Aside from the fact that they’re both on the water, river cruises have little in common with ocean cruises.
And that’s why I love them. Don’t get me wrong, I adore cruises of any kind—big, small, and everything in between. But river cruises have their own special blend of magic. Like ocean liners, you can hit several countries (and sometimes continents) in one trip, but river cruises have a few charms you won’t find on a larger cruise ship.
Check out these six advantages river cruises have over ocean cruises.
1. Get the Best Parking Spots
River cruise ships are much, much smaller than ocean-going vessels. They can fit into way smaller spaces as a result. This means you get the best parking spaces at each port. Often, you get off the ship right in the heart of the action. There’s no need to drive from a nearby city or take a tender, which can eat up a lot of your free time. A great example is Venice, where ocean cruise ships are banned from sailing into the lagoon. You need to find a way into Venice from the shipyards just outside the city. It’s a hassle and quite time-consuming. River cruises simply sail right into the city.
2. Unique itineraries
Easy access to hot spots, like Venice, are just one perk of being on a smaller ship. Perhaps an even bigger bonus is the ability to sail into smaller, lesser-known ports. River cruise ships take you to places you simply can’t go on an ocean liner. For example, on one voyage, I visited the Christmas markets in Colmar, France, a place I didn’t even know existed. It’s the most charming, little traditional French village—the kind of stuff fairy tales are made of. In the Mekong Delta, we walked right off the ship into rice fields or tiny villages that have yet to be touched by mainstream civilization. River cruises take you to all kinds of places you never knew you wanted to go but are so quaint you’ll never want to leave.
3. Enjoy Plenty of Local Flare
Ocean cruises are known for their over-the-top entertainment and nonstop fun and games. It’s incredible, and you’ll never wont for something to do. River cruises offer something completely unique, though—a chance to experience the local culture. They, literally, bring people from nearby communities on board the ship to entertain passengers. In the Black Forest, for example, we were treated to a demonstration by a local wood-carver. In the Mekong Delta, a dance troupe put on a traditional performance one night, while a professional chef treated us to a tasting of indigenous fruits and ice creams. The entertainment is much more low-key, but it’s an amazing glimpse into the lives of the people in the places you’re visiting. It’s truly enlightening and delightful.
4. Kick Back and Relax
While ocean liners are geared toward family fun, you won’t find any kids on a river cruise. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the peace and quite. Sitting on top of the ship watching the world go by is one of the most serene and enjoyable experiences. Grab a book, lay back on a lounger, and enjoy the view.
5. Almost All-Inclusive
Most ocean cruises come with a fairly thrifty price tag. You’ll likely pay quite a bit more for a river cruise, which may seem like a disadvantage, but it’s actually not. The cost is a bit more because absolutely everything is included in your fare. You want beer or wine? Or maybe you’re a soda lover? Either way, drink til your heart’s content. Want to check in back home? Simply log into the Internet at no extra cost. You’ll even get a choice of shore excursions to take part in—or not—each day. Do as much or as little as you want. It’s up to you. And you’ll never need to pull out your wallet.
6. Make New Friends
While you’re likely to see a few familiar faces here and there on a ocean-going cruise ship, it’s impossible not to get to know the other guests on a river cruise. There are typically fewer than 200 people on each sailing. My last river cruise had only 57 of a possible 120 passengers. We made a few new friends, who we still keep in touch with today. It’s an intimate atmosphere on board a river cruise. You’ll get cozy with each other quickly.
These are just a few of the advantages river cruises have over ocean cruises. And while I love them both, each one has its own unique style. Which do you prefer, and why? Share your thoughts with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.