At first, it is important to say that the river and ocean cruising experiences are entirely different but equally enjoyable. As an Australian, it is easy to access any number of ocean cruises leaving from most state capital with a wide variety of cruising lines with a large list of destinations in the Pacific and eastern Asian areas.
On the other hand, the traditional river cruising of Europe means a long plane flight before your cruise states. (It is only recently that areas in South and Eastern Asia has become river cruise destinations).
So the first considerations that must be made by an Australian wishing to cruise are the cost and time involved in both before a decision is made either or both ways.
Let me now discuss the differences and similarities between each type of cruising.
Our first ocean cruise was on a ship with 2000 plus passengers and a thousand plus crew while our first ever river cruise contained only about 180 passengers. That is the first different you notice. Then you go from a ship with fourteen decks to one with only three. The river boat was 135 metres long while the cruise ship might be up to 300 metres long.
Even though there are two or more thousand passengers travelling with you on a cruise ship, on most occasions, there is not a feeling that the ship is crowded. On the other hand, river cruise boats with less than two hundred passengers only feels crowded at the evening meal as there is only one restaurant on board. Ocean cruise ships have many dining choices.
On the river cruise, passengers are off the boat each day on organised tours as part of their cruise. So there are not any planned activities on the boat during the day. On an ocean cruise, there are many activities on the ship in which passengers may indulge, daily.
The ocean cruise provides a greater variety of entertainment from the big musical productions in the theatre to more intimate entertainment in the various bars or in the atrium. On our river cruise, we had a singer entertain us at morning tea, afternoon tea and during the evening providing us with a variety of music types to fit the time of day. As well, traditional entertainers from each country or locality came on board to give us a performance of their music.
Both types of cruising offer off boat tours that can be booked by guests with ocean cruises providing many more tour options. With the river cruise, there is something to see and do each day off the boat. Firstly there is the included, guide led tour of the city followed by a chance to wander around that city at your leisure. Some days you might visit two cities. On most ocean cruises, there will be days at sea where you can just relax or indulge in the activities provided by the ship. On a river cruise, most of the movement of the ship is carried out at night.
On a cruise ship, there are several public areas in which to sit and relax. They include bars, a library, an Internet room, pool decks and a large atrium where light refreshments are served. The river cruise boat has a lounge which includes a bar and this is where the entertainment occurs. The river cruise boat has a sun deck on the top of the boat as well.
Getting on and off the ship/boat is much easier on the river cruise simply because of the numbers of passengers involved. This means getting to do off the boat tours is easy and quick.
River cruising, because of the size of the boat and no lifts, would be extremely difficult for the disabled or elderly who find getting around difficult. The ocean cruise lines are able to do a great job looking after the disabled and elderly.
Forming new friendships is much easier on the river cruise. On the bigger cruise ships passengers are like "ships passing in the night". Even with friends on board, it is possible not to encounter them on any given day.
The great things about cruising are:
You unpack only once;
You don't need to spend any extra money;
Meals and some refreshments are on tap as part of the cost of the cruise;
Your state room is serviced each day; and
You have many options on what to do or not to do.
The embarking process on the cruise ship can be very daunting for a first time cruiser with two thousand plus passengers trying to board the ship. Getting on our river cruise boat for the first time was a "breeze" by comparison.
Finally, it is important to say that both types of cruising have much to offer to the traveller. So I suggest that a traveller should try each at least once. You might be surprised and fall in love with the idea of cruising.