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Top 5 Differences between River Cruising and Ocean Cruising

Updated: Mar 5

Learn more about the differences between Ocean cruising and River cruising

While you may not be planning to travel soon, it is never too early to begin dreaming about your next vacation. Perhaps it is a river cruise?

Both river and ocean cruises come with unique perks, and depending on your specific needs, you may find one is a slightly better fit for your next vacation.

While it may be tempting to assume river cruising and ocean cruising are relatively the same, there are some differences to consider before selecting your next vacation. I love cruising and find it a wonderful way to explore the world! Since I have cruised on both river and ocean, I am happy to answer questions should you have them.

Whether you sail along the Danube River or cruise the Caribbean Sea, you will view incredible scenery and explore exciting ports of call. Both types of cruises (river and ocean) come with unique perks, and depending on your specific needs, you may find that one is a slightly better fit for your next vacation. While it may be tempting to assume river cruising and ocean cruising are mostly the same, there are some differences to consider before planning your next vacation.

SIZE OF SHIP River cruise vessels are generally much smaller in scale than ocean-going ships and have fewer passengers (typically 160-190 per ship.) Ocean cruise ships greatly vary in size and may hold 300 - 6,200 passengers.

RESTAURANT and MEAL OPTIONS Since river cruise vessels are smaller in size, there with fewer restaurant options onboard, but this does not mean you will sacrifice quality. European river cruise chefs purchase fresh produce and meat along the river route, allowing them to prepare locally sourced meals and wine/beer for their passengers. River cruise diners also enjoy more intimate experiences at dinner time. They can easily mix and mingle by "table-hopping" from meal to meal to meet all their fellow guests. Larger ocean ships offer multiple main dining restaurants, buffets, specialty eateries (Italian, Cajun, Steak and Seafood), pubs and coffee bars, and 24-hour room service. Lots of choices mean passengers can generally find food at any time of the day.

ACTIVITIES Ocean cruisers enjoy plenty of activities onboard. Think glitzy Broadway-style shows, rock walls, sky diving simulators, piano bar singalongs, ice skating rinks, go-cart tracks, daily trivia, and card games. For those of you who love yoga, you will be excited to know this - Many river cruise ship companies now offer yoga onboard! Some ships even have exercise bikes perched on the upper deck so guests can maintain good health and enjoy the scenery as they sail down the river. Spas and hair salons are available as well. River cruise onboard entertainment is relatively low key in nature. Cruisers spend most of the day off the ship. Upon their return, it is time for dinner, drinks, a port information lecture from the Tour Manager, and an occasional folkloric show.

SHORE EXCURSIONS Budget and Premium cruise lines do not include shore excursions as a part of the cruise fare. Luxury cruise lines usually provide some excursions in each port, providing excellent value for guests. River cruise companies offer multiple free shore excursions in each port; however, there are fewer choices from which to choose. Many passengers enjoy walking tours and biking excursions along the river.

PORTS, PORTS, PORTS River cruise ships visit a new destination daily – sometimes two. Because the ship docks near the city center, guests have plenty of time for a leisurely stroll around quaint towns and enjoying local sights and sounds. Are you searching for ports of call more exotic in nature? Consider the Chobe River in Africa; Mekong River in southeast Asia. Both rivers offer amazing ports to visit. When considering a cruise on an ocean liner, many itineraries are available, allowing you to visit your most-desired destinations. Many traditional Caribbean cruise itineraries sandwich a day or two "at sea" with fabulous days spent in port. Some transatlantic voyages sail across the ocean, stretching several days without nearing land at all.

While my list of differences is certainly not exhaustive, I know it will help you determine whether river cruising is of interest to you. Rivers cruises sail in Europe, Africa, and Asia. (A river cruise on the Chobe River in Africa is on my bucket list!)

Have questions about river cruising? You've come to the right place. Send me an email and I'll be happy to answer!

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