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Which Cruise Should You Choose?

All-inclusive or a la carte? Stick close to home or wander far abroad? Small ships with intimate excursions or massive ships with big amenities? When it comes to cruising, the list of options can be overwhelming, but “any good group leader with a valid travel program is going to offer a big variety of options to appeal to a wide variety of people,” said Anne Davis, president of Cruises and Tours Worldwide.

One of the best things a group leader can do “is to find a tour operator who specializes in group cruises because there are so many factors that come into play in choosing a cruise that’s right for a group,” she said.

Here are some areas group leaders should consider, contrast and compare to help choose a cruise.

Ocean or River Cruise?

When it comes to ocean cruising and river cruising, “they’re two different animals; they’re not similar at all,” said Russ Rosenberry, who owns Islands in the Sun Cruises and Tours with his wife, Susan.

It’s important for group leaders to mix up their programs and offer some of each because “they are completely different products, but each has their benefits,” Davis said.

River cruises mean smaller ships, which offer more intimate experiences, both on board and on shore.

“The atmosphere and pace of a river cruise is very much different than an ocean cruise,” Davis said. “It’s usually a much smaller ship, fewer than 200 people, so it can access remote destinations along rivers that big cruises can’t. You’re immediately immersed in local cultures instead of unloading at ports where there are 10,000 other passengers.”

Most shore excursions are included on river cruises, as opposed to having to pay for them separately on ocean cruises, and since there are fewer passengers, smaller groups can get into more exclusive sites and enjoy more immersive experiences.

“There’s more immersion into the culture,” Rosenberry said. “When you’re actually traveling in France by river from Paris to Normandy, you’re stopping in some exclusive places.”

While many travelers “prefer the quieter, low-key, intimate experience” of a river cruise, on the flip side, oceangoing ships tend to offer more amenities, activities and entertainment, Davis said.

But perhaps the biggest difference for group leaders to consider is the logistics of booking, she said. Massive ocean cruise ships can hold blocks for groups and give group leaders a window of time to sell cabins. Because river ships are smaller, they don’t typically do that, so group leaders usually must book much further in advance.

“Because of the limited space, [river cruises] have to do it way far out,” Davis said. “Space isn’t necessarily being held for your group, so you have to make sure your group buys it before the general public does.”

In addition to understanding what kind of experiences and amenities their travelers want, group leaders must also consider how far in advance to buy their room blocks.