Differences Between River and Sea Cruises

If you’re planning a cruise vacation, but are unsure of whether to book a river or sea cruise, let us help you out. Here are five differences between river and sea cruises.


River Cruises: Typically, river cruise ships are smaller, accommodating 200 passengers or less. This means more individualized attention, more intimate dining areas and a better chance to socialize with other passengers. Since riverboats must pass under low lying bridges; most ships are no more than three decks high.

Ocean Cruises: The average ocean cruise ship carries 3500 guests, but some of the larger vessels hold nearly 6,000 passengers. This often means crowded common areas, more people running through the ship and a higher crew to guest ratio, with the exception being boutique luxury liners which cap at 700 guests. You will find more swimming pools and activities, such as rock-climbing walls, water parks, and slides, as well as larger scale Broadway productions on large cruising vessels.


River: River cruises typically attract more mature passengers, 50 years or older. Most people traveling on river cruises are worldly and well educated. There are often lectures, seminars, and roundtables with experts offering insight and knowledge on destinations.

Ocean: Ocean cruises are an excellent choice for multigenerational families, middle-aged guests, and young couples. With plenty of onboard activities, entertainment and nightlife, there is always something to do. Childcare and kids’ clubs offer parents some alone time, while expansive staterooms and suites give everyone a little more space.

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River: River cruises tend to be very culture based, diving deep into the customs and history of the local ports. Curated itineraries may include a shopping trip to the local farmers market with the ship’s chef; dinner at a local abbey or palace; and even exclusive concerts or performances just for your group. You’ll visit an array of UNESCO World Heritage sites in ports like Strasbourg, France, and Prague, and along the way take in the beautiful scenery of charming villages and castles dotted along the river.

Ocean: With many more options in terms of destinations, you can visit remote islands and unexpected corners of the world. From Antarctic expedition cruises to tropical island getaways, there’s something to appeal to every type of traveler. You’ll also have at sea days to enjoy the many activities and amenities onboard the ship. And while river cruises pull right into the port, ocean cruises may use tenders to transport passengers to shore.


River: Perfect for the epicurean adventurer, river cruises focus on regional cuisine often prepared from fresh ingredients in ports and travelers are expected to eat certain dining times.

Ocean: From buffets to room service, there is something for everyone, even the pickiest eaters. If you’re traveling with small children, ocean ships offer more flexibility as far as dining times and selections. If you are looking for a more intimate atmosphere with a gastronomy of culinary creations, luxury liners boast several award-winning restaurants.


River: Local talent is brought on board for performance that may include ritualistic dances, music or even cultural programs creating an immersive experience into the culture of the port city. Entertainment is low key, without all the bells and whistles found on ocean ships, but offer immersive experiences into the worlds you are exploring.

Ocean: At sea, entertainment ranges from Broadway-style shows to piano lounges. Kids can enjoy specific games and actives made just for them in the kid’s club, and teens have dance nights, game rooms and activities.

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