Did anyone ever have a similar name to you at your grade school? I happen to have a first name that was THE most popular name of my birth year. So, there were plenty of people who shared my name as I went through school. This was never that big a problem until one day my doctor confused me with another patient of the same name. I happened to be at his office because I was in labor with my second child. The other lady? Routine check-up. It was a little awkward when they went to send me home with a quick “you look healthy!” and I had to inform them I thought I was having a baby.
Sometimes it’s not great to share a name.
The same is true for River Cruising and Ocean Cruising. Really…they should have different names. It should be more like River Journeys and Ocean Cruising. I have talked to so many people who think the two are the same.
They. Are. Not.
Granted, they both share an incredible efficiency. Your time is spent exploring rather than hauling your stuff between destinations. You can see more and do more as a new destination with new adventures will await when you wake.
But that’s about where the similarities end. If you’re picturing a 10-story floating water park with a disco conga line of 800 people headed past German castles of old and cringe a little…I have good news. You’ve encountered a case of mistaken identity.
So how are River Cruises and Ocean Cruises different?
Boutique verses Big
Most traditional ocean cruising is designed for a large scale. This works great for really large groups of diverse people. Big ocean ships can accommodate a family of 50 people from 6 months old to 80 years old. There’s room for EVERYTHING and something for everyone.
River cruises are different. The boats are very intimate with only 150-200 people onboard. Nothing is done in mass, bulk, or a generic way. These cruises do not offer options for every activity imaginable. It’s a boutique experience catering to those who want to experience more of their destination’s history, food, culture, art, and beauty in a cohesive way with the best of luxury service. You won’t find a two-story water slide, but you will find a water-side encounter with ancient stories.
Curated verses Crowded
A side effect of large ocean ships is that there are large amounts of people. Getting on and off the boat can take a long time. There can be a wait for dining options. It can seem as though the boat overwhelms the port with its passengers. It can feel crowded all the time.
River cruises are a curated experience. A river cruise is designed to maximize the experience of a destination with easy access to the best of the best. It allows you to do more, not less. Each port is carefully chosen for the unique experiences it holds. Many of these ports are not accessible to larger ships, which means you get up close and personal with new and exciting places not found on mass itineraries. Once onshore, opportunities for further exploration abound. While you can explore on your own, river cruises often come with exclusive behind-the-scenes excursions into places like revered wine cellars, iconic historical landmarks, and authentic cultural exchanges. With less passengers onboard and a small ship, service is personalized and operations move very quickly. There is no 2-hour disembarkation at port. River cruises make access easy.
Immersive verses Sampler
Large ocean cruises are designed to bring American culture abroad. These often have food and entertainment options for people who prefer to sample other cultures from a safe distance. They want to snorkel the Caribbean but also eat meatloaf or chicken nuggets for dinner.
River Cruises are designed for a refined immersive experience of local cultures. The food onboard is designed to reflect the local cultures through a gourmet lens. Educational experiences, history lectures, and even art displays are designed to showcase the destination. Not that you spend that much time onboard. River cruises keep you onshore more often. Maximizing your time by traveling at night, you wake up with more time in a destination (but far better rested than having been on a sleeper train). You don’t waste time with hotel check-ins and outs or risk travel delays on mass transportation. Once onshore, local guides bring their homeland to life. Traveling rivers puts you on the interior ancient highways of the Earth. It brings you into countries and cultures. On river cruises, ship and shore meld together bring you an immersive experience of the highest luxury quality.
Luxury verses Budget
Ocean cruises are known for keeping costs down. When you travel in bulk, the prices can often be kept lower. Cruises leaving from American ports can also allow some to forgo the costs of flights. While there are more luxurious accommodations available, these ships offer more economical options so people of all budgets can travel.
River cruises are about luxury for people who want a certain level of experience. Even the lowest cabins will have an immersive luxury experience. However, few of these are even available as river ships are designed to have more balconies and suites to offer the best views of the surrounding areas. Travelers choosing a river cruise tend to be like-minded in wanting the best experiences and enjoying the best in life. This adds to the onboard atmosphere as travelers experience and enjoy new cultures together.
Included verses A La Carte
Ocean cruises are somewhat notorious for a nickel-and-dime mentality. There is always one more additional cost and several surprises on the bill at the end of the cruise. Often, it feels as though you need to add to your cruise just to get the experience you thought you paid for already.
River cruises simply include more in their experience. Whether it is the quality of the food and beverage, or a specialty shore excursion, river cruises build an inclusive immersive experience. Of course, there are always additional special things you may choose to do. However, the difference is that you don’t need to add-on things to get a luxurious full experience. Luxury is already included.
While they share a form of travel, river, and ocean cruising fit different travel types. If ocean cruising has lost its luster for you, don’t let it turn you off of river cruising and one of the best ways to experience some of the most incredible destinations in the world.