River Cruising vs. Ocean Cruising… What’s the Real Difference?
Updated: Jun 19
When it comes to taking a cruise on a river or ocean, it’s pretty tough to go wrong. Both offer incredible views, luxurious amenities and an opportunity to explore interesting ports. Each one comes with its own unique perks, and depending on your specific needs for your next trip, you may find that one is a slightly better fit than the other. What are the major differences?
One major difference can be summed up using this word: INTIMACY, INTIMACY, INTIMACY. River cruises tend to be much smaller (190 passengers max vs. up to 6,200 on the largest ocean cruises). As a result, you’re much more likely to be interacting with other passengers and crew members.
River cruise ships are much smaller in scale than ocean liners. You dine on a regular schedule at tables with other passengers. Seating is not generally assigned. Many people love to “table hop” from meal to meal in order to meet as many fellow guests as possible. Wine and soft drinks at meals are typically included in the price of the cruise. Instead of 50 different activities to do onboard, amenities tend to be more modest with river cruises — think libraries, a workout room, cultural programs, and free Wi-Fi. There aren’t multiple kids’ programs, glitzy Broadway shows, and a skydiving simulator. There tend to be fewer kids on river cruises, making them popular for couples seeking quiet and relaxed time together. Many of the walking tour excursions are included in the price of the river cruise. Bicycles are often available to ride around within the small towns allowing you to see even more shops and local activities.
When river cruising, you stop almost every day in a new port. This allows for walking or bike tours through quaint towns with little tourist traffic. Most of the time you are a short distance from the ship. In ocean cruising, you can go days without seeing land, and ports of call and excursions tend to be more exotic.
Because of their larger size, ocean cruises offer plenty of options for many ages, from young kids to octogenarians, and they are often more able to accommodate a wide variety of special health needs. For this reason, they tend to make the best option for multi-generational family gatherings that include young children. For folks who like a large variety of activity, ocean cruising may be the perfect fit. You may enjoy music in the piano bar, attend educational lectures, participate in classes in ballroom or line dancing or play Bridge with fellow passengers. The shore excursions are generally plentiful and cover a wide variety of interests. While shore excursions in river cruising usually include some complimentary excursions, ocean cruising does not and you should plan for the additional charges.
How about cost? River cruises tend to be more expensive per person — but that price also includes more amenities during the trip. Many of the excursions are included in the price. Wine and soft drinks are typically included at meals. Ocean cruises have a lower sticker price per person, but you are often charged extra for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages as well as excursions. This could add up over the length of your vacation.
When you’re getting ready to plan your next on-the-water trip, here are a few questions to consider:
How many people are traveling? What are their ages?
What time of the year do you want to travel?
Do you need the amenities of a mega ship — spas, gyms, a dozen restaurants, and many activities? Or are you looking for something calmer, more intimate and easy-paced?
Are you seeking authentic inter-cultural experiences? Or do you prefer more familiar settings?
As always, I’m here and would love to discuss your next cruise. We can look at all the moving parts of your upcoming trip — what you need, what you want, what your dream is — and together we can come up with a cruise you and your loved ones will remember fondly for the rest of your life.