Taking your first river cruise tends to be a rite of passage for gay travelers. Most people’s first all-gay vacation is an ocean cruise, which can be a lot of fun; but because of the size of ocean vessels (3,000-6,000 passengers these days), you eventually tire of waiting in lines like a Communist waiting for bread. And being awakened at 3 a.m. by some guy pounding on his friend’s door wanting condoms.
So, once you’ve done the big party cruise, you long for a slightly more civilized experience. And you begin to contemplate the idea of a river cruise with just, say, 150 passengers. Or, to put it another way, you long to go from vacationing at a Club Med to vacationing at a Parisian luxury hotel. Both have their advantages; it just depends on the experience you want.
Ocean cruise ships are the Donald Trump of boats – huuuuge. They run 900 to 1,200 feet long, with up to 18 decks. River cruise ships are much smaller – about 350-500 feet long, with 4 or 5 decks – a design feature that allows them to fit under a river’s bridges. (Even at that, they will sometimes have to fold pieces of the top open-air deck down in order to pass. It’s ingenious and kind of cool to watch.)
River cruise ships, by dint of their intimate scale, usually have a very small gym, hair salon, and spa. There are no casinos, water slides or rock-climbing walls. On the top deck, some have a pool, some a hot tub, some neither. (But you quickly come to realize that you don’t miss any of those things if you don’t have them on your ship, because you’re in port every single day on a river cruise. Many of those things are designed to entertain passengers during days at sea.)
And they typically have only one or possibly two restaurants: a large, main dining room at the stern or bow, with panoramic windows offering a 180-degree view; and (depending on the ship) a top deck area that periodically offers grilled meals, or a café (on the opposite end of the ship from the main dining room, usually also with panoramic views) that offers breakfast items, fancy coffee drinks and other treats throughout the day. They also only generally have one lounge/nightclub, for drinks throughout the day and evening shows.
But this lack of multiple venues has one great advantage: you can actually get to know other guests (if you choose to). This more intimate size means that guests congregate in the same areas, so that nice guy or couple you met on the tour yesterday will be having dinner in the same dining room as you. And attending the same evening show as you.
Not that we’re saying you’re looking for a husband or a hookup or anything. I mean, you’re a woman of quality.
River cruise ships also compare favorably to ocean liners in their staterooms. The river cruise explosion has happened in just the past few years, so the majority of ships – especially those chartered by Brand g, whose standards require a high level of décor and service – tend to be quite new and sparkly. (The ships Brand g uses are typically one to three years old.) Which means the rooms are fresh and contemporary, with all the latest cruise innovations.
The cabin bathrooms on the Amadeus ships Brand g uses for its European cruises, for example, have quartz countertops, glassed-in showers (no hideous clingy shower curtains), etc. Many ocean ships used for gay charters, by comparison, can be 10 or more years old. So, use your imagination when it comes to those bathrooms. We’d rather not describe them.
Plus, there are no inside staterooms on a river ship. All have either (smallish) windows, floor to ceiling windows, or in some cases, full balconies (which are generally reserved for suites).
In terms of size, river cruise ship staterooms tend to mirror ocean liners – 175-200 square feet is the standard for a typical room. Suites tend to run 250-300 square feet, although on some boutique ships (like those Brand g charters in Asia, India and the Amazon, for example), they can run up to 600 or 700 square feet. Ocean cruises do offer suites that sometimes run up to several thousand feet in size, but of course those come with a price tag to match.
Please understand that we’re not throwing the big ocean cruise experience under the bus. It can be completely amazing and memorable. It’s simply a massive-explosion-of-people-and-entertainment experience verses an intimate-and-sophisticated-with-a-splash-of-party- fun experience.
Brand g is now also expanding into luxury small-ship ocean cruises, replicating what works so well in our river cruises for ocean-going vessels – like the 5-star, 200-passenger World Navigator, which we’ll be chartering in 2023.
So, is a river cruise right for you? There’s only one way to find out.