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River vs Ocean Cruising
Similarities & Differences

by Linda Coffman


For more than twenty years Mel and I have sailed on hundreds of cruises. Until last month all our voyages were on ocean-going cruise ships. For the first time, we embarked on a different cruise style—a river cruise from Antwerp, Belgium to Amsterdam, the Netherlands aboard Vantage Deluxe World Travel’s new River Splendor.

Our river cruise was a short preview sailing, but it was long enough for us to get a taste of river cruising and to note similarities and differences between it and a typical mainstream ocean cruise. Not surprising, our river cruise included many features we have only found in the past on high end premium or luxury cruise ships.

Similarities Differences
  • On both, you settle into a stateroom & unpack once
  • Both visit a variety of destinations
  • all food & entertainment on board are included
  • Amenities in accommodations are similar, with private baths, storage, toiletries provided
  • There's a gym
  • An Internet center & WiFi are available
  • Both have lounges for relaxation
  • Both have a main dining room
  • There are libraries on both
  • Lecturers give talks about destinations, culture, and topics of interest
  • Good service
  • Both have planned activities, but the program on river cruises might consist of a single page
  • There is a safety briefing before the ship departs the embarkation port
  • River vessels are more compact; their scale is smaller
  • Standard accommodations are smaller on river vessels, but space is used effectively
  • River vessels visit destinations the big cruise ships cannot
  • Shore excursions are included in the fare on river cruises
  • There are no splashy production shows, or theater-style show lounges
  • There are no children's programs or facilities on river vessels
  • River vessels don't generally have pools, spas, beauty shops, or a medical center
  • Internet service is free on river vessels
  • There is no 24-hour food service on river vessels and the menu choices are more limited
  • River cruising is very stable & seasickness worries are nonexistent
  • River vessels have no lifeboats!
While ocean-going ships usually dock at major seaside ports, your river vessel generally docks right in small towns located inland on rivers or waterways. Complimentary guided excursions on river cruises are often walking tours, although you may find yourself taking a coach to a nearby city or village before the walking starts. There are sometimes other for-a-fee excursions offered.

Our river cruise began with a safety meeting that included a demonstration on how to don and secure the life vests located in every stateroom. However, there are no life boats on river vessels as they are always close to land and emergency assistance if it is needed. It was noted that fire is the most serious problem on a river boat (as on an ocean cruise ship) and smoking is limited to only outdoor spaces. Smokers were warned to be careful when extinguishing smoking materials and NOT to throw anything overboard.

As a rule, children are not banned from river cruises, but parents must think carefully about bringing them along. Driven by Baby Boomers, river cruises have boomed in popularity and passengers are older as a rule. Many of them look askance at the presence of young children, although if they are well-behaved that's not a problem if your chosen river travel company allows them.

While our river vessel had no beauty shop or medical center, helpful attendants at the reception desk could arrange for those services to be available ashore when docked.

One thing we noted on our river cruise that would never happen on a large cruise ship was that we were able to come and go from our vessel without being checked on and off with an electronic boarding pass. When questioned, one officer told me that such stringent security was not necessary on river vessels. Even though we didn't have an electronic boarding pass, we were issued a boarding pass when we turned in our room key at reception before leaving the ship for shore tours. Reception always knew who was on tour and, seemingly, who was on board. However, Mel and I left the vessel several times independently without a boarding pass. Procedure on other lines might vary.

All in all, we enjoyed the camaraderie aboard River Splendor—we met many interesting fellow passengers and liked the ease of making friends and joining one another for meals that were all open seating. The single aspect that Mel found lacking was food, specifically that there were stretches between scheduled meal times when only fresh fruit or cookies were available in the main lounge. Of course, cafés were nearby in port. On the other hand, we both appreciated the always-available coffee stations with a variety of complimentary coffees, teas, and hot chocolate, as well as the convenient self-service ice machines.

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