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CRUISING: Ocean v. River

Slideshow images courtesy of Amras Cruises

Ocean cruise lines look for new seas to conquer with glitzy new ships, while the river cruise scene explodes across Europe and Asia. Who wins? You do.

Cruise travel comes in many “flavors” — different sizes and styles of ships, different themes and subject matter, different regions of the world.

But the major difference is between ocean and river cruises. Each represents a very different approach to having a good time on the water.

Both are, in effect, floating hotels, combining your lodging, meals and entertainment in a single package. Both offer you great value for your money, so much so that they may be the biggest travel bargains going.

And that is pretty much where the similarities end.

The major difference — and it really is big — is that of scale. River cruise ships have always been a fraction of the size of their sea-going counterparts. That was true even before Royal Caribbean, Carnival and all the rest started super-sizing their vessels.

The largest river cruisers these days carry a max of right around 200 passengers. You’d need five or six of those to equal what a ship like Quantum of the Seas carries on one deck.

That gives the ocean liners more room to play with — and let their passengers play in. Each of these floating behemoths is packed with more of everything — bars, lounges, pools, spas, shopping specialty restaurants, theaters, indoor and outdoor recreation zones.

Royal Caribbean’s latest mega-ship, Quantum of the Seas, features a skydiving simulator, robotic bartenders and a passenger viewing pod reminiscent of the London Eye that extends out 300 feet over the water.

When it comes to floating bells and whistles, even the most state-of-the art river cruiser is a stripped down life raft by comparison, and the reason is clear the moment you see one. But as river cruise fans will tell you, size isn’t everything.

The river cruisers’ smaller dimensions allow for a more intimate sailing experience, starting with the fact that, especially on the newer river ships, everybody gets a cabin with a view — floor-to-ceiling windows and patio doors that let out onto your own small, private deck.

Being on a vessel so much smaller puts you closer to the water — and being on a river, as opposed to the vast emptiness of the open sea, you’re closer to everything.

The view through that patio door, or topside over the rail, is changing every second, sometimes so close by that you almost feel as if you could reach out and touch the passing freighters, barges and pleasure boats, or hold conversations with the people ashore watching you glide by.

Also unlike a cruise ship, every day promises time ashore in a new place, to explore with your fellow passengers or on your own.

Not a lot of busy bars, crowded shopping boutiques or rowdy pool parties on this venue. This is the cruise style you turn to when you want to kick back and dial down the stress from work and home life, in the company of a hundred or so other travelers looking for basically the same thing, while sailing through some of the world’s most spectacular scenery and cultures.

But if after all this, you still can’t decide between an ocean or a river cruise, no worries. You no longer have to.

Starting in 2015, Celebrity Cruises will be offering vacation packages that let you do both.

That’s right. On the same trip.

According to Travel Weekly, Celebrity plans to offer 16 to 24-day European sailings in which cruises on the Danube, Rhine, Rhone and Seine are part of the deal.

These packages include not only both a sea and a river cruise, but also:

  • Airfare
  • Pre-cruise hotel stays
  • Transfers
  • Prepaid beverage packages
  • How many languages can you say “Wow!” in?

    Celebrity will handle the ocean cruise part. The river cruise will be conducted by Amras Cruises, a family owned Austrian company that specializes in European river cruises for English-speaking travelers.

    Ocean or river. Find the style that fits your groove, and your wallet, and sail on.

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