Thinking about taking a cruise but not sure whether you should ship out on an oceangoing vessel or on a river boat? The questions below can help you determine which is the better fit.
Before you begin, a couple of things to consider: Ocean cruises set sail from ports such as Los Angeles or Miami, visiting a diverse group of destinations such as the Mexican Riviera, Caribbean islands, Alaska or the Mediterranean.
River cruises, increasingly popular in the last decade, focus mainly on interior waterways. In Central Europe, that may mean stops such as Vienna; in the U.S., it may mean river cities such as St. Louis or Natchez, Miss.
Ready? Pencils up!
1. The idea of taking a cruise makes me nervous because:
A. I worry that the tight spaces will make me feel anxious and claustrophobic.
B. I’m afraid I’ll get seasick.
2. When it comes to evening entertainment, I like to:
A. See a stage show or gamble in a casino
B. Read a book, watch a movie on TV or join friends for a drink in the lounge.
3. While on vacation, I like to:
A. Go my own way and do my own thing with my spouse or family.
B. Meet new people and make new friends.
4. My ideal view out the window is:
A. Wide-open spaces and beautiful sunsets on the far horizon
B. New landscapes and scenery; small towns and large cities
5. A vacation offers a great opportunity to:
A. Sleep in and eat breakfast, lunch or dinner whenever I feel like it.
B. Show how flexible I am. I don’t mind being on a schedule for meal times.
How many As and Bs do you have? If you mostly chose the letter A, you may prefer an ocean cruise. If you chose the letter B, a river cruise might be best for you.
Seasickness and claustrophobia: If your stomach turns cartwheels just thinking about being at sea or if you’re afraid of water, choose a riverboat cruise. Those vessels are usually close to shore and don’t generally deal with rocking and rolling waves.
As for claustrophobia, the bigger the ship, generally, the more room you’ll have, and oceangoing ships are the giants of the industry. You can reserve a large stateroom (generally, the larger the cabin, the more you’ll pay) with a roomy balcony.
Holland America’s Pinnacle suites, for instance, are 1,357 square feet, including a veranda. Stay away from interior staterooms, which don’t have windows, and make sure you have a balcony with a sliding glass door.
Some riverboats also have sizable staterooms (Tauck and Viking, for instance) that range up to 300 square feet or more and have floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto balconies. (But keep in mind that this isn’t exactly a luxury of space; in a new home that’s less than 2,000 square feet, the master bedroom averages 231 square feet, according to figures from the National Assn. of Home Builders.)
Entertainment: Riverboats are pretty low-key when it comes to entertainment. There may be a pianist on board who livens things up in the lounge or a few lecturers to discuss upcoming ports, but if you want to see a Broadway-style show (Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and others), go dancing or spend time gambling in a casino, you’ll be happier on a cruise ship.
Mingling: Riverboats carry about 200 passengers; cruise ships may have as many as 5,000 passengers. It’s easy to get lost on a giant cruise ship, and it’s also pretty easy to avoid people you don’t want to see. River cruises, however, are more intimate; you’ll see the same people every day.
Scenery: If you want the view out your window to be the open sea, sign up for an oceangoing cruise. You’ll enjoy the views in port too, but for the most part you’ll be looking at panoramic views of water and sky. River cruises wind their way through valleys, past mountains and lots of picturesque villages, besides making port stops.
Variety: With river vessels the dining choices tend to be limited, and meals tend to be tightly scheduled. You’ll probably have to eat all your meals in the same dining room and at specified times. Giant cruise ships, however, usually have several dining rooms from which to choose (some with an upcharge), and you can eat all day, and well into the night too. Of course, if you’re watching your weight, you may consider this a major disadvantage.