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River Cruising vs Ocean Cruising

04 May 2018 | by Helen Williams

The majority of cruisers certainly have their favourite between river and ocean cruising, and in fact, it can be quite difficult to convert people after they’ve been on just a few of the same kind. Both types can offer some incredible holiday opportunities, though of course there are a number of considerable differences.

Onboard Atmosphere

Most ocean cruise liners tend to be of considerable size, and have a casual and fun atmosphere. Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas for example can accommodate almost 7,000 people, meaning the ambience is vibrant and full of excitement, with new people around every corner and plenty of new things to experience. On a river cruise ship the mood is generally calmer. On average you’ll find between just 50 and 150 guests, meaning the atmosphere is more personal and many would argue more sociable.


When considering a cruise holiday, dining options are often at the forefront of concerns. With ocean cruising there are usually a great number of restaurants to choose from, with everything from casual buffets and poolside snacks, to the sophisticated Chef’s Tables with lines like Princess Cruises and Carnival. On a river cruise there is usually just one restaurant, however some lines including Crystal River Cruises offer two or three. Even though there is less choice, the dining on a river cruise ship can be absolutely immaculate. You’ll be astonished at the cuisine that can be created for such a number of guests, especially considering the size of the ship.


Many cruisers also consider the entertainment opportunities to be an important aspect. These too can differ vastly from ocean to river cruise ships. Ocean cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line pride themselves on their fabulous Broadway-like productions, and innovative music, talent, and dance shows. While it’s unlikely that you’ll find this kind of elaborate entertainment on a river cruise ship, there are often more intimate performances. Many river cruise lines will invite local performers onboard to help immerse cruisers into the local culture.


One prime argument for advocates of river cruising is the destinations. Unlike an ocean cruise, river cruise itineraries tend to include a number of new places – with as many as 6 countries in just a 7 night cruise with AmaWaterways. This is fantastic for those who want to see as many new places as possible, however if you are one to enjoy the sea days, and prefer time to relax rather than time to venture out exploring, an ocean cruise could be the better option. In fact many cruisers select a Transatlantic voyage (which includes several consecutive sea days) for this very reason.

Onboard Activities

In addition to dining and entertainment, when it comes to the ship’s features the onboard activities can also be a make or break factor for some cruisers. With things like surf-simulators, ice-skating rinks, race tracks, and rock-climbing walls, ocean cruise lines simply have much more an offer. For this reason an ocean cruise is often the more suitable option for a family holiday. On a river cruise ship there is much less in the way of onboard activities. While you’ll often find a gym and spa facilities, and sometimes a plunge pool, there is very little in the way of things to do for the kids.

The differences between ocean and river cruising are certainly considerable, with both having merits and drawbacks depending on your outlook. It’s important to think about who you’ll be holidaying with, and just what you’re looking for in a cruise, but don't forget that many ocean cruise lines also offer their same fantastic experiences on the river. Cruise lines such as Thomson-Marella operate itineraries on the waterways of Europe with TUI River Cruises, ensuring you can enjoy your favourite cruise line on a smaller scale. Talk to our sales team for more advice, and information about all our top cruise deals.

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