>  Guides & Tips   >  Ocean Cruise vs River Cruise – Which One is Best for You?

There is no wrong way to cruise. That being said, different types of cruise vacations offer different experiences allowing for equally exciting holidays 

From large cruise ships to custom-tailored and personalized charter cruises, today, there are cruise options for every type of traveller. But regardless of the choice of cruise ship and style, the next decision that you’ll have to make is whether to go on an ocean cruise or a river cruise. Even though ocean cruises are a standard choice for regular cruisers, river cruises have gained a certain amount of popularity among worldwide travellers. They offer a more intimate experience, with less leisure time and more land excursions compared to the ocean cruises.

So what are the key differences between an ocean cruise vs a river cruise? Here is a list of everything that you need to know, before making your final decision.

River cruise Europe
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The Ship

It is only logical that there will be a big difference in the size of the cruising ship, depending on if it sails out in the vast ocean or in a river. Another factor for the size of the ship is the number of passengers that it can carry. Of course, being the more popular and the more frequent choice, ocean ships are bigger because they’re made to withstand the harshness of the ocean’s nature while carrying thousands of passengers. River ships are way smaller, caring up to a maximum of 200 passengers.

All things considered, it is a personal preference. If you like to have different activities to do onboard and different restaurants to eat at, an ocean cruise might be the one for you. But if you don’t prefer the crowds and you are up for a more intimate and social atmosphere on board, go for the river cruise option.

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The Cabins

Proportional to the size of the ship, ocean ships have bigger cabins than river ships do. Ocean ships have different accommodation options for you to choose from. You can even get whole suits on board. But, what they lack in size, river cabins make up in quality. Merely all river cabins face the water itself, something that isn’t so common on ocean ships.

River ship architects are becoming more and more creative each day, adding panoramic views with ceiling to floor windows or balconies to the rooms. If you are searching for a trip that has a more romantic feel to it, then a river cruise is definitely your better option. But if you are going on the trip with multiple other people, and you want more room for each person to relax, then an ocean cruise will do.  

ocean cruise vs river cruise cabins
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Ocean Cruise vs River Cruise Food

If you like to have a different culinary experience every night, then a river cruise is definitely not for you. Because people are so into trying out different foods, there are even special culinary cruises nowadays. Due to the size of the ship and the different and more laid-back atmosphere, river ships usually have only one restaurant that serves several kinds of food. All of the three main meals in the day are usually served as a buffet. It is a repetitive way to have your meals and can be boring after a couple of days.

These days though, river ships are trying to make up for it by introducing more private dining options, like room service, but it fails to compare to the glitz and the glamour of the fine dining that mega ocean cruisers offer. 

Of course, if you choose to go on a private river cruise that won’t be the case. You can even have a private chef that will cook whatever you want. Or multiple chefs in rotations. But if for some reason you don’t want to go on a private river cruise but you still want fine dining on board, go for the ocean cruise option. Every ocean cruise ship has a ton of different dining venues that you can try out, offering all sorts of cuisines and dining options.

The Entertainment

Maybe the perfect question to ask yourself in this situation is – do you prefer an activity-packed and fun holiday or a relaxed and comfortable trip?   

It’s no secret that ocean cruises are one of the most fun trips that you can take. If you like karaoke, parties with famous DJs, theater, and things like theme parks and game nights then you will love an ocean cruise holiday. Ocean cruise organizers go out of their way when it comes to entertainment. Often, entertainment is the key main element that potential cruisers look at while deciding on which ocean cruise to go.

You won’t find any of that on a river cruise. Although in recent years, river cruises started to book local lounge singers and piano players, they are simply just an accessory to the calmer atmosphere you will encounter on a river cruise ship. Also, while on a river cruise you get the chance to experience different night activities that the location offers, like visiting bars and restaurants.

The Itinerary 

Being on an ocean cruise is like a mix of two worlds. In one, you spend your onboard sea days sunbathing on the main docks, in the other you experience different land locations. That is not the case with river cruises though. On a river cruise, the main and only attractions are the shore excursions. The whole trip is packed with back-to-back scheduled shore tours, due to the closeness of the location that you are visiting.

If you want a day or two between locations to recharge your batteries and chill by the pool then you are the ultimate ocean cruiser. You can have both an adventure and a vacation on the same trip. If not, and you want a trip where you are always on the go, go for the river cruise option.

It is also important to mention the cultural diversity of the locations. On an ocean cruise, you can visit different countries, different time zones, and different continents even. But if you want to explore in more detail one culture, a river cruise will do exactly that.


If you are planning a cruise with small children, up to the age of 12, your safest choice is an ocean cruise. Ocean cruise boats have so many different things that kids find enjoyable. There are ocean cruise boats out there with multiple theme parks, movie theatres, and out-of-this-world playgrounds. There are also daycare centres and available nannies on board. The ship can be huge and that can be a potentially dangerous “run and hide” situation but there are tracking devices for kids that will let you know their exact position at all times. The ships are packed with lifeguards wherever there are pools so you won’t need to worry about your kid’s safety. 

River cruises aren’t really made to be suitable for kids, at least not yet. There aren’t nannies available or big swimming pools for the kids to enjoy. If you decide on a private river cruise, you can have the option of a nanny and the kids will be free to run through the boat as if it was your own back backyard. 

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Hello! My name is Erin, the lady behind Curiously Erin. After more than 10 years of travelling and working abroad, I wanted to create a platform where I could share my stories and travels. My goal is to help you live the life you desire and inspire you to travel more.

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