No waves – The fear of or reality of seasickness keeps many people away from ocean cruising. One of the great things about river cruises is that there aren’t any waves or pitch. The only changes in elevation happen through the lock system with gently lowers or raises the river cruise vessels to the next substantial change in elevation. No more patches, pills or worries. The locks are fun to experience from on deck too!
Land Ho – River cruises stop at ports every day of your trip. Sometimes they stop two or three times. It’s always your option to go ashore, but when you do you won’t have any long piers to deal with. River cruise vessels pull right up to shore in the town and cities along the bank. If there is a short trek into a city or village, most cruise lines have transportation parked nearby to shuttle you in. Multiple stops throughout the day and evening allow you to experience the towns and cities differently too, perhaps choosing to eat dinner at a cafe ashore or attend a musical or theatrical performance, then head back to the ship.
Fewer people – River cruises carry between 132 and 190 passengers for two reasons. First the ships have to be built to very strict specifications to be able to fit through the many locks, therefore limiting the vessels’ capacity. Most staterooms are still “cozy” on both river cruise and ocean-going ships, river vessels have fewer larger suites. Fewer people means more person service and more space on the ship.
No Kids ! – Except for the newly announced partnership between AmaWaterways and Adventures by Disney, river cruise lines limit the age of their passengers. River cruise ships are not action packed, entertainment filled floating cities like ocean cruise ships which would not appeal to kids. All adult passengers means more relaxation and little distractions
More Inclusions – While there are different levels of inclusiveness by cruise line, for the most part river cruise lines offer less nickel and diming that many ocean going cruises (non-luxury) do. Gratuities, transfers, alcohol (some or all), excursions are usually included in your fare. Less to think about while you are enjoying your trip
Gourmet Dining – No one leaves a river cruise hungry or unsatisfied. With fewer guest to feed, the culinary staff is able to prepare amazing food with a strong focus on dishes from the destinations visited. No worries though, culinary staff is able to satisfy guests with strictly American style food choices. Breakfast and lunch are more casual but no less impressive in quality than the more refined table service meal at the single dinner seating. River cruise vessels are able to seat all guests in the main dining room also, which allows for less hectic meals since people are rushing in and out for shows and the next seating.
Cultural entertainment vs nightlife – If you are looking for casinos, comedy clubs, broadway style shows or magicians, river cruises are not for you. River cruise entertainment is more focused to the musical, artistic and educational variety, usually by performers and lecturers from the areas visited. Again, less options can be a great way to force yourself to relax with a spa treatment, enjoying the music in a lounge with a great glass of wine or your favorite cocktail, or by sitting on your balcony enjoying the passing landscape. As nice as river cruise staterooms are appointed, a little private resting and lounging could be a great way to spend an evening.
River cruises offer the same convenience of unpacking once and enjoying multiple locations (more locations!) that ocean cruises offer. The main difference is the intimate, more inclusive, more service oriented environment that really focuses on the destinations visited. A big draw is the ability to see more locations without the hustle and bustle of huge ports and to really experience the destination with excursions or touring that focus on the locals and way of life at that destination.
Is a river cruise on your list of must-do’s? Start researching early because unlike their ocean going counterparts, river cruises book up well in advance of travel. I’m talking a year in advance, not just 6 months! Utilizing a trusted travel professional will help you match your budget and vacation priorites to the right company, ship and itinerary. While the river cruise industry is growing by leaps and bounds due to incredible demand, there is no “one size fits all” with these vacations. Having the assistance of a professional well versed in the different companies, ships and destinations can help you get exactly the trip you want
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