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Ocean vs. River Cruises

Setting sailing aboard an ocean cruise in comparison to a river cruise is incredibly different. Other than the idea of "being on a ship," there's not much in common. The experiences are very much different. If you haven't experience both or either cruise vacation, you may be wondering what it's like!

We're spilling the tea on the cruising details on the Travel Like a Star Blog...

Many cruisers experience their first cruise as an ocean cruise. To be even more specific, most people take mostly Caribbean ocean cruises. But the ocean cruise goes much further than just the Caribbean. You can also set sail in Western Mexico, through the Panama Canal, around Alaska, around Hawaii, around Australia and, even, around the world! The amount of ocean cruise opportunities are endless.

River cruises have a lot of destination options as well. The most popular of river cruises sailing through Europe along the Rhine, Danube, Seine, Douro, Elbe and many other rivers. These travel through countries like Germany, Austria, Hungry, France, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, and other worldwide destinations. We also have some river cruises here in the US.

Cruise Ships

One significant difference between the two cruising types is the ship size! Ocean cruises commonly have extra large ships that hold massive amounts of people. River cruises, oppositely, have smaller "longships" that are made for narrow passageways. These ships have a very limited occupancy.

The experience onboard varies by what type of traveler you are. Ocean cruises may offer more entertainment options, while river cruises usually offer one entertainment per night. River cruise ships don't try to compete with entertainment onboard ocean cruises because they can't. They don't have the physical space on their ships to house things like movie theaters, go-kart tracks, or ice skating rinks. The focus of a river cruise is to actively adventure in-destination, while ocean cruises give you 24-hour options for entertainment. River cruises won't allow for anyone under 18 to sail, most likely because the experience was shaped for more mature mindsets who will appreciate the style.

Costs of Cruises

Generally speaking, river cruises cost more than an ocean cruise. If you're taking a specialty ocean cruise that's a bit longer in duration and has more inclusions, the cost may be similar. When comparing, we must understand we aren't comparing apples-to-apples with river versus ocean cruises. But offer different inclusions and amenities. River cruises typically include premium amenities for guests and the sailings are usually longer than standard ocean cruises. With ocean cruises, the disembarkation port is in the United States which saves a ton on air.

While a river cruise might be more expensive, the cost comes with a value that's hard to beat. An ocean cruises that include "all the perks" could cost the same if we wanted it to!

Cruising Itineraries

The most interesting part of any cruise is all the stops you get to make in the ports. When it comes to a river cruise, the longship has the ability to dock in small towns and cities. Ocean cruises need to be able to dock at larger ports. Because the ocean cruises bring in more people, there may be more things to do and see at those ports. Some ocean cruise lines even have their own private islands to accommodate and entertain their sailors.

There are some cruise ports that overlap for river and ocean cruises like Athens, Greece and Barcelona, Spain.

Cruise Cabins and Suites

Staterooms and suites vary so much from ship to ship no matter if it's a river or ocean cruise. It's very common to have more space on a suite on an ocean cruise ship. But don't let that fool you! River cruise suites are incredibly spacious too. It's just that ocean cruises are so large, they can make many large, large rooms for a variety of family sizes.

With ocean cruising you do have more options for room sizes. You can book an upgrade on an ocean cruise to have a balcony or save money by having an interior stateroom without a window. On river cruises, there are less options. All rooms face outward and commonly (these days) have a balcony. Because the ship is small and narrow there are no interior suites on river cruise ships.

Pictured: First set -- Celebrity Cruises; Second set -- Avalon River Cruises

Cruising Dining & Beverages

River cruises may have less restaurants onboard, but it's very common for river cruises to have dedicated five-star chefs who cook to order every day and night. Meals are usually served in the same dining rooms everyday, but the menu will vary. You can also find a lounge with a high-end bar onboard and usually a hot-drink bar. Beer and wine are included in most river cruise costs. Premium spirits can be purchased onboard or via a package for some lines.

Alternatively. ocean cruises have no limit on the options you have with ocean cruising. Restaurants options have rotating menus that make it feel like you'll never eat the same thing twice. Bars can vary as well with no limit to specialty drinks. We have heard brand-loving travelers missing their favorite brand back home while cruising. As for sodas, some cruises include soft drinks or offer them via a package for some lines.

Of course, all policies vary by cruise line and destination, so be sure to check for specifics with your cruise travel agent.

Cruise Motion Sickness

It's normal for cruisers who were affected by ocean cruising to not be affected by river cruising. Rivers have much calmer waters than the ocean and the ships are much flatter. There is not nearly as much motion.

In-Destination Activities

One of the biggest perks of river cruising is that really cool basic tours are included in the river cruise. You, of course, have the option to upgrade to specialty excursions which are even cooler.

With ocean cruises, you have to add almost every excursion, except private island visits (if included into your itinerary) to your package. Having beach time or self-exploration time is always great, too! But for the most part, cruisers want to have their own experience in most ports so they have to add them onto their package.

In the end... what do we think of ocean versus river cruises?

S2T thinks they are completely different experiences. Furthermore, we think each brand is a completely different experience shaped for different preferences. Want to know which is the best for you? Start planning your next cruise with us!

We can make every experience in every destination a bit more personal. No matter if its a river cruise or ocean cruise, we'll do our best to make sure your vacation dollars are well spent on a cruise that will WOW you! Ocean and river cruises offer very nice options that will make your cruise a vacation of a lifetime if well-planned.

To start planning your 2023 or 2024 cruise, let's have a consultation! Your travel dreams won't plan themselves. Visit for more information.


Starlight2Travel, Inc. is a Cleveland-based online travel agency. We assist travelers from coast to coast. We specialize in cruises, romance, and family vacations! Our services provide incredible vacation experiences for couples, families, and groups. Please visit our website for travel information and inspiration. Our Star Traveler blog is also an amazing place to find travel tips and resources! Follow us for more travel information!


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