River Cruise vs Ocean Cruise – Which is best for you?

A record numbers of Brits took a cruise in 2015, with both luxury river cruises and ocean cruises proving more popular than ever before. So, if you’re thinking of embarking on a cruise, there are a few things worth bearing in mind to help you plan an unforgettable trip  that’s right up your street.

Let’s take a look at the main differences between taking a river cruise and an ocean cruise.

 1. Cosy or Colossal

An ocean cruise liner in the Caribbean
An ocean cruise liner in the Caribbean.

River cruise boats in Europe are more compact than their ocean-going equivalents, making for a more intimate experience where it’s easy to meet people and make new friends. The size of the ship means that it won’t take long to disembark and that you’re likely to find yourself docking in the heart of a city without waiting for transfers – which frees up more time for exploring!

Ocean cruisers usually spend far more time at sea, so they tend to have larger cabins and a wide variety of facilities and entertainment on board. If you’re looking for pure indulgence then consider the brand new Eclipse, the first luxury cruising yacht from well-known river cruise specialist Scenic, which is modelled on some of the finest hotels in the world.

 2. What’s on board?

The smaller size of river cruisers means you won’t always find cinemas, swimming pools and nightclubs, but there’s still plenty to do. Some have state-of-the-art fitness centres, and many even offer all-inclusive packages that include drinks and shore excursions.

In comparison, the range of activities on some of the bigger ocean-going liners can be dizzying (in a good way!), with mini golf courses to spa treatments and rock-climbing. There are rope courses and circus fun – like the high trapeze on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas – and adrenaline junkies can take part in indoor skydiving. You can even take a stroll through Central Park on MS Oasis of the Seas. On top of this, the number of dining options can be huge.

3. What’s Included?

A river cruise ship sailing the Danube River
A river cruiser sailing the Danube.

River cruise operators like Emerald Waterways and Scenic will typically include meals and a selection of alcoholic and soft drinks, as well as shore excursions from each port as part of an all-inclusive holiday package, meaning it’s unlikely that you’ll receive any expensive surprises.

Ocean cruises can vary a lot as there are different packages to choose from to suit you. Most operators, like P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises, offer full board, half board or all-inclusive trips. Remember though, whether you’re all-inclusive or not, there can be an extra charge for activities like excursions, as well as speciality restaurants and extras like room service. It’s worth setting a little extra money aside, as there are some fantastic experiences to enjoy.

4. What Can You See?

A river cruise ship in Douro Valley, Porutgal
A river cruise in Douro Valley, Portugal.

On any cruise, the scenery depends entirely on which route you choose.
A Transatlantic trip from New York to Southampton, for example, can mean up to seven days at sea with minimal stops. On the other hand there are routes, including many European cruises, which hug the coastline and mean daily stops and a constantly changing landscape.

River cruise destinations like the Danube, which runs through Central and Eastern Europe, and Rhine, which runs through Central and Western Europe, mean daily stops are the norm. Days on the water are rare, with most sailing done late at night so that passengers can make the most of their time onshore.

5. What Excursions Are on Offer?

River cruise sailing through Budapest at night
River cruise sailing through Budapest at night.

River cruise excursions are largely focused on convenient stops and the chance to explore the local area on foot as soon as you reach the shore, unlike ocean liners, whose sheer size can sometimes mean mooring at sea before taking a tender to head ashore.

Again, with the added size of an ocean-going ship, you will get extra variety when it comes to on-board facilities and sometimes even excursions – that can mean anything from water sports and snorkelling, to jeep tours and even helicopter rides. These extras are likely to come at a cost, but every cruise is different, so check with your cruise travel agent before you set off on your adventure.

Published 22nd June 2016

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