Cruises and Escorted Tours – Aren’t They all the same?

cruise ship at Peso da Regua, Douro Valley, Portugal

Not all tours and cruises are the same

As I have stated before, when you start to plan and book a trip, one of the first things we will do is to have a conversation. That conversation will be about you, what you want to do on your trip, how you want to do it, and most importantly, why you want to do it. 

This isn’t just to make conversation. It is important that I understand what you are looking for, in order to make the best match with you for your trip. 

Consider these statistics:

  1.  At last count, there are almost 30 different river cruise companies. 
  2. There are approximately 24 different ocean cruise companies
  3. There are dozens of escorted tour companies to choose from.

How do they differ?

The primary ways that they differ are in terms of size (# of passengers), their target customer and the offerings they have on their tours and cruises.

Size

Cruises

With cruises, whether ocean or river, the number of passengers can vary greatly. On the one hand, you may have a ship that will carry several thousand passengers. Examples of this are Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, and Cunard. These can be likened to floating cities, with a variety of dining experiences, recreation and entertainment. Some of these ships have their own roller coaster on board. Some cruise lines are planning even larger ships, with the expectation that the ship in itself is the experience.

On the other end of this spectrum are small ship companies such as the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, Sea Dream Yachts, and Seabourn. These ships can have as few as 250 guests on board, with a passenger to crew ratio of less than 2:1. On Sea Dream, by the first day, the ship bartender will know your name and your favorite drink. On Ritz Carlton Yachts, there will often be a movie shown on the open deck, and in some cases, guests can sleep on the open deck. 

Tours

The same is true with Escorted Tours. The number of guests on a tour can be as little as 10 or as many as 55. 

For example, Trafalgar, Globus, CIE and Collette are some of the more common escorted tour companies. On their more common tours, they will have as many as 55 guests. Yet, they have options. For instance, with Trafalgar, you can have a group as small as 9 guests on a private tour. Insight Vacations, which is part of the same company as Trafalgar, limits their guest size to 44, and typically average only 33 guests. The tour we took with them had only 28 guests.

Other touring companies, like Blue Roads Touring, never have more than 18 guests on a tour.

Why Does Size Matter?

Well, in many cases, it affects the opportunities that are available. In the case of an ocean cruise, the size of the ship will determine where the ship can go. As an example, consider the fjords and bays of Alaska, Norway and even Greece. A small ship like a Seabourn ship can get into a bay or fjord that is not accessible by a larger ship. I know of at least one case where a ship that was scheduled to visit Athens had to skip that port because the winds in the bay were too strong for the ship to safely dock. On the other hand a small ship is not going to have the ability to have all of the amenities found on a large ship.

For tours, the size of the group will affect which hotels they stay at, and even some of the things that they can do on the tour. For example, on our tour this year, there were only two hotels in Inverness that could handle a group of our size. In planning a whisky tour in Scotland, we are finding that the distilleries are only able to handle groups of less than 20 people. 

The Seabourn Quest

The Quest is 650 feet long, has 10 decks, and a crew of 335. It holds 458 passengers.

The Regent Seven Seas Explorer

The Explorer is 734 feet long and holds 750 passengers

Royal Caribbean Wonder of the Seas

This ship is 1,188 feet long, has a crew of 2,300 and almost 7,000 passengers.

Customer Type

We are all different. Those differences can come from our backgrounds, our stage in life, our professions, our education level, and our values. I can guarantee you that a person who is looking for a lively, fun loving cruise is going to feel more at home on a Carnival or Virgin Atlantic cruise than on a Cunard or Ritz-Carlton cruise.

The same is true in Escorted Tours. Take Tauck for instance. They actually have two separate divisions – Tauck and Tauck Bridges. The Tauck Bridges division is intended for families. Many escorted tour companies offer faith-based tours. 

Another way that tours will differ is in the amount of unstructured or “free” time. Consider the difference between a “Cosmos” tour vs a “Globus” tour. Both are with the same company, and visit many of the same places. But a Cosmos tour will have fewer guided excursions so that you have more time to explore on your own. 

Last to be considered is where you want go. Are you looking for a trip to the western US, or are you looking for a sailing to Antarctica? Both are readily available, albeit with different providers.

Features and Amenities

Lastly, tours and cruises will differ by the options available, or the circumstances around your visit. 

Consider the difference between, say a Tauck Tour and a Trafalgar Tour to Italy. Both will visit the Vatican and both will get you inside the Sistine Chapel. But the Tauck Tour will be a private visit to the Chapel, with just the guests on your tour. With the Trafalgar Tour, you will get skip the line admission, but you will still be in there with the general public. However, given that over 10,000 people visit the Sistine Chapel each day, it will be very crowded, and you will only have a few minutes to be in the Chapel and it will be a very different experience than the Tauck tour.

Cruises and Tours also have different amenities. For example, consider the difference between an Avalon River Cruise ship and a Viking. The Avalon staterooms have an outer wall that completely opens up, so your stateroom becomes a balcony. On the other hand, a Viking ship has a pool on the upper deck. 

Your trip, Your Way

With the right planning, and a clear idea of what you are looking for, we can create what you are looking for.

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