The differences between a Viking River and Viking Ocean cruise

The Viking Star

The Viking Star

It’s hard to imagine there could be an easier way to see the world than by booking a vacation with Viking Cruises. How else could you possibly wake up in a brand new city each day, explore it with insider tips from an experienced local guide and enjoy gourmet meals, all without those pesky travel side-effects like packing and unpacking, navigating airports and coordinating an outrageous number of hotel stays?

Red carpet treatment is standard!

Red carpet treatment is standard!

I’ve been fortunate enough to try out two of the company’s offerings: a river cruise along the Danube to visit Europe’s famous Christmas Markets, and a jaunt around the Baltic Sea on one of their dazzling ocean liners, the Viking Star. While Viking Cruise staples such as impeccable customer service, fantastic food, luxury staterooms and all-inclusive pricing are the same for both their river and ocean cruises, there are some major differences between the ships which make for a completely different experience depending on which one you choose for your getaway. Here are just a few of the differences between a Viking River and Viking Ocean cruise.

A Viking River Cruise passes by Durnstein, Austria

A Viking River Cruise passes by Durnstein, Austria

The Size

Both ships are elegantly-appointed, with all staterooms boasting ample storage, bathrooms with in-floor heating, and large windows that let the sunshine stream in while leading to private balconies. However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Viking’s river boats are intimate, and with capacity for only about two hundred guests it means everyone gets to know each other quickly. In contrast, Viking’s ocean liners hold 930 passengers, spread out over multiple decks. While that may seem like a lot, the ship is still small enough to allow it to navigate into ports that mega-cruise ships can’t access—plus, who in their right mind wants to be stuck on a boat for a week with 3,000+ people?
Viking-Cruise-BedroomWhile Viking does a great job managing guests on the ocean cruises so it never seems too crowded, there’s something rather charming about making fast friends on their river cruises that’s particularly memorable.

The pool area on Viking Star

The pool area on Viking Star

Viking-Cruise-Library

The Amenities

You’ve probably realized that a larger ship means much more space, and the ocean liners make the most of it. On board, you’ll find free laundry facilities (you don’t even need to bring detergent), a movie theatre, a well-stocked gym to work off those extra calories you’re sure to consume, a salon, a few boutiques and a spa.
Viking-Cruises-GymViking-Cruise-Shuffle-BoardThe spa is truly in a league of its own, offering services like massages and facials alongside a steam room, saunas, hot tub, plunge pools and even a snow grotto. Yes, you’re actually encouraged to detox in the steam room or sauna, before hopping into the Snow Grotto to literally cool off! It’s designed around a Scandinavian concept of alternating between hot and cold treatments, which is said to benefit the circulatory system and is undeniably refreshing.

The spa on Viking Star

The spa on Viking Star

There’s another special spot on the ocean liners that the river boats don’t have: the infinity pool. Positioned on the hull of the ship stretching out toward the sea, the turquoise pool and adjoining hot tub are wonderful places to soak as you pull away from port, enjoying the scenery stretched out below.
Viking-Cruise-infinity-pool
No matter which boat you pick, you’ll find common areas such as a business centre with computers, bars to enjoy an evening cocktail, a library stocked with classic novels and board games, and a top deck where you can get in on a game of shuffleboard or simply relax and watch the sunset.

A comfortable lounge area on board a river cruise

A comfortable lounge area on board a river cruise

The lobby of the Viking Star

The lobby of the Viking Star

The Ports

One of the best things about Viking Cruises are how port intensive their itineraries are, which are designed to maximize the time that guests have to explore each destination. One thing you’ll find on an ocean cruise versus a river cruise is there’s occasionally a “day at sea” built in, as the ship travels navigates a longer stretch of sea (say, between Estonia and Poland on the Viking Homelands trip). Fortunately there’s so much to do on board that you’ll likely enjoy the day of forced relaxation—breakfast in bed or a spa day, anyone?

Sailing between Sweden and Finland

Sailing between Sweden and Finland

Another factor to consider when choosing an itinerary is what you’ll see while sailing. The river cruises have the advantage of sailing on narrow water bodies, meaning excellent views of things like towering castles or vineyards bursting with grapes right outside your window. As ocean cruises are typically in open water, there may be long stretches where you see nothing but waves all around. On that note, those prone to seasickness will be particularly appreciative of the river cruises, as there aren’t any waves!

