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12 Differences Between an Ocean Cruise and a River Cruise

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Whether you’re an avid ocean cruiser, or you’re new to the idea of cruising in general, knowing the differences between an ocean cruise and a river cruise will help you decide which one appeals to you more. Here are a few points that differentiate a river cruise from an ocean cruise.

No Big Line-Ups

Waiting in restaurant line-ups, waiting for the tender to arrive so you go ashore, searching endlessly for a spot by the crowded pool...does any of that sound like fun? Of course not. One of the best aspects of river cruises is you never wait for your meals, getting a coffee is a cinch, and it takes mere moments to step off of the ship.

Highly Personalized Service

Because of a high passenger-to-staff ratio, river cruisers experience a much higher level of personalization on board. River cruise staff not only know your name, they know your preferences and they take pride in trying to wow you at every opportunity.

Clear Pre-Cruise Documents

From the moment you book your cruise, you are provided with electronic documents that are clear, concise, and extremely thorough. Every question you could think of is answered. You'll be given information about your embarkation city, all ports you visit, your onboard experience, important emergency numbers, and anything else that pertains to your trip.

Locally Sourced Foods

Nothing beats dining on local cuisine, mere miles from where it originates. Chefs carefully curate their dishes so they are reflective of the local culture. In fact, you may spot your chef at the market, while you're touring the city.

This is unquestionably one of the best reasons to take a river cruise, and something you’re not going to find on an ocean cruise.

Excursions Are Included

Who wants to keep shelling out hundreds of dollars after they’ve already paid for their cruise vacation? Most river cruises are far more inclusive than what you're used to. You get to choose from a selection of incredible shore excursions (most of which are included in the fare) and spend your money on other things like fun souvenirs to bring home.

Approachable & Accessible Management

If you ever need anything, you never have to look far to get some help or a question answered. You'll know your cruise manager by name, and can easily find them. If they're not at their desk, they're not far away.

Always Steps from the Action

One of the biggest reasons so many travelers choose river cruising over ocean cruising is because of the port of call accessibility. Because so many river cruise ports are part of old trade routes, they dock in the heart of all of the action. You can step off your ship and be downtown in a few moments. And if you want to come and go from the ship, it’s much simpler on a river cruise ship. Have lunch onboard, then head back into town to enjoy an aperitif at a cafe, or borrow a bike from the ship's fleet, and go explore on your own.

Affordable Laundry Services

If you’re an ocean cruiser, you likely let out a groan because you know full well how much laundry services cost onboard an ocean cruise and, you know how long it can take to get your things back. On a river cruise, you can pack light and rest assured that if you do need anything laundered, it can be done efficiently.

Stay Connected for Free

No, you’re not dreaming – Wi-Fi is free! It’s important to have the option of checking in with loved ones back home, or maybe you’ll want to your some photos with friends along the way. And on an ocean cruise, your cell phone won't work while you're in the middle of the ocean. On a river cruise, cell coverage is no problem.

A Perfect Pace of Travel

For anyone looking for a less frenzied, quieter, more immersive way of experiencing Europe and beyond, river cruises offer all of that and more. With varying departure and arrival times, and longer stays in port, you’re able to get more out of every port of call than you would onboard most ocean cruises.

Luxuriously Cozy Cabins

River cruise cabins are meant to feel like home. The interior is designed to be chic, warm, and inviting as if you were staying in a beautiful floating boutique hotel. You’ll be happy to know that everything you’ll find on an ocean cruise, including TV entertainment, spacious balconies, and luxurious bedding is part of the river cruising experience.

Cruise Managers Make it Personal

If you are flying in early for your river cruise (as you should), during your pre-cruise stay you will be able to meet your Cruise Manager. Cruise managers are hand-selected, multi-lingual, highly trained hospitality experts that are there to ensure your river cruise vacation is perfect.

The differences between ocean cruising and river cruising are vast.

If you’re an avid ocean cruiser, hopefully, you’ve been convinced to book your first river cruise.

If you’re after a culturally immersive, slower-paced, more intimate cruising experience, a river cruise should be your next vacation option.

You can also join the River Cruise Community Facebook page, to share tips & ideas with fellow river cruise travelers.

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