If you've never taken a river cruise, you may be wondering just what about it is different from ocean cruises.
The overall concept is certainly not dissimilar. Sailings depart roundtrip or one way, visiting several ports during a week or so after unpacking only once, but the waterways are inland instead of at sea. So, let's take a look at what sets the two styles apart.
Size and Capacity
The most obvious distinction will always be vessel size.
Ocean ships have the room to get increasingly larger, but riverboats are limited by narrower rivers and most specifically smaller river canal locks. As such, most are much longer than they are wide and do not exceed four decks in height nor 200 passengers in capacity.
One notable exception to the above is Crystal River Cruises' Crystal Mozart which is twice as wide as most other riverboats, but it is only capable of traversing a shorter route accordingly. Regardless, even the Mozart is more intimate than even the smallest ocean cruise ship, providing a quieter, less crowded atmosphere onboard. Of course, the only downside to any riverboat is fewer venues and restaurants to partake in, as well as next-to-no entertainment.
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Perhaps the single greatest selling point of a river cruise over an ocean one is its lack of wave action against the hull. Rivers are inherently calm with a nearly glassy surface, eliminating any concern of seasickness. There is hardly any rolling, pitching or yawing to ever contend with.
The only peculiar motion that is unique to a riverboat is when it is entering and exiting a canal lock. Clearances are so tight that the vessels often bump up against the sides. They are at least designed for this with bumpers along their length to protect the exterior paint, but the sensation is a bit like a light and brief earthquake, although still more pleasant than stormy seas.
Another benefit of river cruising is its closer proximity to points of interest. While many ocean ports may be hours away from touring the main city, most river ports are immediately in the heart of the metropolis. That means you are usually within walking or biking distance to local attractions, whether that be in Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria or many other locations.
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As great as it is to explore on your own, one of the greatest differentiators from ocean cruises is that river journeys often offer a free shore excursion in every port-a perk that Viking Cruises has been wise to extend to its new ocean ships as well, matching it only to the likes of Regent Seven Seas Cruises before it. On the rivers, that does not mean every tour is complimentary, however. Typically a basic overview tour will be included, usually enough for most passengers, but other more elaborate excursions will be available for an optional surcharge.
Besides excursions, river cruises tend to be more inclusive overall than ocean voyages. It's not uncommon to have house beers and wine included at meal times as well as free Wi-Fi internet access, additional benefits that Viking has thankfully extended to its ocean ships. In fact, because of such perks, there is probably a greater similarity between Viking River Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises than any other two river and ocean brands.
The most inclusive on the river are the likes of Crystal Cruises, following its ocean standards, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Scenic. Crystal, for instance, additionally includes gratuities, unlimited beverages, 24-hour room service and airport transfers.
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