At first, it is important to say that the river and ocean cruising experiences are entirely different but equally enjoyable. As an Australian, it is easy to access any number of ocean cruises leaving from most state capital with a wide variety of cruising lines with a large list of destinations in the Pacific and eastern Asian areas.
On the other hand, the traditional river cruising of Europe means a long plane flight before your cruise states. (It is only recently that areas in South and Eastern Asia have become river cruise destinations).
So the first considerations that must be made by an Australian wishing to cruise are the cost and time involved in both before a decision is made either or both ways.
Let me now discuss the differences and similarities between each type of cruising.
Our first ocean cruise was on a ship with 2000 plus passengers and a thousand plus crew while our first ever river cruise contained only about 180 passengers. That is the first different you notice. Then you go from a ship with fourteen decks to one with only three. The riverboat was 135 meters long while the cruise ship might be up to 300 meters long.
Even though there are two or more thousand passengers travelling with you on a cruise ship, on most occasions, there is not a feeling that the ship is crowded. On the other hand, river cruise boats with less than two hundred passengers only feels crowded at the evening meal as there is only one restaurant on board. Ocean cruise ships have many dining choices.
On the river cruise, passengers are off the boat each day on organised tours as part of their cruise. So there are not any planned activities on the boat during the day. On an ocean cruise, there are many activities on the ship in which passengers may indulge, daily.
The ocean cruise provides a greater variety of entertainment from the big musical productions in the theatre to more intimate entertainment in the various bars or in the atrium. On our river cruise, we had a singer entertain us at morning tea, afternoon tea and during the evening providing us with a variety of music types to fit the time of day. As well, traditional entertainers from each country or locality came on board to give us a performance of their music.
Both types of cruising offer off boat tours that can be booked by guests with ocean cruises providing many more tour options. With the river cruise, there is something to see and do each day off the boat. Firstly there is the included, guide led tour of the city followed by a chance to wander around that city at your leisure. Some days you might visit two cities. On most ocean cruises, there will be days at sea where you can just relax or indulge in the activities provided by the ship. On a river cruise, most of the movement of the ship is carried out at night.
On a cruise ship, there are several public areas in which to sit and relax. They include bars, a library, an Internet room, pool decks and a large atrium where light refreshments are served. The river cruise boat has a lounge, which includes a bar, and this is where the entertainment occurs. The river cruise boat has a sun deck on the top of the boat as well.
Getting on and off the ship/boat is much easier on the river cruise simply because of the numbers of passengers involved. This means getting to do off the boat tours is easy and quick.
River cruising, because of the size of the boat and no lifts, would be extremely difficult for the disabled or elderly who find getting around difficult. The ocean cruise lines are able to do a great job looking after the disabled and elderly.
Forming new friendships is much easier on the river cruise. On the bigger cruise ships passengers are like "ships passing in the night". Even with friends on board, it is possible not to encounter them on any given day.
The great things about cruising are:
• You unpack only once;
• You don't need to spend any extra money;
• Meals and some refreshments are on tap as part of the cost of the cruise;
• Your state room is serviced each day; and
• You have many options on what to do or not to do.
The embarking process on the cruise ship can be very daunting for a first time cruiser with two thousand plus passengers trying to board the ship. Getting on our river cruise boat for the first time was a "breeze" by comparison.
Finally, it is important to say that both types of cruising have much to offer to the traveller. So I suggest that a traveller should try each at least once. You might be surprised and fall in love with the idea of cruising.
1.Arrive into Vancouver at least a day before your cruise sails. Of course I may be slightly biased, but Vancouver is going to be one of your top ports of call during this cruise. So often I've seen cruisers fly into Vancouver on the day their cruise departs and completely miss this wonderful city. In addition, the added stress level of making your ship on time is no way to start your vacation if all does not go according to plan. All it takes is one missed plane connection, a mechanical difficulty, a problem at the border, or bad weather and your entire vacation could be ruined. Trust me, the ship will not wait for you in Vancouver if you are late, and you are solely responsible for making it to the ship on time. Not only that, but the tides and currents sailing out of Vancouver make it so that the Captain in many cases must leave on time, or run the risk of being held in port for hours until it's safe again to depart. There are incredible tours and sightseeing options in Vancouver and if you can swing the time it is definitely worth it. The same is true of your departure day - why end a perfectly good cruise vacation by stressing out on whether or not you will make it off the ship in time to make that ridiculously early flight home?
