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

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 the opportunity to explore interesting ports.

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Departing the Alaskan Port of Juneau

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?

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.

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). The chefs usually go onshore to the farmer’s market to pick out the fresh produce for that day’s meal. Instead of 50 different things to do onboard, amenities tend to be more modest with river cruises — think libraries, a workout room, cultural programs, and free Wi-Fi 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. (The exception to this would be Disney’s River Cruises which cater to families.)

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.

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The Viking Longship Odin near the city of Budapest on the Danube River.

Because of their larger size, ocean cruises offer plenty of options for many ages, from young kids to octogenarian, 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 onboard, as well as exotic and more daring day excursions.

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A photo from my Alaskan Cruise

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 intercultural 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.

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Celebrating my birthday onboard the Sapphire Princess

PS I just became a certified Alaskan Expert on Princess Cruise Line. If an Alaskan cruise is in your future, let me help you plan an amazing trip!

2 thoughts on “Ocean vs. River Cruising: Which one is right for you?

  1. Anonymous

    Another thing: those who get sea sick will love river cruises. There is never any “rough water”. I felt the food on the river cruises tasted better. Because they have a smaller group, the chef and waiters can address your particular needs and often remember your likes and dislikes.

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