By Danny Almon, Travel Columnist
There are lots of things to consider…
Cost: If comparing a mass market cruise (Carnival, RCCL, Princess, etc.) then no question, an ocean cruise is less expensive. But a high-end ocean cruise like Viking, Scenic or Emerald or any other yachting-style cruise would be of comparable cost to a river cruise (starting at as low as $3000 pp). Mass market ocean cruises can start for as little as $995 pp, though the average price might be closer to $1495 pp. This does not include flights or excursions or drinks or specialty dining options, all of which cost extra.
Size: Ocean cruises can have onboard as many as 5,000 people, which is the size of a small town! This is reflected in the crowds one encounters when offboarding (and on-boarding the ship) on excursions: lots of waiting time for guests. For ports with no access to docking, tenders (small boats) must take passengers to/from excursions. And when 3 or 4 cruise ships are in port at the same time, the numbers can overwhelm some of the port cities, especially in Alaska. River cruises, with usually no more than two hundred guests, dock in the centre of towns and cities and disembarkation is a matter of minutes and you are in the heart of a town, 100s of years old.
On-board entertainment: Ocean cruises, because of their size, win handsdown on this item. From Broadwaystyle shows several times a week, to loads of niche solo entertainment, to Casinos, to on-deck entertainment, to sporting and play opportunities, ocean cruise ships have something to do pretty well every hour of every day and dining options are also available virtually any time you want. River cruises, because of their smaller size, have few entertainment options: usually some small local talented musical groups for evening entertainment, guest lecturers talking about upcoming excursions. Good entertainment but not like a Broadway show!
Scenery: River cruises have something to see while onboard virtually every minute of cruising: the shoreline is often only meters away. Ocean cruising usually has something to see only when visiting ports.
Excursions: A river cruise has a high-end excursion included each day whereas ocean cruises charge significant prices for their daily in-port excursions. One cruise around the UK doubled the cost of our cruise from about $1200 to about $2400 pp with a multitude of excursion costs.
Food quality: This one is a toss-up. River cruises are known for their high-quality dining often focusing on regional cuisine as they sail through different countries. Most river cruise ships have one, perhaps two, restaurants. Ocean cruises, however, have as many as a dozen restaurants on board, including high-priced extra cost specialty restaurants. Food quality is similar on both.
Education vs fun: River cruises, using waterways that have been in existence for hundreds if not thousands of years (the Nile), have a major historical factor. If you are interested in history, virtually any river cruise will fulfill this desire. Ocean cruises have a mix of history (depending on itinerary – Mediterranean, for example) but there is more emphasis on “fun.”
I hope some of these comparisons help you to make up your mind – it is not a question of one being better than the other: it is about what interests you more.
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