13 Reasons River Cruises Are Way Better Than Ocean Cruises

For some travelers, river cruises — which offer a more intimate experience — are a better choice than ocean cruises.

russian cruise ship on river
Updated June 17, 2024
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With many incredible river cruises available around the world, travelers looking for a quieter, more intimate cruising experience may want to opt for these packages over ocean cruises. 

These vacations can vary a great deal in length and can suit travelers of all sorts.

Are you ready for your next trip? Before you book your next cruising extravaganza, consider these 13 perks of river cruises.

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More scenic

Richard Semik/Adobe cruise ship at peso da regua

Aboard an ocean cruise, you may spend several days in a row out at sea, but river cruises provide ever-changing scenery.

Even longer cruises offer consistent, scenic experiences as smaller vessels sail along the banks of waterways in some of the world’s most famous cities, like Berlin, Vienna, and Beijing.

Daily stops

Freesurf/Adobe romantic river cruises over rhein

Compared to ocean cruises, river cruises focus more on the beauty along the way — you’ll rarely spend an entire day sailing. That means more stops at different ports and the opportunity to get to know new cities up close and personal.

All-inclusive

ColorValley/Adobe a ship with passengers

The boats used for river cruises are smaller, and while they may not have all the luxurious amenities of larger vessels, like decked-out spas and extensive gyms, they tend to be a more all-inclusive experience.

This means most food and beverages, as well as off-boat excursions, will be included in the ticket price.

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Lower chance of seasickness

George/Adobe cruise ship during sunset

If you tend to get seasick, being out on the open sea for days at a time with no land in sight may not be the best move. River cruises are a better choice for those worried about nausea — as they move through shallow, less choppy waters and land is always in sight.

Smaller ports

Richie Chan/Adobe scenery by douro river

Massive ocean cruise ships can only dock at certain ports — but smaller river cruise ships have access to narrow ports in shallow waterways, meaning guests have more options regarding where they can dock and what they can see.

Great value

Dudarev Mikhail/Adobe cruise boat on kama river

Cruises, in general, can be great for the budget traveler as vacation packages roll transportation, hotel rooms, and meal plans into one price.

However, because river cruises have access to smaller ports, and off-boat excursions are often included in the ticket price, the whole experience can be akin to rolling a few different vacation experiences into one as well.

A more ‘local’ experience

Stanislav Komogorov/Adobe island of valaam

Since you’ll be spending more time in the cities you visit on a river cruise, this provides more opportunity to experience the local cuisine and culture.

With decked-out ocean cruises, there may be more temptation to stay close to the boat. River cruises mean more time to explore and immerse yourself in your surroundings.

More intimate

joyt/Adobe cruise ship douro river porto

Some ocean cruise liners hold several thousand passengers. In fact, Royal Caribbean launched a ship this year, the Icon of the Seas, that can carry more than 7,500 passengers.

River cruise ships are much smaller, with some holding around 100 guests or fewer, which offers a much more intimate experience and more time to get to know other travelers and the crew.

Much quieter

JackF/Adobe cruise liners in uglich

Several thousand guests vs. 100 or so means that the river cruising experience will be much quieter in general.

Ocean cruise ships may have the benefit of packing big restaurants, bars, water parks, and more into one place — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a truly quiet area. River cruises, on the other hand, can be quite tranquil.

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Smaller cities to explore

saiko3p/Adobe tourist cruse boat in germany

As previously mentioned, tours of port cities tend to be included in river cruises where they are not for ocean cruises. Plus, because large boats need massive ports to be able to dock, they can only stop in cities large enough to accommodate them (and their guests).

Taking a small river cruise means you can see and explore smaller cities.

Age limits more likely

Sergii Figurnyi/Adobe panoramic view of dresden

While some ocean cruises have age limits for travelers, river cruises are far more likely to be adults only. And even if children are permitted on board, without the water slides, arcades, and kid-centered entertainment that ocean cruises offer, there’s much less for them to do.

If you’re looking for an all-inclusive vacation that is more focused on adults, a river cruise is the move.

A less chaotic dining experience

kateafter/Adobe the cruise ship loire princess

You may have fewer food options on a river cruise, but this also means you won’t be trying to get breakfast from a buffet at the same time as 1,000 other people.

Plus, because river cruises are on the water for shorter stints, the crew can get off and pick up additional supplies — which could mean fresher food choices.

More focus on culture/history

Bohdan Petrushko/Adobe rhine river and boat view

An ocean cruise that docks in an array of cities — across the Mediterranean, for example — may offer you a bit of culture at each stop, but the big draw of these massive cruises is often the boat and everything you can do on it.

The vibe on river cruises is different. The boat may be lovely, but where the boat can take you is the real draw.

Bottom line

dbvirago/Adobe georgia queen sailing savannah river

While ocean cruises may seem like a better bargain at first glance, river cruises offer a more intimate experience, may offer more value when you consider included excursions, and are available in nearly every corner of the world. Just make sure to bring your favorite travel credit card with you.

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Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.