Last updated: 02:36 PM ET, Thu August 18 2016

How River Cruising Is Like Retro Ocean Cruising

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Jason Leppert | August 18, 2016

How River Cruising Is Like Retro Ocean Cruising

 Photo courtesy of Viking River Cruises 

Celebrating Throwback Thursday, do you remember a time before ocean cruise ships had water slides and could accommodate over 6,000 passengers? I do, and if you want to still experience such a lifestyle, river cruising is a fine option, dependent more on the destination than onboard attractions.

To be sure, there are still boutique ocean cruise ships that hearken back to a time of simpler travel, especially in the upper premium and luxury markets such as on Azamara Club Cruises or Silversea Cruises, but river cruising can provide an even more intimate experience with an average of around only 200 or fewer guests on vessels in Europe.

Onboard, riverboats consist primarily of a variety of private staterooms and suites, as well as a public main restaurant, observation lounge and bar and a sun deck. That’s about it. Sure, some have smaller extra bars, restaurants, lounges, boutiques, libraries, spas and even pools, but the venues are limited, and that’s actually a good thing. The reason, by the way, is because of river locks that restrict the overall width, length and height of vessels.

 READ MORE: River Cruising Sets Sail for Millennials 

So, what’s there to do? Guests actually focus on the destination. Unlike massive ocean cruise ships, which can be hours’ drive from city centers, riverboats dock right in the heart of most ports, making for much easier access to local points of interest, many within walking – or as equipped on some boats, biking – distance.

Back onboard, the focus remains the destination as well. Programming is mainly about the visited ports with lectures or perhaps regional cooking demonstrations, and when there is time spent cruising, there is no better way to enjoy it than in the observation lounge, out on deck or even from your own personal balcony.

In fact, despite vessels’ smaller scale, staterooms and suites on newer riverboats are comparable in size to those found on larger ocean cruise ships, complete with windows or verandas. The ships are already very narrow, so there are no inside staterooms without a view to be had.

 READ MORE: Know Before You Go: Tips for a European River Cruise 

Dining is excellent as well, and some river cruise lines are even more elevated, extending cuisine to butler and room service, but riverboats are mostly unpretentious with dress codes running more along the lines of country club casual. In some cases, food can even be enjoyed al fresco on deck or at a forward terrace over the bow.

As expected, onboard activities and entertainment are also sparing. Local musicians or dancers may be brought on for a brief performance, but usually only a pianist is regularly on staff for live music and perhaps some dancing throughout the day. As a return to cruising basics, river activities are more about kicking up your feet, relaxing and reading a good book or researching the next port of call.

Ocean cruise travel is great for its multitude of choices now offered onboard and ashore, but river cruising is a refreshing change of pace as an alternative that might be right up your alley for your next cruise vacation.

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