A Viking River Cruise

A Viking River Cruise

The Dining Options

If there’s one certainty on a Viking cruise, it’s this: you’ll never go hungry. Being greeted with bubbly champagne as you board the ship, returning from a late-night tour to find sandwiches in your stateroom, or marvelling that the sushi chef has prepared a plate of your favourite sashimi in the off-chance you wanted some for dinner are just some of the ways the crew goes above and beyond. Every meal seems to be an event, whether its the overflowing breakfast buffet with custom waffle and omelette stations, or a Bavarian-themed dinner as you sail through Germany.
Viking-Cruise-Room-ServiceWhile the food quality is the same on each ship, the way meals are served on each is very different. On river cruises everyone eats each meal together in the dining room at set times, breaking bread at large tables that are a seating free-for-all. Though introverts might not initially be crazy about being forced to dine with perfect strangers, it’s actually a fantastic set up for getting to meet other people on the ship and trade stories—and isn’t that half the fun of travelling? The format does mean there isn’t much flexibility in regards to timing, which can be a bit awkward for those running late for dinner.
Viking-Cruise-sandwich Viking-Cruise-SushiIn contrast, the ocean cruises have so many different dining options that you never even have to leave your room to eat. That’s right—there’s 24 hour room service! Other options are the buffet style World Cafe, The Restaurant which offers sit-down service, the Wintergarden for afternoon tea, as well as Manfried’s and the Chef’s Table where you can reserve a spot at in advance to enjoy Italian fare or a tasting menu complete with wine pairings. While you can easily get a table for two at all of the above eateries, they’re close enough together that most guests end up chatting with the table next to them at some point.

Dinner at the Chef's Table

Dinner at the Chef’s Table

The Entertainment

No matter which ship you’re on, you can expect some form of entertainment every single night which is relevant to the destination—say, a belly dancer on the Egypt cruise, or opera singers while sailing past Vienna, Austria. Guests on ocean cruises can also enjoy a nightly show from a dedicated group of entertainers, who perform tributes the likes of ABBA and the Beatles along with musicals.

Viking-Cruise-EntertainmentBoth ships also have port talks, where speakers are brought on to provide context to the destinations, such as a professor of Russian history or a wildlife expert. The only major difference is that the talks are recorded on the ocean cruise ships, meaning you can watch them from the comfort of your stateroom if you’re so inclined.

The Planning Process

Type-A personalities will appreciate how organized Viking Cruises is. Prior to the cruise, all guests are mailed a box containing things like cruise documents, luggage tags, information about what to expect on board, tour information and destination overviews. Those reserved on a river cruise will even get a printed book detailing the history of the river they’re sailing on, including kilometre-by-kilometre details about what they’ll see along the way. Once they board the ship, guests can either choose to simply show up for each day’s included walking tour, or pay for a spot on one of the optional tours.

The My Viking Journey booking portal

The My Viking Journey booking portal

The planning process is a bit more rigid for those heading on an ocean cruise. A few months before (depending on stateroom class), guests are directed to the My Viking Journey website, which is a booking interface where guests can pre-schedule and pay for every tour they’ll like to go on, along with spa treatments and restaurant reservations. While it’s a good idea to reserve as much as possible in advance to ensure there’s availability, everything can also be booked on the ship upon arrival.

Have you been on a Viking River or Viking Ocean cruise? Do you have a preference for which one you prefer? Share in the comments below!

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Globe Guide experienced the cruises in partnership with Viking Cruises. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.

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30 Responses

  1. I must say, traditional ocean cruises have never really appealed to me, but I’ve always been curious about river cruises. You can get such a different perspective of a place by drifting down a river rather than by driving along a highway.

  2. Meg+Jerrard says:

    I haven’t been on either, though we’ve been hearing a lot about Viking Cruises recently so I would love to sit down and find an itinerary which suits. My parents take river cruises all the time and absolutely love them so maybe we’ll start there 🙂

  3. Both sound lovely! I love Viking and cruising in general. Really great post and lovely photos, thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Nisha says:

    I have been hearing a lot about cruises these days and Viking Cruises is one of them. I haven’t been on one, so I would love to sit down and observe the surrounding and experience this kind of travel.

  5. Monika says:

    I’ve always been curious about cruises, but I’m afraid it might be the kind of holiday I won’t like so I guess I’ll wait till I’m older before trying it 🙂

  6. Kerri says:

    Interesting comparisons. I am still yet to go on any sort of cruise – just not my thing at the moment. I’m sure one day the situation will come up where I can give them a go.

  7. Carly Moore says:

    I’d really like to take my mum on a viking river cruise. Is it bad that I’d go just for the food… nevermind the actual destinations haha. Great post, love all the comparisons!

  8. anto says:

    I live nearby one of the rivers there are plenty of river cruises on and even though I never really considered doing one, I can definitely see the appeal in them, especially for people who are not from Europe. The only cruise I ever did was all the way down south in Patagonia and I loved it, so much fun seeing everything from a different perspective…

  9. RMAU says:

    With the surge in popularity of river cruises, many traditional ocean cruisers are giving waterways like the Rhine and Danube — even the Mekong and Amazon — a first look.

  10. My dream is to take my mom on a Viking River Cruise for her birthday next year! I’m working on it. Great post 🙂

  11. I’m really not a fan of cruises in general(just haven’t been for me, maybe it’s the size?) but the river cruise looks amazing! The amenities look incredible and the experience as a whole looks second to none! Thank you for introducing me to a new world of river travel!

    • Hi Joe, to be honest I wasn’t really a fan either- and then I went on a Viking Cruise. I just feel like the incredible service and all-inclusive concept (just to name a few perks) make the cruising experience soooooo much better than some of these mega-ships you see.

  12. Richard T. Durnan says:

    Is it open or assigned seating for dinner on the Viking Star?

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