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5 Main Differences Between Ocean and River Cruises

More than five years ago, Virtuoso reported on the splash that river cruising was making on the travel industry. In the years since, it’s proven to be more than a fad, trending up every year since. In fact, river cruising is outpacing ocean cruising in popularity, and travel companies are updating their ships and itineraries to meet this demand. How does cruising compare on these vastly different vessels? 

1. Size and Number of Passengers
Ocean cruise ships dwarf river in size, outnumbering them in passengers by a few thousand to just under a couple hundred. Viking Longships, for example, hold 190 passengers, and Uniworld’s capacity is 130. As a result,  boarding and disembarking a river cruise ship is a much easier process than doing so on an ocean cruise ship. There are far fewer passengers, which means no waiting in long lines to walk on and off the ship. One similarity is age demographic. Once dominated by senior travelers, the average age of river cruise passengers is now 40 and older. River cruises are also accommodating family travel, catering to celebratory events that recognize milestones like family reunions, anniversaries, weddings, and more.  

2. Price and Destinations
Ocean cruises run cheaper than river, typically starting at $100 per person per day, plus extras like excursions besides onboard dining and entertainment. River cruises start at $250 per person per day and generally include Wi-Fi, meals, alcohol, and most excursions.

The range of ocean cruising destinations is wide, from major ports of call in the Carribbean and Europe to remote islands like Tahiti and distant locations such as the North Pole region. River cruises, once centered on Europe, now sail to more exotic destinations and inland cities and towns. For example, Aqua Expeditions offers cruises along the Amazon River in Peru and the Mekong River from southern Vietnam to Cambodia. Viking River Cruises offers trips to Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River, China’s Yangtze River, and cruises along Egypt’s Nile between Luxor and Aswan. 

3. Amenities and Entertainment
This is one of the most noticeable differences between the two types of cruising. Ocean cruise ships have scaled entertainment offerings to new heights by bringing land entertainment to sea like water parks, rock climbing, mini golf, cigar bars, ice rinks, 4-D cinemas, and skydive simulators. River ships have lower key options, including libraries, sundecks, small fitness centers, 24-hour coffee bars, and free Wi-Fi. Compared to ocean liners, you won’t find pools on most river cruise ships. 

4. Dining Options
Ocean cruises can accommodate thousands of passengers and are outfitted with several dining rooms, different seatings, and many menus. Wine typically costs extra with the exception of luxury cruise lines. Conversely, river vessels offer one to two restaurants with one dining room and one seating--wine included--as well as daily multi-course menus. Viking River Cruises give passengers the choice of dining indoors or outdoors while AmWaterways offers the Chef’s Table dining experiences that treats passengers to an intimate aft dining room with views of the river.  

5. Other Benefits 
Due to their smaller sizes, river ships can dock in the middle of cities, offering easy access to sightseeing cutting out extra time to get to attractions. Additionally--and this is a big one--rivers offer smoother sailing, virtually eliminating motion sickness.



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