Try River Cruising on Your Ocean Voyage

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Making the leap (or not) to river cruising is sometimes tough for those accustomed to ocean cruising. Familiar and comfortable with large ocean ships, giving river cruising a try opens up a whole lot of questions about what it is like. Lucky for us, large cruise ships offer an opportunity to sample a bit of what river cruising is all about.

cinque terre port
Cinque Terre Port in Italy

Simply put, ocean cruising in the Mediterranean is a lot like river cruising on inland waterways. In the Med, larger ocean-going ships commonly stay in port late and then sail very slowly from port to the next, as we are finding out this week onboard Carnival Cruise Line‘s new Carnival Breeze.

The experience is Intense

A recent sailing on Viking River Cruises from Amsterdam gave us a taste of just how different river cruising is from ocean cruising.

Big differences include a river cruise ship that appears to have few onboard activities or facilities compared to even older ocean ships. Closer examination reveals that the focus is more of the river ship, concentrating intensely on what we do ashore.

Ocean cruising in the Med is like that.

Planning is required

Sailing a new feature-packed Carnival Breeze this week, a day in Rome was an 11-hour experience that scratched the surface deep enough to know we want to go back someday.

Ocean cruising in the Med is like that.

Getting there makes for a long travel day

Unlike sailing from a North American homeport, sailing from the Mediterranean takes a great deal of travel just to begin the sailing.

On our recent Viking River Cruise, even the most frequent travelers among us were wiped out on the first day overseas. It took a couple of days to adjust to the change in time and recover from a very long day of travel

Ocean cruising in the Med is like that.

The cruise line provides a lot of intense information on destinations visited

This is no swing through the familiar Caribbean for most travelers. The cruise line will not simply provide a map of the port area with all the approved places to buy stuff highlighted or have a port talk that focuses on spending. The ship’s cruise director provides information on destinations to be visited in great detail.

Ocean cruising in the Med is like that, too. But there are some big differences also.

Children have pretty much absolutely nothing to do on a river cruise.

There are no highly trained youth counselors on board like one will find on any major cruise line. On Carnival Breeze, youth programs go beyond just keeping kids busy and engaging them in appropriate electronic and peer-to-peer activities.

When the weather does not cooperate, there are more options on an ocean ship.

You can run, but you can’t hide

On a tiny river cruise ship, there may be less than a hundred other passengers. With few facilities on board, common advice for those considering a river cruise is for travelers who are not very social people to forget the idea.

On our Viking River Cruise, that notion forced us out of our cabins for no other reason than to eat, as there was no room service.

On an ocean cruise, it is not uncommon for us to meet someone during the embarkation process and never see him or her again.

A place for each

Surely, river and ocean cruising have their place, and one might not be for everyone. But onboard the new Carnival Breeze this week in the Mediterranean, we’re seeing an onboard experience that gives the best of both worlds.

Senior Cruise Director John Heald holds port talks that give great details on the shore excursions offered, some of them reworked to host a small number of people, very much like the standard river cruise explorations ashore.

The big ship advantage

A far wider variety of onboard programming on Carnival Breeze offers a distinct advantage, too. Mediterranean ports are commonly close together, and that can make for an exhausting rather than relaxing vacation.

First-time big-ship Mediterranean cruisers often limit off-ship exploring in some ports, saving time, energy, and travel funds.

On those days when more time is spent on the ship than ashore, those travelers can choose from a wide variety of activities and take advantage of the facilities river ships just don’t have.

Regardless of what facilities or activities one might be interested in, Carnival Breeze, like other ocean ships, allows each day to be memorable, not just the ones where we get off the ship.

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