Ocean VS. River Cruising: Navigating Six Major Differences

Ocean cruise or river cruise – which one is right for you? If you’re not sure, read on. CAA Travel breaks it down for you!

by Mary Wimmer


Ocean or river cruise – which one should you take? To answer that question, it’s important to understand the differences, which might not seem so obvious at first.

Choosing the right cruise style can make the difference between a ho-hum holiday and the perfect vacation. Read on to discover the best cruise for you!

Six Major Differences Between Ocean and River Cruising


  1. Size

    Expect smaller ships – and less passengers – on a river cruise. Ships must be small to sail narrow rivers and fit into ports built along riverbanks. On a river cruise, you’ll enjoy a ship with a cozy 200 passengers, or so, while ocean cruises can accommodate thousands.

  2. Amenities

    Despite their smaller ship size, you’ll never go without on a river cruise. These compact ships come tricked out with restaurants, bars, and viewing decks. (Viking Longships even offer staterooms with full-size verandas – the largest suites on Europe’s rivers!) But when it comes to offering certain shared amenities, ocean cruise1-liners simply cannot be beat. Only on an ocean-liner can you find mega-pool complexes, a slew of spa treatments, theatres and live entertainment venues, themed fun zones, and even shopping streets. In fact, many of the world’s biggest cruise-ships have become destinations to experience in themselves!

  3. Entertainment

    Evening entertainment on a smaller river-cruise ship often features local musicians and unique performances. On select Holland America Line cruises, you’ll get your toes tapping to 50 years of chart-topping hits at their Billboard Onboard show – a distinctive partnership between the cruise line and the global music brand. Meanwhile, ocean-liners offer a variety of live performances to suit different tastes (sometimes on the same night!), in addition to a choice of nightclubs, bars, casinos, and live performances.

  4. Dining

    If you’re looking for a selection of restaurants or have fussy eaters in your family, then an ocean cruise may be a better bet. These larger ships offer a range of restaurants and cuisines from around the world, accommodating even the pickiest of eaters. On a smaller river cruise, one or two restaurants tend to be the norm, with lighter meals and snacks on offer between meal times in a lounge or other common area. Aboard AmaWaterways, passengers are also offered the Chef's Table, an alternative and still complimentary experience, in an intimate dining room overlooking the river.

  5. Passengers

    River cruise passengers tend to be a bit older, educated travellers looking for cultural enrichment and relaxation; although many river cruise operators are seeing an uptick in younger, culturally-minded travelers. That said, you won’t find too much late-night partying on a river cruise or families with young children. Ocean cruise ships are more popular with young adults and families because they offer more options for entertainment and dining.

  6. Pricing

    River cruises tend to be a little more expensive than ocean cruising, but also offer more inclusions and other perks. Shore excursions are generally included on river cruises (with premium shore excursions for a fee), but often are not included with base-fare ocean cruise packages.


Don’t forget to book your winter escape early to save! Check out some hot family vacations, romantic getaways, and sunny escapes here. And whether an ocean or river cruise floats your boat, be sure to call your CAA Travel Consultant at 1-800-267-8713 or visit your nearest CAA Travel store to get the best deals and expert travel planning advice.