River Cruise 101: Defining “Luxury”
Luxury: it’s a word with many different interpretations, and perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the world of river cruising. With an amazing amount of ships to choose from (and new vessels coming online every year), European river cruising is likely to leave you feeling pampered and spoiled. Other destinations are just as comfortable, but some have restrictions on their fleets, and many exotic destinations feature vessels operated by other companies for the river cruise lines.
As such, it’s important to know ahead of time what the differences are. A ship advertised to be “the most luxurious” on a particular waterway may not turn out to quite meet your definition.
While most river cruise lines own and operate their own European-based river cruise ships, this isn’t always the case for other destinations like Egypt, Russia and Asia. In many cases, these ships are leased out or chartered to lines for a specific amount of time. There’s a good and bad side to this arrangement: on the positive side, it allows the line to offer a wider variety of itineraries and destinations without the costly investment in new purpose-built vessels, many of which operate in areas with strict operational regulations. The downside to this, however, is that these ships aren’t truly purpose-built for the line’s themselves.
Many lines do a good job of pointing this discrepancy out. Uniworld, for example, notes in their brochures that it’s Asian and Egyptian fleet may not offer all the amenities of its Europe-based ships.
This is where we return to that troublesome word, “luxury.” No marketing department in the world is going to willingly say, “Yes, this ship is better than that one.” It’s the corporate equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. Instead, many brochures refer to their ships as being “the most luxurious” in a particular country or region. And usually, they’re right. But it’s essential to be informed and adequately research your destination and ship before you go.
Case in point: River ships plying Russian waters aren’t typically known for their luxurious appointments. Many older vessels have facilities that lean towards ‘spartan’, and offer stateroom quarters that clock in around 119 square feet. “Luxury”, therefore, on a Russian waterway can typically be defined as anything larger than 120 square feet, whereas a deep-ocean cruise ship would probably claim “luxury” for staterooms starting around 240 square feet.
See our point?
Many European-based river cruise ships now offer amenities that rival their deep-ocean counterparts: staterooms with double balconies, French-milled toiletries, custom-made beds and bedding, marble-clad bathrooms and expansive public rooms situated on a fleet of nearly brand-new ships can truly spoil the first-time river cruiser. And nearly every stateroom is 150 square feet or larger, with the most common size at the moment coming in at just shy of 200 square feet.
Some river cruise ships plying Egyptian waters offer accommodations that are considerably tighter by comparison.
On the other hand, many Asian-based river cruise ships swing the other way: their accommodations are spacious and luxurious, and rival some of the best river cruisers in Europe.
So what can you do to avoid disappointment? By all means, don’t hesitate to book a cruise in Russia or Egypt, or even on a smaller European-based ship. These are some of the most fascinating, spectacular destinations on the planet, and certainly not worth missing because your stateroom is smaller than you’re used to. But knowing what you’re getting into is key.
To prepare yourself, have a peek at our detailed ship reviews. We’re constantly updating them based on your feedback and our own personal experiences, and with more new ships coming on-line in the next year, river cruisers have an unprecedented amount of choice – and we have a lot of work ahead of us!
Also be sure to pick up a printed brochure for the line you’re considering. You can find these at any good travel agent or by requesting one directly from the cruise line themselves. Not only are these chocked full of useful information about packing, boarding times, onboard amenities and booking rules and regulations, these booklets have a feature worth its weight in gold: deck plans. Study them. Learn them. Read them top to bottom and pay attention to any sort of unique symbols, asterisks or notations next to staterooms or elsewhere on the page.
By doing as much research as possible, you avoid becoming a victim of marketing hyperbole and instead will have adequately prepared yourself for the incredible river cruise adventure that lies ahead of you, no matter where you are.