2. Getting to the ship. There are several ways to do this depending on whether or not you are going to totally disregard tip number one and try to go straight to the ship, or whether you are going to head straight to your hotel. 2015 marks the first season in a long time that only Canada Place will be used for cruise departures and thank God for that! Those of you who may have cruised from "the other" pier known as Ballantyne Pier in the past, will certainly agree with me that it was a disappointing start to your cruise to say the least. Ballantyne Pier is poorly located outside of the downtown core and far from the majority of hotels in the city. Fortunately for you, Canada Place is where your ships departure destination will almost certainly be this year. The cruise terminal is located at Canada Place which is very close to a multitude of hotels, taxis and the Canada Line; Vancouver's fully automated rapid transit train line. Some cruise lines offer bus transfers to the ship or hotel however my recommendation is to do the math first. A taxi from Vancouver Airport to Canada Place with a 15% tip will run you around $35 to $45 dollars Canadian and takes around 30 minutes. Most ship purchased bus transfers will cost you around the same per person so they may not be the best deal unless you are travelling solo. If you don't mind dragging all your luggage around and walking a few blocks the Canada Line train costs just under $10 per person and is around a 30 minute trip to the pier- not bad if you have a backpack, but with luggage I'd recommend against it. After you get off the train you have to walk to the ship which is around ten minutes from train to the ship luggage drop off point. My first choice would be to arrange a pick up from a pre cruise tour company or perhaps a private sedan to take you to your hotel. There are plenty of tours and luxury rides available online or at the airport and you should arrange this before you get on the plane. A private sedan or limousine will usually run you around $60-$80 Canadian plus gratuity. If you are coming in early be aware that most hotels check in time is between 3pm and 4pm, however any decent hotel will try to accommodate you early or at the very least offer to store your luggage upon arrival until your room is ready.
3. When is the best time to arrive at the ship? Well, if you like sitting around, standing in lines or waiting at immigration go first thing in the morning. If you're like me and would prefer to spend your day enjoying Vancouver or sleeping in a bit you should think carefully about what time you arrive to the cruise terminal at Canada Place to board your ship. The time it takes you to board the ship from getting dropped off at the pier can vary anywhere from 20 minutes to 4 hours depending on when you arrive and how many ships are in port. Keep in mind that the ship is more than likely dropping off a few thousand guests who have just completed their cruise. It usually takes until at least 10am to clear out the ship from the departing guests, and another hour before they will allow newly arriving guests to start the check in process. If your first port of call is a Canadian port such as Victoria or Prince Rupert you will probably be spared going through United States Immigration at the pier in Canada Place. If your cruise is however like the majority of Alaskan cruises and your first port is in Alaska, you will more than likely go through the US immigration inspection just prior to the ships check in process at Canada Place which is why you need to have your passport handy. The procedure usually runs in this order; luggage drop off, security screening, US immigration processing, cruise line check in, and then, the moment you've been waiting all this time for-boarding the ship! Even if you are the first person onboard the ship at 11am, most of the ship including your staterooms won't be accessible to you until around 1pm when the ships staff have finished cleaning and preparing everything for you. What this means is that the first two to three hours of check in you will be sitting or standing in a huge line, and then when you do get onboard, if it is before 1pm you will be forced to wait in a public area of the ship with your carry on luggage until they announce that your rooms are ready over the ship's PA. My advice is enjoy Vancouver, and show up a bit later in the early afternoon for check in instead of trying to get to Canada Place at 9am so that you can stand in line with 2000 other guests. Having said that make very sure of course that you check your sail-away time and don't leave it to the last minute either. You should be at the pier a minimum of 90 minutes before sail-away time at the very latest as the check in process is usually closed at least an hour before sail away.
So there you have it, the first of many tips for this years Alaskan Cruise Season. Don't miss next time when I will tell you all about what to expect on your first day onboard, from how to get room upgrades, to what needs to be done the first day of the cruise, and what can wait until day two. Until then, thanks for reading and Bon Voyage!