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  • Writer's pictureLaura Avital

Seven Differences Between River and Ocean Cruising

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

"Oceans take you to countries; rivers take you through them.”

This is one of my favorite quotes to showcase how different the world of river cruising is from ocean cruising. Although they may initially seem quite similar, ocean and river cruising are truly oceans apart. Here’s why:

You’re docked in the action

Thanks to its small size and flat bottom, river cruise ships are able to navigate smaller bodies of water, allowing them to dock in the heart of the cities you want to experience. This means you can walk off the ship and immediately start exploring, whereas many cruise lines have ports of call that are up to an hour away from many popular attractions.

A matter of size

Think of a river cruise ship as a boutique floating hotel and a cruise ship as a mega-resort. Unlike cruise ships that can have a capacity of up to 8,000 people, the average river cruise ship ranges from 144 to 196 passengers for a more intimate experience and a seamless disembarking process. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, some river cruise lines will also be operating at a lower occupancy, meaning you’ll have an even more personal experience onboard.

Cultural connections

A key part of traveling is experiencing the culture in a destination and interacting with the local community. Many cruise ships visit their own private islands, making it impossible for guests to get a true sense of the country or destination. Since river cruise lines take you to the hub of a city, it’s easy to start getting a feel for the place upon arrival. Most cruise line ports are surrounded by tourist vendors and overpriced restaurants, whereas on a river cruise it’s easy to get off-the-beaten-path and discover hidden gems.

More inclusions

On cruise ships, offshore excursions come at an extra cost, but on river cruise ships, daily excursions are part of the booking. Not only that, there are multiple itineraries to choose from designed for different interests and fitness levels. Many modern river cruise lines also have bicycles you can take out for independent exploration. Some excursion options will take you to nearby cities or even nearby countries in Europe!

Life off the boat

With a bounty of restaurants and entertainment options, ocean cruises are designed to be self-contained units where you could spend days at sea on end and never grow restless. While river cruise ships are equipped with amenities like gyms, spas, pools, hot tubs, fitness classes, comfortable staterooms, and multiple places to dine, the itineraries are built for people to enjoy leisurely free time in each destination.

A higher guest-to-staff ratio

We’ve already talked about size, but what we haven’t covered is service. Having a higher guest-to-staff ratio on a river cruise ship means a higher level of care, attention to detail, support, and overall guest satisfaction. Within days, if not hours, staff will recognize you and make you feel at home on your floating home for the next week (or more!).

Time to be flexible

Compared to cruising, river cruise lines have a much more flexible sailing itinerary. While some cruises only stay in port for several hours during the day, river cruise lines are docked for extended periods of time and often depart late in the night. This means you can stay longer in each destination and get to experience the local nightlife… if you desire. So, take the time to enjoy a sunset stroll or take in some live music before settling back into your stateroom for a nightcap.


If you have more questions about the differences between River Cruises and Ocean Cruises, reach out to me and schedule a free consultation! I'll be happy to answer all your questions and perhaps, start planning your next river cruise!

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