Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

When a wave of former blue water executives made the switch to river cruising roles earlier this year, it presented a good opportunity not only to get a fresh perspective on river cruising, but also to get a sense of how ocean cruising compares.

For instance, when asked what her biggest takeaways were after having experienced her first river cruise as the newly appointed vice president of U.S. sales and marketing at Scenic, Joni Rein (former V.P. of sales at Carnival) said, "The first thing that will probably stay with me forever was the embarkation. It was the first time in all of my travels that no one asked me for my credit card. That actually stayed with me and was really quite memorable. I was pretty impressed by that."

Rein's observation addressed one of the stereotypes that ocean cruising often grapples with  that of nickel and diming. While she didn't say that outright, there was a connotation there and one that river cruise executives are not shy to mention when comparing the two forms of cruising, especially when faced with their own perception problem that river cruising is often thought of as a pricey product.

After making the switch to the river cruising world earlier this year, Azamara Club Cruises and Silverseas Cruises alum Ellen Bettridge, aka the recently tapped CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, observed how much the vast difference in the size of the river cruise vessels compared to their colossal ocean-going counterparts alters the experience between ocean and river cruising.

"You're never waiting in line," said Bettridge. "It doesn't take 10 minutes to walk from one place to the other. Everything is so small, so intimate. And it's a different destination experience. River cruises are going into ports, into places that ocean cruises just don't go to. So it's a different way of experiencing Europe or experiencing Asia. It really is an opportunity to get closer to the local experience."

Needless to say, Rein and Bettridge are incentivized by their new positions to tout the benefits of river cruising over ocean cruising. And Bettridge acknowledged that there are also obvious limitations river cruising faces from a hardware standpoint compared to ocean vessels.

"Some people could say that the disadvantage [in river cruising] is that you don't have as many dining venues," Bettridge said.

Surely those who prefer ocean to river cruising could find numerous other disadvantages, not least of which are the ample amenities and services available on ocean cruise vessels that would just never be on offer on even the largest river cruise ships due to space constraints.

Crystal Cruises CEO Edie Rodriguez, someone who is now equally invested in both forms of cruising after having brought her brand of ocean cruising to the rivers, had her own observations about river versus ocean cruising.

Said Rodriguez of Crystal's river cruise venture, "In my humble opinion, we're actually unleashing a lot of pent-up demand for a true luxury experience. There are a lot of luxury travelers out there who have avoided doing a river cruise simply because the brands in this space are unfamiliar to them."

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