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Ocean cruising vs. River cruising: How different are they?

Cruise Advice

Luxury ocean cruisers are often somewhat anxious about making the switch to river, and whether it will suit their needs. And there is no doubt that if you are accustomed to huge resort ships with multiple facilities and lots of entertainment, the fact that there is a word in common, 'cruise', is barely relevant.

But if you are accustomed to smaller ships and motivated by port intensive itineraries, with plenty of time ashore to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of a country, the leap to river could feel completely seamless. Here we look at various aspects of your holiday experience to explore whether river cruising is right for you...


River cruise vessel accommodation is de facto smaller, so if you are accustomed to huge suites, you will find your needs hard to replicate. On the other hand, your river cruise will probably only last seven days, the dress code is relaxed, and you are going to be ashore a lot of the time, so you will probably be able to compromise happily so long as your bed is comfortable, your bathroom well designed, and your view fantastic.

AmaMagna - Grand Suite


Check the details with us - in the river cruise sector, premium pricing reflects good local produce, with plenty of à la minute dishes, as well as speciality restaurants. Expect some buffet style options at breakfast and lunch. The very nature of small ships is that menus are a little more limited. And some river vessels operate quite strict dining times, so if you want the freedom to come and go as you please, check this is available.


The crew-to-passenger ratio on river vessels is somewhat lower than on ocean ships, so you will often see crew members multi-tasking as they move from one department to another. The big plus for you is that they are likely to be local, passionate about their country, and able to give you plenty of fascinating insight into what it is like to live in the region.

Health and wellness

If you need a huge spa and gym, river cruising is probably not for you. But if you are simply looking for a regular massage and a way to keep fit, there are vessels with good facilities on board, and many more which carry bicycles to explore, and include great hiking excursions as part of the shore excursion programme. Morning yoga on deck is quite a treat, and some vessels have small pools.

Cycling on an AmaWaterways river cruise

Resort facilities

No casino, no kids clubs, no climbing walls. Think of your river cruise vessel as your bijou hotel, taking you easily from city to village and from vineyard to castle. It's all about feeling nurtured on board and setting forth for an exciting time ashore.


Many of the shore excursions are likely to be included, and look out for those which you simply couldn't do independently to create a unique and very special holiday. Exclusive access to galleries or stately homes is not unusual, as well as plenty of wine and food related experiences. If you like to explore independently, you can usually simply stroll ashore to be in the heart of the action.

Uniworld shore excursion in Vienna


As a rule, like expedition cruising, a river cruise is busy, and people often report back that they were 'glad to get home for a rest'. Of course you can choose to kick back and relax on board, but those shoreside opportunities tend to be irresistible, so think of this as a stimulating city break type trip, and soak it all up. And remember, unlike a multi-centre coach tour, you unpack just the once, so you don't spend the week living out of a suitcase.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina

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