Cruises are a popular way to travel and see new destinations. But should you choose an ocean cruise that sails the seas or a river cruise that navigates inland waterways? Here’s a look at the key differences between these two types of cruises to help you decide which is right for your next vacation.


Ocean cruises travel to a variety of destinations across the globe. Popular itineraries include the Caribbean, Alaska, Mediterranean, and transatlantic crossings. The major cruise lines sail all over the world, so you can typically find a cruise to any destination you desire.

River cruises focus on inland waterways, so the ports of call are limited to those accessible by river. Popular rivers for cruising include the Danube, Rhine, Seine, Nile, and Amazon. River cruises offer a more intimate view of destinations as you dock right in the heart of cities and towns along the river.

Size of Ships

Ocean cruise ships are essentially floating cities with passenger capacities in the thousands. They have amenities like casinos, multiple dining rooms, theaters, and fitness centers. River cruise ships are much smaller, typically carrying 100-200 passengers. Their smaller size allows them to dock at smaller ports and navigate narrow waterways.


Both cruise types include shore excursions at ports of call. Ocean cruise excursions usually involve bus trips to key sites farther inland. River cruises deliver sightseeing opportunities right off the ship, often with walking tours of riverside towns and cities. River cruises also usually stay docked at ports overnight, allowing for evening explorations.

Pace and Atmosphere

Ocean cruises have a lively, frenetic pace with entertainment and activities around the clock. River cruises have a more relaxing pace with less structured time on the ship. The atmosphere is low-key with smaller crowds. This allows for more meaningful cultural immersion.


Ocean cruises can provide great value, especially for the amenities offered. River cruises come at a premium price tag due to their small size and the logistics of inland waterways. However, river cruises include most shore excursions in the fare while ocean cruises charge extra for them.

When deciding between an ocean or river cruise, consider your destinations of interest, preferred pace, ship size preference, and budget. This will help determine which style of cruise is the better choice for your ideal vacation at sea.

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