Friday, 19 September 2014

River cruising across continents -- the same, but different

River cruising across continents -- the same, but different

By Michelle Baran
InsightWhenever anyone would ask me about the similarities between river cruising in Europe and river cruising in other parts of the world, I used to answer one of two ways.

Half the time, I responded with something along the lines of, “No matter where you are in the world, river cruising is basically the same.” The other half, I said something like, “Aside from the fact that it’s a river cruise, that’s where the similarities end. Totally different experience depending on where you are.”

In truth, both are correct. (And I’ve started responding with a combination of the two, for the record. Apologies to those I misled prior to this new policy.)

As the river cruising industry shifts its focus from a busy launch season in Europe this spring, toward a slew of newbuilds coming out in Southeast Asia this fall, the change in destination backdrop begs for some comparisons between river cruising in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Indeed, Europe has set the standard for river cruising in the world. It’s where the market is most developed, it’s the product that is marketed the heaviest, and it’s usually the destination where people often first learn about and experience river cruising.

It sets the bar, so to speak. And then, passengers get the river cruise line’s brochure and see that they might have a ship that sails the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia, or that they offer an itinerary on the Peruvian Amazon. That’s when things start getting interesting.

Maybe they find out from some friends they can even river cruise right here at home on the Mississippi or Columbia rivers. Who knew?

The question is, will they like these other river cruises if they liked river cruising in Europe? Well, first off, let’s address what will be the same or similar between European river cruising and its numerous cousins scattered about the globe.

For one, the floating-hotel notion is similar. During the river cruise portion of their itinerary, regardless of the destination, passengers will pack and unpack once and their river cruise ship/floating hotel will carry them from one destination to the next, often to small ports from which they can walk into the nearby town.

Additionally, floating on down the river offers a very similar sensation regardless of whether that river is the Mississippi, the Nile, the Irrawaddy or the Danube. Of course the scenery along the river will vary greatly, but that peaceful, gliding feeling is almost universal.

As for what’s different, the ships themselves, for one. There are vastly different types of river cruise vessels suitable for different rivers. European river cruisers might be surprised to find how large the river cruise ships in the U.S. and China are, or how small those in Southeast Asia and Peru are.

And of course, the destinations themselves are where many of the differences are. The bustling river life in Vietnam and Cambodia is nothing like the more reserved rivers of Europe. Floating past Egyptian desert landscapes is quite different from sailing past quaint American towns.

But despite all the differences, I could totally see how someone could love river cruising across continents. Because really, it’s the same. But different.