River cruising has exploded in popularity over the past decade. River cruise lines are rapidly expanding from their strongholds in Europe into North America, Asia, Africa, and South America, adding new ships and innovations such as all-weather “indoor balconies” – sitting rooms facing floor-to-ceiling windows — every year.
It’s recently become the hottest segment of the cruise industry, with no signs of slowing down. Here are some reasons why:
- River cruising is more intimate than ocean cruising. Rather than the multi-thousand-passenger megaships that resemble floating cities — with built-in malls, casinos, and giant waterslides – the long, sleek river cruise ships typically hold from 120-200 passengers. And most won’t be getting any larger, due to the constraints posed by passing through locks and canals and under bridges. With fewer passengers, you won’t have to fight crowds getting on and off the ship, and you’ll have a better chance of getting to know your fellow shipmates.
- River cruising is more scenic than ocean cruising. With river cruising, you’re always near shore (which alleviates some would-be cruisers’ fears about being way out at sea). You virtually always have scenery to view – cities, villages, castles, passing boats, vineyards, temples, forests, historic sites, and more, depending on your location — whether it’s from the deck of your ship, the lounge, or from the balcony of your cabin. And on river ships, most every cabin has a window or outdoor access of some sort – you’ll seldom find inside cabins as you do on ocean-going cruise ships.
- River cruising provides greater access to ports. Ports assume much more importance on a river cruise ship, with virtually every day bringing at least one port stop, and often more. Because of their smaller size, river cruise ships can usually dock right in the center of a city, offering convenient on-and-off access. You can even ride bicycles along shore on some voyages.
- “Extras” are often included in the price. Even though they tend to be higher than mainstream ocean-going cruise line prices, river cruise line rates are often fully inclusive. Most offer free guided land tours, which ocean-going ships seldom do and can greatly add to your expenses. And along with meals (which virtually all types of cruises include), many river cruise lines offer free alcoholic beverages. Some even include all gratuities, both on land and on the ship.
- Seasickness is seldom an issue. If you’re prone to getting seasick, an ocean-going voyage can be torturous at times. Rivers are usually much calmer than open seas, and the fact that you can always see land may help calm queasy stomachs.
This isn’t to say that everyone would prefer a river cruise over an ocean or sea cruise. The latter continue to thrive. In fact, Viking Cruises — the leader in river cruising worldwide — has just entered the ocean cruise market, albeit with a mid-sized (930-passenger) ship, the Viking Star.
Ocean and sea cruises have their own benefits:
- Ocean and sea cruises are often much less expensive (bigger ships = more passengers = lower prices for many cabins).
- Ocean and sea cruises cover more of the world than a river cruise.
- On board activities, dining options, and features (such as shops and spas) are more plentiful and varied.
- Ocean and sea cruises are usually better for families, with kids’ activities and clubs far more widely available.
- Cabins and public areas are often larger than on river ships.
The best thing of all about today’s cruising scene? You have choices.
Note: An earlier version of this post originally appeared in Stride Travel, the world’s most comprehensive marketplace for guided tours, river cruises, and organized adventures.
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