Don’t panic when you compare prices between the two. Pearl clutching is completely optional. Because although river cruises are more expensive than ocean cruises, the difference is not NEARLY what it might appear.
Why? Because river cruise fares (particularly Brand g’s) include many of the things that are extras on ocean cruises. And these days, almost everything is extra on an ocean cruise, unless you’re traveling on one of the super-luxury lines where fares have so many zeroes they should come with closing papers.
Still, river cruises are a bit more, and here’s why:
Perhaps the biggest reason is economy of scale. On an ocean cruise, there may be anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 passengers – which you generally notice while waiting in line for food. Or the bathroom. Or the lifeboats.
On a river cruise, there are typically between 120 and 160. Since river ships aren’t buying cucumbers by the cargo container, costs like food and drink (a sizable component of cruise fares) are higher. Of course, on a river cruise, the food is almost always locally sourced (which is fresher, healthier, and globally more responsible, since it benefits local farmers). So you’re not getting barely-ripe tomatoes shipped from South America when you’re in Prague.
Another reason is staffing costs. River cruise companies, as a whole, pay their staffs better than their ocean-going counterparts, the staff of whom tend to hand you a napkin with “Help” written in lipstick on it. (And that’s just the guys.) Paying a living wage adds a bit to the cost.
But FOR that higher river cruise fare, here’s what you get:
- Better rooms. Because river ships are smaller and less costly, many new ships are debuted each year. Thus, they’re generally much newer than their ocean-going counterparts, so they feature all the latest innovations and décor. Brand g, for example, tends to use ships that are anywhere from brand-new to less than two years old.
- Better service. A higher staff ratio and far smaller number of passengers ensures that the staff will not only be available for your needs, they’ll often learn your name and your favorite drink.
- Better food. Because food is being made for 150 people instead of 3,000, the quality is typically well above what you get in oceangoing main dining rooms.
- No tenders. And no $200, 3-hour journeys just to get from the port into the city to sightsee. River ships dock right in the center of town. You walk off, you’re THERE.
- Exotic itineraries. River cruises go where big ocean ships can’t. So instead of only seeing whatever cities and towns are along the coast of a country, you get an intimate look at the extraordinary places INSIDE a country. You’ll never seen an ocean-going vessel on the Danube. Or the Rhine. Or the Amazon. Or the Mekong. You get the picture.
- Shore excursions are sometimes included. (On Brand g trips, they’re ALWAYS included.) In every port, a guided walking tour (with audio headset, so you can always hear the guide) or bus/walking tour is included. And on Brand g trips, we even add extras like wine tastings, lunches, etc.
- Any optional shore excursions are FAR cheaper. You won’t see $200 or $300 optional excursions on a river cruise. When they’re offered (on Brand g cruises, they’re few and far between, since deluxe ones are already included), they tend to run more in the neighborhood of $50-99. Brand g, for example, doesn’t offer these as a profit center. We merely pass through our cost.
- Wine and beer at lunch and dinner are typically included. And free-flowing. The staff loves to roll you out of the dining room. On Brand g European cruises, we also include cocktails – all day, every day of the cruise.
- No waiting in line to embark or disembark. You just walk off. We’ve all sat through the endless que for a shore excursion, waiting in some venue on the ship for your number to be called, and wondered if we’re going to get off the ship before we have to get back on.
- No having to wait for a table at dinner or a seat for the show. There’s plenty of room for everyone on board.
- No worries about a medical situation in the middle of the ocean. On a river cruise, you’re usually within a couple hundred feet of land. Medical facilities are always nearby.
- With such a smaller group of passengers, and one that tends to be better traveled, you’re infinitely less likely to encounter those annoying guests who think they’re all that.
And finally – you make friends. Quickly and easily. This is one of the biggest surprises to most Brand g guests. By the end of their cruise, even the shyest guests find themselves in the middle of a group hug. Lifelong friendships are formed. We’ve even had some marriages!
So, yes, river cruises cost a bit more. But it’s an experience unlike any other. And once you’ve done one – whether it’s with Brand g or on your own – we guarantee, you’ll want to do it over and over again, on rivers across the world.