River cruises: they’re not for everybody

Cruise lines continue efforts to make themselves different from each other. Major lines are doing all they can to make their ships the ones you want to sail. Some big cruise lines have smaller ships that some passengers prefer for a more intimate experience. Still, those all sail in the ocean while a growing number of people in the United States are taking a cue from Europe and trying a river cruise.

In Europe, river cruising is popular with a number of lines growing quickly to keep up with demand. A big factor in favor of these is the “unpack once and see a lot of places” thing that major cruise lines have going for them. River ships operate in the U.S. too, offering a really different way of seeing the country up close and personal. American Cruise Lines operates everything from an authentic paddle-wheeler in the Pacific Northwest to a new fleet of ships that sail the inland waterways of the East Coast.

This is a different experience from a major cruise line and one that’s not for everybody.

You won’t find a rock-climbing wall, a theater that seats thousands or a huge variety of restaurants, some included in the price, some extra. What you will find is an intimate setting on a relaxed sailing through some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, stopping along the way to see and experience ports of call up close and personally. There won’t be an AquaTheater, AquaDuck or AquaSpa but there probably won’t be Mexican drug lords waiting for you to get of the ship in ports either. Safety is a big draw for these ships that are American-flagged and subject to American laws.Staterooms average about 220 square feet, considerably larger than a typical large ship offers. If the last ship you sailed on before one of these was say, Allure of the Seas, you’ll notice that there are fewer guests on board the entire ship than fit in a lifeboat on Allure. Yes, this is different. Still, twice daily stateroom service is offered as well as many of the service amenities a big ship has.

More of an all-inclusive experience, guests are invited to mingle before dinner with complementary cocktails and the dress code is always casual. On a typical evening, guest speakers bring local history, nature and culture to the table with rich stories of American heritage. There is no big showroom, long list of activities or things to do. In fact, if the big ship experience for you is about going all the time, doing something every minute, this is probably not the way to go.

But if a lazy day on the river, reading a book, flying a kite from an observation deck or enjoying coffee on an outside sun deck sounds good, this could be just what you are looking for.

Sailings are typically seven or eight-nights and itineraries include such titles as Maine Coast and Harbors, Columbia and Snake Rivers, or Chesapeake Bay with prices starting about $3500 per person. Fall Foliage sailings are very popular with river cruises and longer itineraries are also offered like East Coast Inland Passage, a fifteen-day sailing with a grand coastal tour of America.

About as close as you’ll get to a theme park at sea on one of these ships is a small putting green. Cruise vacations are about doing something really different than your normal life. This is another viable option.