River cruising has been the fastest growing segment of travel for several years — but is it the perfect fit for you? Before you board a river cruise to sail through Europe, Asia, or other destinations with smaller ports that are well-suited for river cruising, consider these 10 differences between small ship and mega-ship sailing.
1. Smaller Sizes: You can expect to mingle with about 200 passengers on a river cruise, while ocean cruises can accommodate thousands. Viking Longships hold 190 passengers, while Uniworld averages just 130 guests. The flip side is that there’s less space for shared amenities, like the mega-pools, theaters, and other bells and whistles you’ll find on today’s big ships.
2. Older Passengers: River cruise passengers tend to be a bit older and highly educated — though lines are starting to see more cruisers who are younger but culturally minded, too. Beer-induced belly flop contests are likely not going to happen, nor late-night partying that pulsates under your stateroom.
3. Easy Boarding & Disembarking: Forget long lines of thousands of people passing through immigration with x-ray scans. River cruisers simply walk on and off the ship with little to no wait — and closer to the heart of the port destination, too.
4. Entertainment: On river cruises, nightly entertainment won’t come in the form of Broadway-style stage shows as much as local musicians or cultural programs in the lounge. On oceangoing ships, you’ll also find a variety of watering holes, casinos, and other entertainment spaces with varied programming being held concurrently — while most river ships have just one or two main lounge and bar areas.
5. Spas: These days, most river cruises have some sort of spa services onboard (with some Viking vessels as the major exception). But, again, the facilities won’t be as expansive or treatment menus as lengthy as on oceangoing ships.
6. Pools: These aren’t common on most river cruises, but a few are on offer. AmaWaterways, for one, has a pool on their sundeck. Uniworld has an indoor lap, while Emerald Waterways has a swimming pool that converts to a cinema at night.
7. Excursions. Shore excursions are generally included in river cruising, particularly of the destination guide variety to help you get your bearings. Many companies offer premium shore excursions for a fee, too, but you’ll never be dropped off in a port without at least one complimentary option.
8. Restaurants: One to two restaurants are the norm on river cruises, with lighter meals served in a lounge or on a sundeck. If you’re looking for a more traditional specialty dining experience, AmaWaterways offers the Chef’s Table, an alternative, still complimentary experience in an intimate aft dining room overlooking the river.
9. Pricing: River cruise staterooms are sold at higher price points than most ocean cruise lines. That said, those prices are more inclusive, encompassing the likes of shore excursions, drinks, and other perks that would be a la carte if you were to book a base ocean cruise fare. (We did a sample cost breakdown here.) Some river lines, such as Uniworld, include gratuities in regular fares, while Tauck and Scenic include port charges and gratuities.
10. Kid-free. River cruises don’t ban kids, but there’s not much to keep children, especially under 7 or 8, entertained onboard. Most cabins and suites only sleep two. The big exceptions are the occasional themed cruises — plus AmaWaterways’ upcoming partnership with Adventures by Disney, which will bring select family-friendly cruises with adjoining staterooms in 2016.