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Ocean Cruises Vs. River Cruises

ocean vs. river cruises blog post

Embarking on an ocean cruise as opposed to a river cruise entails an entirely distinct journey. Apart from the shared notion of "being on a ship," their commonalities are scarce, and the experiences they offer are significantly different. If you have not yet ventured on either type of cruise vacation, you might be curious about what each is like!

Emily's Travel advisors been cruising since the beginning of our agency's existence in 2012. Although, we just started river cruising about four years ago. After setting sail on several ocean and river cruise brands and experiences, we are here to explain the details of each option on Emily's Travel Blog.


Pictures below of our travel advisors (left to right photos: Mikal Brown cruising with his wife, Emily Bookey with Whitney Wright cruising along a travel conference, and Adam Kladivo sailing in Alaska) enjoying cruises over the years...


Ocean vs. River Cruise Destinations

For many, their initial cruise experience is typically aboard an ocean cruise, predominantly in the Caribbean. However, ocean cruising spans far beyond the Caribbean waters, encompassing destinations such as Western Mexico, traversing the Panama Canal, cruising through Alaskan passageways, exploring all the islands of Hawaii, exploring the coasts of Australia, and even setting sail around the globe. Ocean cruise destinations, itineraries, and options seem endless!

Similarly, river cruises boast a plethora of destination choices, with the most prominent journeys through Europe along the Rhine, Danube, Seine, Douro, Elbe, and various other picturesque rivers. These voyages lead travelers through enchanting countries like Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, and other must-see destinations. Additionally, river cruises are available in certain parts of Asia, Africa, and the United States.

Pictured below: Various ports and cruise brands around the world...


Ocean vs. River Cruise Ships

One distinction between these two cruise types lies in the size of the vessels. Ocean cruises typically feature massive ships designed to accommodate large crowds, whereas river cruises opt for more intimate "longships" made for navigating narrow waterways, which creates limited passenger capacities onboard.

The onboard experience with each cruise brand can be immensely different, and it is also important to know, the brand can vary by the destination.

Ocean cruises tend to offer a broader range of entertainment options, while river cruises typically present one nightly entertainment offering for the group. River cruise ships do not attempt to compete with the entertainment offerings of ocean cruising. You won't find amenities like movie theaters, go-kart tracks, or ice skating rinks on river cruise ships. River cruises emphasize active exploration at their destinations exploring the local culture, whereas ocean cruises provide 24-hour entertainment choices. It's worth noting that river cruises typically have an age restriction, often prohibiting passengers under 18, as they cater to a more mature clientele who appreciate their unique style.

Pictured below: Sun deck aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Line International...

cruise vacation


Ocean Vs. River Costs of Cruises

river cruise view

Broadly speaking, river cruises tend to be a bit pricier than ocean cruises. However, if you opt for a specialized ocean cruise with more inclusions, the costs may become comparable. It's essential to understand that comparing river and ocean cruises is not straightforward since they offer different inclusions and amenities. River cruises typically encompass premium amenities and longer itineraries compared to "standard" ocean cruises. Ocean cruises often depart from U.S. ports, saving travelers on airfare.

While river cruises may come with a higher price tag, they offer exceptional value that is difficult to surpass. An ocean cruise with "all the perks" could cost similarly if you were to add the total costs with premium amenities included on an upgraded cruise brand.

Pictured: Sun deck onboard Viking River Cruises

royal caribbean cruise

Ocean Vs. River Cruising Itineraries

The most intriguing aspect of any cruise is truly the diverse ports of call. River cruises have the advantage of docking in small towns and cities, thanks to their longships' maneuverability. In contrast, ocean cruises require larger ports due to their higher passenger capacity, which often results in more activities and attractions at these ports. Some ocean cruise lines even have private islands dedicated to entertaining their passengers. Interestingly, there are ports that accommodate both river and ocean cruises, such as Athens, Greece, and Barcelona, Spain.

Pictured: Royal Caribbean's private island, Perfect Day at CoCoCay


Ocean Vs. River Cruise Cabins and Suites

Staterooms and suites vary widely across both river and ocean cruise ships. Ocean cruises typically offer more spacious suites, with the advantage of diverse room sizes. Passengers can choose to upgrade to a balcony room or opt for a more budget-friendly interior stateroom without a window. River cruises have fewer options in this regard, with all rooms featuring outward-facing balconies. Due to the smaller and narrower nature of river cruise ships, interior suites are not available.

Pictured: Cabins and suites onboard Celebrity Cruises (ocean), Royal Caribbean (ocean), and Avalon Waterways (river)


Ocean Vs. River Cruising Dining & Beverages

While river cruises may have fewer onboard restaurants, they often feature dedicated five-star chefs who prepare fresh, made-to-order meals daily and nightly. Dining typically takes place in the same dining rooms, with varying menus. Additionally, river cruises usually offer a lounge with a high-end bar and a hot-drink bar, with beer and wine included in the cruise cost. Premium spirits can be purchased onboard or through package options for certain cruise lines.

Often, ocean cruises offer a multitude of dining options, with rotating menus that ensure variety throughout your voyage. Bars and specialty drinks are abundant, though some travelers may miss their favorite brands from home. Soft drinks are either included or available through package deals on some ocean cruises.

Policies and amenities can vary by cruise line and destination, so consulting your cruise travel agent for specifics is advisable.

Pictured below: Main dining room on an ocean cruise versus river cruise...


Ocean Vs. River Cruise Motion Sickness

It is quite common for passengers who experience motion sickness on ocean cruises to find river cruising a more tranquil experience. Rivers typically offer calmer waters than the open ocean, and river cruise ships have a flatter profile, resulting in significantly less motion. With ocean cruising, we can often find suitable options to help a passenger with motion sickness. For example, we can choose a certain cabin level, that has a better chance of feeling like impact from the ocean.


Ocean Vs. River Cruise In-Destination Activities

One of the standout advantages of river cruising is the inclusion of basic tours in the cruise package. Passengers have the option to upgrade to specialized excursions for a more immersive experience. In contrast, ocean cruises generally require passengers to add most excursions, except for private island visits, to their package. Some travelers appreciate the freedom to explore independently or enjoy beach time.

Pictured: River cruise activities in European cities...

Pictured: Versus ocean cruise activities in the Caribbean...


In the grand scheme of things, ocean vs. river cruises offer entirely different experiences, each tailored to distinct preferences. Determining which type is best for you depends on your personal preferences and travel style. If you're contemplating your next cruise, allow us to assist you in planning an unforgettable voyage. We specialize in making every destination and experience more personalized, whether you opt for a river cruise or an ocean cruise. Well-planned cruises, whether on the ocean or river, offer exceptional options for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.

To begin planning your cruise for 2024 or 2025, request a trip with us. Remember, planning for the future is the best way to make your travel dreams come true!. Visit for more information.


Emily's Travel Inc. is an award winning team of experienced travel advisors based in Minnesota, dedicated to crafting unique and unforgettable worldwide vacations. With decades of expertise in booking cruises, resorts and international trips for individuals, couples, families, friends, and groups, we are your go-to choice for all your travel needs. Our true specialty at heart is coordinating and managing destination weddings, vow renewals and honeymoons for couples and groups around the world as well. Please visit our website for comprehensive information about our travel options, agency details, or to request a trip with one of our expert advisors. Explore Emily's Travel blog, which features our best travel tips and inspiration! For the latest travel deals and updates, make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram.


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