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River Cruise vs Ocean Cruise: What's the difference?

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

If you are not an avid cruiser and have never been on a river cruise, I can imagine there a few images that come to mind when you hear the word "cruise." Here's a little list:

  • huge ships with 15-20+ decks

  • people gorging themselves at a buffet

  • warm, sunny destinations, and possibly rough seas

  • hairy chest & sexy leg competitions

  • tiny cabins with no windows

  • pay extra for overpriced tours/excursions

First of all, these things are not necessarily true, even on an ocean cruise. Among ocean cruises, there is something for everyone. Ship capacities range in size from a few hundred to thousands. Vibes range from quiet and sophisticated to loud and raucous. We sometimes think of ocean cruise rates on a per-day basis, and those range from less than $100 per day for a "mass market" party cruise to $1000+ per day for luxury cruises that you might not be aware of. If you think you might enjoy a vacation at sea but don't think they stereotypical cruise is for you, rest assured that there are many options. Contact me or another travel advisor to find the best option for you!


The point of this is to discuss river cruises, though. River cruises and ocean cruises have a few things in common. They are both floating vessels that provide accommodations, dining, and entertainment, and they take passengers to a number of ports during the span of a voyage. The negative connotation that some people have with the word "cruise" deters them from even considering a river cruise. Here are a few facts that are very specific to river cruises:

  • Long, narrower ships with 3-4 decks (not 18-20)

  • Typical capacity is around 200 passengers (not 6000)

  • Most cabins have balconies, while some just have a window.

  • Dinners would typically be considered fine dining, although lunch can sometimes be buffet style.

  • The vibe is usually very chill, and evening entertainment can range from local musicians to dancing with a DJ.

  • Most river cruises are on European rivers, although they are also in Africa, Asia, and North & South America.

  • River cruises are usually so smooth that you don't even know the ship is moving.

  • Tours are almost always included in the fare.

River Cruise on the Danube with Sunset
AmaMagna on the Danube

As a traveler, I enjoy it all. I like to go from city to city in Europe, schlepping my suitcase around, traveling on trains, and checking into multiple hotels. That sort of travel is simultaneously invigorating, enriching, exhausting, and liberating. Even the stress of making sure you get on the correct train or the pain of carrying a suitcase around can be seen as fun, at least in retrospect.


There is an alternative, though. A phrase often used about cruises is "you unpack once." River cruise companies (and travel advisors) can make the travel experience completely seamless and as stress-free as possible. You can be greeted at the airport by a representative and escorted directly to the ship, or if you opt for a pre-cruise extension through the cruise line, they would take you to your hotel. If you prefer to be on your own, you and your travel advisor (me?) can select your preferred hotel and any tours that might interest you. Once on board, you unpack and relax, knowing that your accommodations, transportation, and meals are provided for the duration of the cruise. The most stress you should encounter is which entree to have or which tour to take. Often there are three tour options each day, which usually consider different levels of activity. There is always the freedom to not take a tour, if you just want to explore on your own, or even stay on board.



Another thing that I like about river cruises is that they have taken me to places that I probably would not have otherwise visited. When we plan trips to Europe, we usually visit typical highlights, such as Vienna, Paris, Budapest, etc, and possibly something on the outskirts of those cities. If you cruise the Danube, for example, you'll likely visit Vienna and Budapest, but there are spectacular, smaller towns along the way with castles, monasteries, vineyards, and so much. more that likely you would no't see any other way.

Bergen Germany on Rhine River Cruise
Bingen, Germany. For music people, this is where Hildegard was from!

If you are ready for a European journey, an African safari adventure, or a sojourn to Vietnam and Cambodia, but it sounds like a daunting, exhausting task, then we should talk about a river cruise. The price tag can seem high at first glance, but when you consider that it is truly an all-inclusive trip, it is a good value for which you might want to budget.They are typically not a last minute trip, so if you plan 9-12 months, or more, in advance, then you can pay a deposit and make payments or save over time. I highly recommend it, and there are numerous options for different budgets.


Contact me at jonathan@pilkingtontravels.com to start planning!

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