Are you an avid ocean cruiser but have yet to try out a European river cruise? It is probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that river cruising is about as different from ocean cruising as an all inclusive resort is different to an ocean cruise ship. These are all "packaged" vacations but …
Here are the differences that ocean cruisers will notice on their first European river cruise:
- The price. Unless you are used to booking premium or luxury ocean cruises, you may at first think the fare is higher than you are used to. It is, but that figure is deceptive as river cruises are all inclusive – that means your wine, beer and bottled drinks at dinner (lunch too on some lines), and one to two excursions a day. Some offer free internet. Some are themed such as the popular wine cruises which include lectures, wine tastings and pairings. And some ships carry bicycles for bicycle excursions – there is usually a tour geared to everyone’s level of comfort and interest. Dollar for dollar, river cruising is a bargain.
- There are no long line ups or waits at the pier. About the appointed time you are told to be at the pier (unless of course you are using the transfer service), you can walk up, hand over your luggage to a ship’s crew member and walk on board.
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- The ship is small! Because river ships must fit through locks on most itineraries, they are long and narrow. The only way they can expand is in their length – too high and they might not fit under a bridge, too wide and they wouldn’t fit through a lock. Most only have a couple of decks and they may have as few as fifty cabins. There are no banks of elevators either though most have one (but it may not go up to the sun deck).
- There is no menu of restaurants, nightclubs, bars, shops etc. to choose from. Most ships have one dining room, one lounge and one gift shop. There are no big production shows or bingos. Meals and service are gourmet quality and exceptional – no difference here but well worth mentioning if one mistakenly thinks small relates to mediocre. The atmosphere is intimate and friendly. And did I mention the free flowing wine at dinner too? (Mimosas at breakfast!) Fill your wine glass up before retiring to the lounge to take in the scheduled entertainment - local singers, dancers or musicians.
- There are no choices in swimming pools, hot tubs, and tennis/basket ball courts, etc either. Some ships do not have a pool at all, and with the ship’s small size a basketball court is definitely out! But with all there is to see and do every day, I’ll bet you won’t miss these on board amenities.
- The rooms are just as compactly designed and comfortable as on an ocean cruise but the corridor distance to your room is shorter! You can leave your room and be at your dining room seat in under two minutes. Depending on the ship, you can choose a stateroom with a window, a French balcony (think patio doors with balcony railing), or small balcony – sometimes both the latter two! Chances are you won’t bother with a balcony at all because …
- There is something to see surrounding the ship at all times, and it’s not miles of ocean. Your best perch for a 360 degree view is the sun deck so you don’t miss anything. Because towns and cities built up along rivers, the easiest method of travel from times ancient, the passing scenery and ports of call immerse you in the history of the region – castles, churches, towns with winding cobblestone streets, inviting outdoor cafes, and little shops of curiosities.
- Something you won’t see is a seasickness patch or band. River cruising has no choppy waves or huge swells!
- Something else you won’t see is children. Some lines have a few dates in the year where families are welcome but river cruises are usually adults-only cruises.
These are a few of the differences and hopefully enough to give you an idea of a river cruise – an intimate four to five star hotel that you take with you on an exploration of the culture, history and scenery of new lands or return trips to favorite countries from a new perspective.
I leave you with two warnings before your first river cruise. First: make sure you are shock-proof - the bill shoved under my door last cruise was less than $20 for 2 persons (not the usual hundreds from my forays on ocean cruises), and second: river cruises are addictive. It is said 98% of river cruisers will do so again.