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River or ocean cruise: Which one is right for you?

When it comes to river or ocean cruises, there is no clear winner. But there is one that will best suit your travel preferences.  

Amidst the plethora of cruising options, choosing between an ocean and a river cruise can be overwhelming. A recent CAA study from January to April 2023 highlighted an increasing trend in this type of vacation, with one in three travellers booking a cruise with a CAA Travel Consultant.  

No wonder they are so popular; cruises are like a floating hotel where you wake up at a new location each morning. They are an effortless vacation, where you can often visit multiple destinations in one trip. 

But what sets these two types of cruises apart, and how can you decide which is best suited for your travel aspirations? The main distinction lies in their size and the terrain they cover. Ocean cruises operate on larger vessels designed for vast waters, offering a more comprehensive range of onboard activities and dining choices. River cruises, on the other hand, favour smaller ships capable of navigating inland waterways, reaching less-travelled ports and offering a more intimate feel. 

Benefits of ocean cruises

Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean

Due to the vastness of the ocean cruises, they offer an extensive selection of amenities, entertainment, and restaurants. Onboard, you can enjoy comedy clubs, theatres hosting Broadway-like productions, sports arenas, arcades, multiple swimming pools, gyms, spas, dedicated children’s play areas, and more. Some, like Royal Caribbean Oasis and Icon class ships, offer spectacular ice skating and high diving shows. The numerous offerings make ocean cruises well-suited for families or groups, as there is something to do for different preferences and age groups.   

Additionally, ocean cruises typically boast a more comprehensive array of dining options. In addition to the main dining hall, multiple restaurants cover various cuisines, bars, and cafes, providing a diverse culinary experience you won’t find on river cruises. If the food is one of the most important parts of your trip, an ocean cruise might be right for you. River cruises typically only have up to two dining venues, but they often lack more casual dining options like buffets or comfort food eateries like tacos, burgers and pizza.  

As ocean cruises are more common, there are more options, which means you are more likely to find one departing near you. If you want to skip the expense of flying to your cruise, you could board an ocean cruise by driving to nearby departure ports in Quebec, New York, or a bit further to Orlando.  

Another perk of ocean cruises is their price. They are typically more affordable than river cruises, making them an excellent pick for travellers seeking a budget-friendly vacation. Ocean cruises can have a vast variety of sizes – carrying as little as 149 guests on Windstar’s Wind Spirit, and as many as 7600 guests on Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas. There is an ocean cruise to suit every travel style and budget.

Benefits river cruises


River cruises offer scenic sailing throughout the journey and explore iconic riverways like the Rhine, Mekong, and even the Nile River. Unlike ocean cruises, where much of the sailing occurs at sea, river cruises offer an up-close experience. 

One of the biggest benefits of river cruises is their size. Unlike larger cruise ships, river cruises visit the heart of cities meaning you have more time to explore. For example, on an ocean cruise to Paris, you’ll dock in Le Havre, or when it lists Venice, you’ll actually arrive in Ravenna. You’ll need to pay for a tour to reach either destination, which requires roughly two hours on a coach bus in each direction. While river cruises usually include complimentary excursions at each stop, so there’s no need to budget for daily tours. 

But tours aren’t the only thing included in the price. What sets river cruises apart is they are often all-inclusive, meaning you don’t need to worry about expenses for add-ons. There is no need to buy an expensive alcoholic drink package, as drinks are usually included for lunch, dinner and at certain times in the evening. Plus, there is no need to pay to connect to wi-fi; you’ll have access throughout the ship. 

The fewer passengers onboard, offering a more intimate experience, allowing for a personalized and exclusive experience. It’s a great pick for solo travellers, as you’ll meet the other people on the ship more often, so you’re more likely to make new friendships.  

Moreover, many cruise lines offer themed cruises catering to various interests such as wine, Christmas markets, and tulip time, enriching the experience with tailored activities and excursions. 

Start planning your cruise

Are you ready to plan your cruise? We recommend you book an appointment with a CAA Travel Consultant, who will narrow down which cruises best suit you. Many have sailed on different cruises lines and can share with you their first-hand experience. 

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