These cruises are on the water, but some of the best memories come from stopping on the land, write Louise Goldsbury and Anthony Dennis.
What, the uninitiated may ask, are the differences between an ocean cruise and a river cruise? They're both on ships and they're both on water, aren't they? Well, yes, but for those lucky enough to have experienced both forms of cruising, the distinctions are nearly as vast as the number of oceans and rivers in the world.
On a sea-going cruise, the action takes places mainly on-board the ship using its myriad facilities, while on the narrower, smaller, river-based boats with fewer amenities, the action is mainly beyond the vessel.
Above all, ocean-liners tend in the main to pass by countries, while riverboats pass through them. And that is where the unique memories that come from river cruising are made, as evidenced by this collection.
ROOM WITH A VIEW - RHINE RIVER, GERMANY
What's better than watching the world pass by from your balcony? Watching it from your bed. I was snuggled up with a coffee and a book (OK, champagne and a DVD) while a breeze blew through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the all-suite Avalon Panorama. It was my first time cruising along the Rhine, gazing at the ever-changing scene of Germany's countryside, castles, vineyards and villages. The most beautiful stretch was the UNESCO-protected Rhine Gorge, between Bingen and Koblenz. For more than two hours there were no modern buildings or bridges in sight - just ruins and 800-year-old vineyards. Avalon Waterways, avalonwaterways.com.au. LG
MAD ABOUT SAFFRON - CHAO PHRAYA RIVER, THAILAND
Long before luxury cruising became mainstream on the Mekong, converted teak rice barges with room for just a few dozen passengers were plying the chaotic Chao Phraya River, which passes from the ancient former capital of Ayutthaya through Bangkok and on to the Gulf of Thailand. Aboard the barge, on our voyage between the two cities, we moored one night beside a Buddhist monastery where saffron-robed monks reached the other side of a channel by a flying-fox-like cable car. Before casting off the next morning, there was time to visit the former country residence of Siamese royal families, with immaculately maintained gardens full of bizarre topiary and eclectic Western-style buildings inspired by the travels of the blue-blood Thais. Anantara Overnight Cruises, bangkok-cruises.anantara.com. AD
IN THE FLESH - AMAZON RIVER, PERU
After a successful morning of piranha-fishing from the side of a canoe, I was the only person game enough to jump from the back of the luxurious Delfin I for a once-in-a-lifetime swim in the Amazon. Crew members assured me there would be no flesh-eating fish in the waters, just possibly a pink dolphin if I were fortunate. It was worth a go, I thought, but my bravery was not rewarded. However, later that evening, as I watched a fluorescent sunset from my balcony, it happened: a pastel pink Amazon River dolphin popped up its head and spent the next half-hour frolicking before me. Delfin Amazon Cruises, delfinamazoncruises.com. LG
NIGHT MOVES - DANUBE RIVER, HUNGARY
There are surely few better ways to begin a cruise, whether it be an ocean or river-going one, than by departing from Budapest at night. As we began our journey to Amsterdam on the Danube River aboard the MS Amaverde, behind us was the Hungarian capital's famous Chain Bridge - like a queen's necklace in a showcase - and to our side the Royal Palace, the neo-classical parliament building and the neo-Gothic Matthias Church. Each was floodlit in a gorgeous soft light as we passed. On the Amaverde's upper deck, passengers toasted the start of our journey with Hungarian schnapps as the ship glided downriver. APT, Europe Cruising, aptouring.com.au. AD
BOND, JANE BOND - PO RIVER, ITALY
I arrived at Venice's Marco Polo Airport late at night to be transferred by water taxi to the River Countess. Bobbing on the lagoon under moonlight, a white speedboat waited. Stepping into my floating limousine, I handed over my luggage and let the luxury begin. As the boat zipped across the dark water I stood up, 007-style, and had my Bond Girl moment with my hair blowing in the wind, being chased by imaginary villains. We pulled up alongside an old bridge and the famous Venetian promenade. When I boarded the River Countess, I spotted four models posing for the cruise line's photo shoot and just had to laugh at my postcard-perfect scene turning brochure-perfect in an instant. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, uniworldcruises.com.au. LG
SINO OF THE TIMES - YANGTZE RIVER, CHINA
The Danube, Rhine and Seine rivers are studded with locks, and on a river cruise in Europe's waters passengers can tend to forget about them. But there's some genuine drama attached to your ship passing, late at night, through the lock belonging to China's Three Gorges Dam. As you transfer from one of the most scenic parts of China, the business end of this great river (the equivalent of a super-highway full of innumerable barges and ferries fuelling China's economic boom) reveals itself. Smoggy and clogged, the other side of the Yangtze ain't as gorgeous as the Three Gorges, but it is impressive. Wendy Wu Tours, wendywutours.com.au. AD
ZERO HOUR - BLACK SEA, ROMANIA
The ultimate goal of this voyage was to reach the "Kilometre Zero" point of the Danube, in Romania. While many people assume this river starts in Germany, it is measured upstream from the mouth of the Black Sea. To complete the length of the famous waterway requires three back-to-back cruises (nine countries, 3000 kilometres). When we finally reached the end, River Cloud II passengers were surprised to find only a small "0" sign and an old abandoned lighthouse. No grand monument, no souvenir shop, no fanfare. More of a rusty moment than golden one, but a memory that will last. Sea Cloud Cruises, seacloud.com. LG
SCHOOL'S IN - TONLE SAP RIVER, CAMBODIA
During a cruise aboard the RV Mekong Pandaw between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap along the Tonle Sap River, a tributary of the Mekong, we anchored at a riverside town called Peam Chi Kang, where we went ashore to wander its dusty streets and visit local schools. At one riverside primary school we stood and watched as pupils gathered to mark the end of the school day, massing around a teetering flagpole above which flew a tattered Cambodian flag. The kids sang the national anthem beautifully, but it was sobering to note that a generation or so before, the school had been summarily closed and turned into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. Pandaw Cruises, pandaw.com. AD