The Big Cruise Question: Ocean or River Sailing?

Sep 15, 2019

Cruise holidays are like no other: sail the world's waterways and oceans and visit multiple towns, cities and countries without the bother of an airport line or traffic -- better yet, you only have to unpack once. But, how do you choose between a river or ocean adventure when there are so many itineraries to consider? With the help of Gate 1 Travel, we have investigated the five key differences between ocean and river cruising to help you decide which suits your next dream holiday.

1. The Ships: Boutique Cruises vs the Resorts of the Sea 

Arguably the most important aspect of choosing your next cruise holiday is the ship. Designed to fit below low bridges and narrow waterways, river vessels are much smaller than ocean liners with many ships only hosting up to 140 passengers on board. That said, while river vessels may be smaller, their size does not compromise the experience. Many ships such as the Monarch Princess are big enough to host a number of facilities. This first-class vessel features 67 spacious outside cabins and two suites, a restaurant, sundeck with jacuzzi, fitness centre and a bar and lounge. You can board the Monarch Princess (or a number of Gate 1 Travel's other deluxe comfortable ships) and sail the major European rivers including the Danube, Rhine, Main, Moselle and Russian Waterways in absolute luxury and style. 


Ocean liners are magnificent in size and designed to entertain any type of traveller - they are, quite literally, the resorts of the sea. With the capability to hold up to 3,000 passengers, many of the ships boast water parks and swimming pools, extravagant entertainment options, and a bunch of resort-like features including casinos, mini-golf courses, exhilarating rides, ice skating rinks plus an abundance of restaurants. Ocean liners are made to cover more ground, which means a fair amount of time will be spend out at sea - your holiday is as much onboard as it is exploring port side.   

2. Linger for Longer at River Ports or Sample a Plethora of Countries in One Go

River cruising allows you to spend longer exploring land side as the ships often dock right in the heart of small towns and cities. The bucket list-worthy rivers of the world pass through some of Europe's iconic countries;  experience the Nijmegen, the oldest town in the Netherlands known for its beautifully-crafted historic buildings and wine village, sail through the famed Iron Gates, flanked by the Carpathian and Balkan mountain ranges in Romania, marvel at the ancient stone bridges and churches in Regensburg or sample vodka on the river banks of Russia. To encompass as much as possible you can sail through Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Germany and Holland on a 25-day European River Cruise

Outside of Europe, The Yangzte River in China is a place not to be missed with its rocky cliffs housing weathered red pagodas and temples inspired by mountains. Each morning you'll be greeted with emerald green vistas and towering limestone cliffs while cruising: build your itinerary with stays in Shanghai and Beijing to experience all of China. Alternatively, Egypt's Nile River offers an experience second to none with port stops that will take you to age-old Egyptian Temples built during the Ptolemaic times, the UNESCO-listed Valley of the Kings, the necropolis of Thebes and tombs of ancient Egypt’s rulers and the original wall paintings of stars, planets, and symbols of the Roman zodiac in the Temple of Hathor. 

If river cruises allow you to spend more time on land, ocean cruising often offers a broader range of places to explore en route. Whether you're ticking off multiple countries throughout the Mediterranean, traversing glacier-filled Arctic waters or island-hopping in the Aegean Sea, ocean cruising offers something for everyone. With more days spent at sea, the ships are your playground between each country and therefore the itineraries a little more leisurely. If wildlife spotting, icy waters and gleaming glaciers are your thing, then a trip through Alaska needs to be part of your next trip. Or consider a once-in-a-lifetime experience sailing through the world's frozen continent, Antarctica, where there is no set itinerary and the natural elements are your guide. If the idyllic Greek Islands and the ancient history of Turkey are calling your name, then the Celestyal Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines itineraries are for you, with incredible itineraries to suit. 

3. Flexible Itineraries vs All-Inclusive- Leave-Your-Wallet-At-Home Holidays 

Because river cruises differ from ocean cruises significantly when it comes to time spent at each destination, they provide a greater opportunity for self-discovery - and for flexible itineraries. When river vessels dock at a small town or even a big city, there is ample opportunity for you to come and go as you please, allowing you to spend more hours on land than you would with an ocean liner. Onboard the MS A'Sara on the Nile you can choose to book optional tours such as an excursion to Dendera Temple, one of the best-preserved temple complexes in Egypt, or you can simply laze in the swimming pool on the ships sun deck or head off exploring at your own pace.
Ocean cruising tends to have a more inclusive approach to holidays where most of your needs are included in the upfront price -- so you can leave your wallet at home. With meals, entertainment and drinks already paid for, all you need to do is enjoy your holiday while at sea. Onboard ships such as the Norwegian Epic, offer award-winning entertainment (winner of the 'Best Cruise Ship Entertainment' by Frommer’s) with acrobatic performances and Broadway shows as well as a wide variety of culinary delights to please every palate -- all included in the cost. 

4. A Different Bedroom View Every Day: Changing Landscapes vs Ocean Views

Outside cabins, French Balcony cabins, Inside cabins, suites, Studio cabins - the names of room types on river and ocean cruises can be confusing. Generally, river vessels all have bedroom views overlooking the passing historic landscapes either through a window in an Outside cabin or a room with a French Balcony and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. The Monarch Empress that sails The Danube River has three decks to choose from. The lower deck (Duchess Deck) allows water level views while the highest deck has plenty of natural light filtering in through panoramic sliding doors and vast views of castles, vineyards, and charming villages.
One of the most magical experiences at sea is viewing the endless indigo ocean stretch out to the horizon. There are plenty of cabin types where you can see this from your room every single morning such as The Haven Courtyard Penthouse with Balcony on the Norwegian Epic or from Family Balcony cabins. If you are budget-conscious and would rather see the ocean and occasional glimpse of landmasses from the main areas of the ship, a comfortable Inside cabin is for you.  

5. Who You'll Be Cruising With

Multi-generational travel is on the rise and there is no better way to spend time with your family than on an ocean cruise. Literally set up to cater for passengers of all ages and traveller types, ocean liners come with luxury spa experiences, adults-only areas, thrilling waterparks and rides for adrenaline junkies, an array of eateries for culinary crusaders, kids clubs and more.  

Since river cruises are smaller and more compact, they are set up for couples and solo travellers rather than young families.  With capacity for a smaller number of passengers, you're more likely to get to know both your fellow passengers and the crew. And, with the focus on cultural experiences, your fellow cruisers are usually affluent couples who enjoy the convenience of unpacking once while also diving deep and exploring at each stop. Many of the lounges are set up for low-key mingling and nights listening to live musical performances. 


No matter what cruise you choose, Gate 1 Travel has a holiday and itinerary to suit. Gate 1 Travel offers a wide variety of European river cruise itineraries ranging from nine to 25 days, which can be used to complement existing travel plans or encompass your entire holiday. With ocean cruise holidays available in Alaska, Antarctica, and the Mediterranean, Gate 1 Travel's experienced tour and cruise agents can help you book the best cruise for you. What are you waiting for?

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