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Setting Sail: Ocean or River? Your Guide to the Perfect Cruise!

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

At MLS Custom Travel, our team's cruising expertise is unrivaled. Having embarked on an impressive 14 River Cruises with five distinguished river cruise companies, and sailed over 65 Ocean Cruises in collaboration with 14 leading Cruise Line Operators, we have honed our understanding of the cruising industry to perfection. Our global footprint spans across 75 countries, offering a wealth of firsthand knowledge that ensures your voyage is nothing short of extraordinary.

Ocean or River: Which is better?

Deciding between a river cruise and an ocean cruise can be a tough choice, as both offer unique experiences. Here’s a detailed comparison to help you make the right decision for your next adventure:

1. Scale and Ship Size:

River Cruising provides an intimate experience aboard smaller vessels adept at navigating narrow waterways, allowing them to dock conveniently in the heart of cities and towns. On the other hand, Ocean Cruising offers a diverse range of ship sizes, from small and intimate to large and activity-packed. The amenities, entertainment, and dining options vary based on the ship's size, providing a tailored experience for every traveler, whether they seek a more intimate setting or a bustling environment with an excessive amount of of activities.

2. Destinations:

River Cruising focuses primarily on inland waterways, providing passengers access to cultural hubs, historic sites, and charming villages. In contrast, Ocean Cruising offers a broader range of destinations, encompassing coastal cities, idyllic islands, and exotic ports of call, making it an excellent choice for travelers seeking a more extensive itinerary.

3. Scenery:

River Cruising offers passengers scenic views of picturesque landscapes, sprawling vineyards, and architectural marvels along the riverbanks. This intimacy with nature's beauty is a hallmark of river cruising. On the other hand, Ocean Cruising showcases expansive seascapes seeing amazing Sealife’s, breathtaking sunsets, and the exhilarating sensation of being out on the open water, creating a unique thrill that is distinctly oceanic.

River Cruise

4. Onshore Activities (Excursions):

River Cruising places a strong emphasis on cultural immersion, offering guided tours, visits to local markets, and opportunities to engage with the community. These experiences are often included in the price per person, enhancing the value of the cruise. Ocean Cruising provides a diverse mix of activities, ranging from cultural experiences to adventurous excursions, water sports, and relaxing beach activities. While many of these activities are available, they may be offered as additional options, allowing passengers to customize their experience based on their interests.

5. Entertainment and Amenities:

River Cruising focuses on enrichment programs, local entertainment, regionally-inspired cuisine and local wine and beers, providing passengers with an authentic experience that complements the destinations visited. In contrast, Ocean Cruising provides a broader range of amenities, including theaters, casinos, spas, pools, and specialty dining options. This abundance of offerings caters to a wider range of preferences and ensures that passengers have a plethora of entertainment options at their disposal.

6. Time Spent Onboard:

River Cruising typically involves more time exploring ashore and less time cruising due to shorter distances covered. This allows passengers to fully absorb the culture and history of the destinations. Ocean Cruising strikes a balance between time spent at sea and time spent exploring ports, offering a more diverse experience with ample time for both relaxation and exploration.

7. Crowd Size:

River Cruising provides an intimate atmosphere with fewer passengers, fostering a more personalized and tranquil environment. This allows for deeper connections with fellow travelers and a greater focus on individual needs. Ocean Cruising crowd size can vary greatly, and it's important to note that it's not solely reserved for massive crowds on large, resort-style liners. This diversity in crowd size is primarily determined by the ship's dimensions. It can range from small and intimate ships, providing a more personalized experience, to larger vessels that accommodate a broader range of passengers, offering a livelier and bustling atmosphere.

Ocean Cruise

8. Seasickness Concerns:

River Cruising generally takes place in calm inland waters, resulting in smoother sailing conditions. This minimizes the risk of seasickness for passengers who may be more susceptible to motion-related discomfort. Ocean Cruising, especially in certain regions or during specific times of the year, may encounter rougher seas. While modern cruise ships are equipped with stabilizers to mitigate motion, it's still a consideration for some travelers.

9. Accessibility:

River Cruising is well-suited for travelers seeking easy access to historical sites and cultural landmarks, with the intimate size of river cruise ships and the ability to dock in city centers facilitating convenient exploration. However, it's worth noting that some river cruises may not have elevators, which might be less ideal for those interested in visiting older cities. Ocean Cruising offers a broader range of accessibility options, with larger vessels equipped with modern amenities and accommodations designed to cater to passengers with varying mobility needs.

10. Budget Considerations:

River Cruising is often more inclusive, with guided tours, meals, beverages, and onboard gratuities often included in the fare. This means fewer additional expenses during the trip, providing a clearer picture of the overall cost. Ocean Cruising offers a wider range of options to suit different budgets, with some cruise lines adopting an a la carte pricing model. This allows passengers to customize their experience by choosing which amenities and services they wish to include in their cruise package. The cost may vary depending on the package you choose, which can encompass features like WiFi, gratuities, or bundled packages.

Both river and ocean cruising offer distinct and rewarding experiences, each with its own set of advantages. Understanding the nuances of each type of cruise will enable you to choose the one that aligns best with your preferences, interests, and travel goals. Whether you opt for the intimate charm of river cruising or the grandeur of ocean cruising, both promise unforgettable adventures on the water.

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