Okay, what are the differences between ocean cruising and river cruising?
The differences are tremendous, but one doesn’t necessarily rule out the other.
Consider the entire “cruise” concept includes unpacking once. That’s a great comfort whether on a three-day cruise to the Bahamas, a 100+ day world cruise or a week or two on Europe’s rivers, in the Mekong Delta or soon to come, AMA’s offering on the Zambezi in Africa.
Having said that the joy of unpacking once is the same, the two experiences – ocean or river cruising – are considerably different.
A river cruise vessel is by definition smaller. That is not to say there are not smaller ocean-going cruise ships, but the river cruise is usually a ship offering accommodations for approximately 148 passengers. As on higher end ocean cruise ships, the cabins are comfortable – often elegant – with state-of-the-art shower/bath facilities, high-grade bathroom potions and lotions, twice-daily cabin service including nightly turn-downs and room service availability.
Food choices are good on almost all cruises, often reflecting the region where the ship is cruising or possibly the nationality of the ship.
It could be a dynamite weinerschnitzel as I enjoyed the other day in Austria on AMA Dolce, an elaborate pasta preparation on MSC Poesia earlier this month or the outstanding fish and chips in the Golden Lion pub on the Queen Victoria.
Invariably salmon, beef or chicken alternatives appear on the menu side-by-side with more elaborate or exciting cuisine. (Venison was on the menu one night and several Americans found it exotic, but quite tasty.)
Entertainment on big ships usually involve large Vegas-like production shows with scenery, costume changes and a big band backing them up. River cruises feature local artists performing music appropriate to the region. On the ship we heard music from operas, a lot of waltzes and excerpts from “The Sound of Music,” (Salzburg was an optional tour.)
River cruises are more intimate. Staff learn your name almost immediately.
The Lounge, the heart of AMA Dolce, is where a 24-hour coffee/chocolate/tea station is located and where lectures and entertainment are scheduled. It is also where guests gather to make new friends and is filled with an attractive mix of couches, tables and pull-up chairs, all surrounded by wonderful panoramic windows offering the most beautiful sight of the river and the charming towns – large and small – that line it.
A smaller, aft lounge is under-used, but on AMA Dolce is a lovely spot in which to read. Spas on some large ships are big enough to get lost in. On a river boat the spa offers one massage table (but a great masseuse, I can swear to it,) and is the same room used by the hair stylist. The gym with a couple of state-of-the-art bikes and other equipment is equally small, but well-used.
And that seems to be the secret of river crusiing.
Everything is utilized to the maximum. Every bit of space and every person. the young man introduced as the staff captain, second in command, came to our cabin to repair our television and Internet service. the hairdresser helps clean rooms, etc. and the house musician in the lounge helps clean it afterwards. A staff of 40 take care of almost four times that many guests and they do it well.
Obviously, it works. This was my first river cruising experience. I have sailed on dozens and dozens of vessels. I don’t think I have ever actively disliked a cruise, but obviously I have several favorites.
The river cruise experience of sailing through history and culture on a lovely European river is unforgettable. One I strongly recommend to anyone interested.