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  • Starr Wlodarski

The Great Debate: Ocean Cruises vs. River Cruises - Which Offers the Ultimate Experience

When it comes to taking a cruise on river or ocean, it’s pretty tough to go wrong. Both offer incredible views, luxurious amenities, and the opportunity to explore interesting ports.

But each one comes with its own unique perks and depending on your specific needs for your next trip, you might find that one is a slightly better fit than the other. So what are the major differences?

One big difference can be summed up in one word: intimacy. River cruises tend to be much smaller (190 max vs. up to 6,200 on the largest ocean cruises), and as a result, you’re much more likely to be interacting with other passengers and crew members.

That smaller scale translates to all areas of the river cruise. You dine on a regular schedule at tables with other passengers (wine is included in the price of the cruise). Instead of 50 different things to do on board, amenities tend to be more modest with river cruises — think libraries, a workout room, cultural programs, and free Wifi vs. ten kids’ playrooms, glitzy Broadway shows, and a skydiving simulator. There tend to be fewer kids on river cruises, making them popular for couples seeking quiet and relaxed time together. But there are family specific river cruise programs.

You stop almost every day at a new port with river cruises, often for walking tours through quaint towns with little tourist traffic, and you’re always in view of land. With ocean cruises, you can go days without seeing land, and ports of call and excursions tend to be farther away from the port. With a river cruise you are in the heart of the destination.

Because of their larger size, ocean cruises offer plenty of options for many ages, from young kids to octogenarians, and they are often more able to accommodate a wide variety of special health needs. For this reason, they tend to make the best option for multi-generational family gatherings that include young children or travelers with mobility issues. Very easy to do 15,000+ steps per day when on a river cruise.

When you’re getting ready to plan your next on-the-water trip, here are a few questions to consider:

1. How many people are traveling? What are their ages?

2. What time of the year do you want to travel?

3. Do you need the amenities of a large ship — spas, gyms, a dozen restaurants, and many activities? Or are you looking for something calmer, more intimate and easy-paced?

4. Are you seeking authentic experiences to sample the areas culture and cuisine. Or do you prefer more familiar settings?

You may find that both river and ocean cruises are to your liking. And that's perfectly fine! It all depends on what you want to see and experience for one cruise or another. These are not opposing venues. They complement your desire to see the world from the vantage of luxury cruising.

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