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Ocean vs. River Cruising 

Ocean Cruising vs River Cruising

Written By: Tom Ogg



Probably the best way to describe a river cruise is to compare it with an ocean cruise to see the differences. While river cruises are not for everyone, neither are ocean going cruises. Having done hundreds of ocean going cruises from budget to luxury and several river cruises, I will do my best to accentuate the difference in a way that you can relate the differences to your clients. 


Getting to Your Cruise 

Most ocean going cruises depart from major port cities around the world. They generally enjoy competitive airfares and easy access. 


River cruises, on the other hand may require travel from a hub airport to meet the point of departure. As an example, we took a wine cruise on Avalon Waterways, flew into Nice for a couple days and then transferred from Nice to Arles to board the cruise. We then disembarked quite a distance south of Paris and took a motor coach into Paris. This kind of itinerary is not unusual with a river cruise. 



Most ocean going cruises other than the premium plus and luxury market lines have challenging embarkation processes. Long lines, long waits and irritating situations. I remember one Carnival cruise where we sat in San Diego for hour after hour waiting to catch a motor coach to Ensenada to board the ship. We arrived at the requested time of noon, finally boarded a motor coach around 6pm and arrived at the ship after 9pm. It was brutal. 


River cruises on the other hand, know you are coming and boom, you are led to your accommodations. Far superior to an ocean going cruise. 



River cruise cabins tend to be a tad smaller than their ocean going competition. There are no real balconied cabins, but some of the most recent ships have sliding windows that open the cabin up to the outside and resemble balconies. There are usually at least 2 suites on a river cruise that are larger and more sumptuous than the rest of the cabins. 


They all offer comfortable bedding, a bathroom, chairs and a view (there are no inside cabins on river cruises). For the most part, cabin sizes tend to be found 150 to 170 square feet. However, be sure to check the brochure to verify the cabin size as there are some older ships where cabins might drop to 100 square feet, or less. 



Dining on a modern mass-market ocean cruise might include a dozen dining venues, or more. There is always a large buffet serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and early morning and late night snacks. 


A river cruise generally has one main dining venue and most of the time a second dining venue in the aft lounge. While the food is generally excellent, your clients will not find the multitude of dining options that they will on an ocean going cruise. 



Entertainment on an ocean going cruise generally has Broadway style productions, discos, piano bars, lounge acts pool parties and lots more. 


On a river cruise, the entertainment is usually a cultural performance by locals in the port that you are visiting. The crew will generally put on a show of some type and there may be an entertainer in the lounge on some evenings. 



Ocean cruises generally cruise during the night and are in port during the days. On sea days there is little to see other than an expanse of ocean. The days are focused on activities aboard the ship. 


River cruises have the perfect blend of cruising and ports. River cruising is all about taking in the sights along the river and exploring fascinating cities and villages while in port. It is not uncommon to visit more than one port a day on a river cruise with cruising the river and its ambiance midday. 


Passenger Load 

Ocean going cruises have something for everyone and as a result also has a very diverse passenger load. 


River cruises tend to draw an older crowd that are well traveled and sophisticated. While the trend is towards expanding the market to include multi generational and millennial channels, for the most part look for an older (55+) passenger load on a river cruise. 


Ports and Shore Excursions 

Ocean cruises tend to cruise thousands of miles and visit several different countries or islands (or both) during a typical cruise. They port in harbors that accept ships of their size or tender into port from an anchored position. In both cases it takes time to get to the actual destination. The shore excursions are varied and abundant, as well as pricy. 


River cruises, on the other hand dock right in the heart of the city or village they are visiting, usually within easy walking distance to the epicenter of the port. Disembarking in a port is as easy as walking off the boat. Virtually all river cruises also include a walking tour of each port included in the price of the cruise itself. But, there may be an occasional additional shore excursion for an extra fee made available on a river cruise.  



Ocean going cruises cover the world and cruise to ports world wide. 


River cruises don’t cruise TO anywhere, they cruise IN destinations. This is a huge difference. River cruises are more like escorted motor coach tours that explore destinations only you are on a boat enjoying a 360 degree view of the area, not a motor coach stretching to see out of your window. Just about everywhere there is a navigable river, there is a river cruise exploring its region. 



Debarkation on a mass market cruise is not enjoyable. First you have to pack your luggage the night before debarkation so the crew can pick it up then you have to get out of your cabin early and take your carry on luggage to one of the designated areas of the ship and wait to you are called by number to debark. While you are waiting you can go over your lengthy charges made during the cruise. If you find an error, you have to go to the front desk and wait in a line to eventually talk to someone about it. Then, when your number is finally called to debark the ship, you enter the luggage pick up area for your number and there are hundreds of bags to sort through to find yours. Eventually you find your luggage and make your way to your transportation to the airport. Overall, in my opinion the debarkation process is a horrible way to end a cruise. 


On a river cruise, you wake up enjoy breakfast and debark the ship. No lines, no hassle.