Ocean vs. River cruising: Which one is right for you?

When it comes to taking a cruise on river or ocean, it’s pretty tough to go wrong. Both offer incredible views, luxurious amenities, and the opportunity to explore interesting ports.

But each one comes with its own unique perks, and depending on your specific needs for your next trip, you might find that one is a slightly better fit than the other. So what are the major differences?

Viking Longship in Budapest / Image: Viking River Cruises

River cruise ships, such as this Viking Longship in Budapest, are much smaller and more intimate / Image: Viking River Cruises

One big difference can be summed up in one word: intimacy. River cruises tend to be much smaller (190 max vs. up to 6,200 on the largest ocean cruises), and as a result, you’re much more likely to be interacting with other passengers and crew members.


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That smaller scale translates to all areas of the river cruise. You dine on a regular schedule at tables with other passengers (wine is included in the price of the cruise). Instead of 50 different things to do on board, amenities tend to be more modest with river cruises — think libraries, cultural programs, possibly a workout room, and free Wifi vs. ten kids’ playrooms, 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.

You stop almost every day at a new port with river cruises, often for walking tours through quaint towns with little tourist traffic, and you’re always in view of land. With ocean cruises, you can go days without seeing land, and ports of call and excursions tend to be more exotic and high-adventure.

Close up of an ocean cruise ship

Ocean cruises offer plenty of options for many ages, from young kids to octogenarians.  Image:  Deposit Photos.

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 the traveler who is into high-octane adventure, ocean cruises provide a wide variety of activities on board, as well as exotic and more daring day excursions.


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River cruises do tend to be more expensive per person — but that price also includes more things. Ocean cruises have a lower sticker price per person, but you are often charged extra for alcohol and other amenities.

When you’re getting ready to plan your next on-the-water trip, here are a few questions to consider:

  1. How many people are traveling? What are their ages?
  2. What time of the year do you want to travel?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

You can contact me today by clicking here.


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About Melody Moser

Melody Moser is a Travel Expert & Travel Writer specializing in Europe, river cruises and romantic travel. Based in southern New Jersey, she spends her time traveling the world, writing about it, and helping others fulfill their travel dreams.

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