There are 2 major types of cruises: ocean cruises and the less common, river cruises. Both are very popular to a wide range of audiences. Both include beautiful ships, exciting itineraries, exotic places, lots of amenities, and some steep competition. Cruises are a great way to keep in line with a budget for a vacation, being able to prepay in advance. Some cost almost equal and are sometimes cheaper than a land vacation. They also make planning a vacation easier, being bundled in one nice package the majority of the time. There are numerous similarities between ocean and river cruises. It can be daunting to know which type to choose and the pros/cons of each. I want to help narrow things down, hopefully making it a little easier to see the differences and to decipher which one to choose.
Everyone has heard of the large ocean cruise lines: Disney, Princess, Carnival, Cunard, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Holland America to name a few. They are floating cities with entertainment, food, shopping, and gambling included! Many have targeted markets that they appeal to: Disney for children/family, Cunard for upscale/adults, but most offer a wide variety for everyone. There are specialty cruises for wine lovers, party goers, and singles.
Ocean cruises are usually a vacation themselves, you almost have no need to really leave the ship! Typically included in an ocean cruise are accommodations, specific food/restaurant choices, free admissions to dance clubs, all shows and entertainment, and free kids programs, use of all facilities on ship like: pools, hot tubs, gym, and recreation activities.
While the included features are great, there are lots of additional costs that are not included in the upfront price, so be aware! If you park at the cruise port lot there is a charge, gratuities, when you check in at the pier they will set up an on-board charge account for you to cover anything and everything you buy, alcoholic drinks/soft drinks, they will add a 15 percent gratuity to each alcoholic drink and soft drink order, most cruise lines sell some kind of drink package or if you want you can take on board with you a six pack of soft drinks and/or bottle water to help cut your costs, if you buy drinks ask for them in a plain glass rather than the souvenir glasses because they cost about $1.50 more in the souvenir glass, photos, excursions/tours (you can get off and on in the ports as much as you want though), souvenirs, casino (must have cash for this), “specialty” restaurants, spa services, internet services, and mini bar items.
So if you don’t go too “overboard” with your spending (ha ha), or prepay beforehand, an ocean cruise can be great vacation option. Maybe you are worried about seasickness or crowds? I would just want you to know that most cruise ships have stabilizers built in to help keep it steady, not to mention there are tons of options from medications to wristbands for seasickness. As for crowds, there will be crowds, but remember it is a huge ship! There will always be a nice area to escape to! Usually a library, spa, or golf course can be found on-board.
River cruises are not as widely known as ocean cruises. In fact, they are still pretty new to me! But I can honestly say that from what I have learned about them, I personally want to go on one! It can be hard to know where to start looking though, if you are new like I am. So to start, some of the major players in river cruising are Avalon Waterways, AmaWaterways, Viking River Cruises, Uniworld, Grand Circle, Tauck and ScenicTours. Their ships are smaller, more intimate, and more inclusive. River cruises typically direct their focus to more mature audiences, whereas ocean cruises can be for the whole family. This can be a pro or a con. Because of their smaller size, they can fit into places that larger ships just cannot go. This creates a unique opportunity to go into the heart of many countries, get up close and personal with major cities as well as small towns, seeing multiple sights all in one trip. Rivers are also much calmer than ocean-based trips, which is great news for those prone to seasickness. Operators often include shore excursions, typically guided walking tours, in the overall cruise fare (policies may vary.) Your ship may also carry bicycles on-board for complimentary passenger use in port.
Some drawbacks for river cruising can be that because of their smaller ships, they just cannot fit as much entertainment on the actual ship itself. Beyond mealtimes, entertainment on-board may be limited to shuffleboard or book-reading. These ships carry no casinos and offer little in the way of evening entertainment, except, perhaps, a piano player or a local act brought on-board to perform. In addition, some lines do charge for specially planned tours (cooking classes, trips to the market and other more offbeat adventures). But what they lack in on-board amusement, they make up for with less sailing/shorter distances between ports. It is rare to have a full day of river cruising (Source). Also not included are gratuities, some alcoholic beverages/soft drinks, souvenirs, and sometimes internet services (some operators, like Viking do however offer included beverages and internet however). Photos for sale, casinos, and mini bars are not typically offered on a river cruise.
I hope this has cleared up some of the questions you may have about river and ocean cruises. If not, leave a comment and I will try to answer it. I hope that you will be open to all forms of travel, including all cruises, just like I hope to be! Because it is good to try new experiences and leave no stone unturned. Avoir une bonne soirée! (Have a good evening!)