Viking River or Viking Ocean Cruises: Which is Right for You?

Our comparisons and tips will help you decide whether Viking River or Viking Ocean Cruises will offer the better choice for your next cruise vacation. Whichever brand and voyage you choose, you will enjoy the same great Viking Cruises quality and value.

Viking River or Viking Ocean Cruises: Which is Right for You?

We were fortunate to enjoy a Romantic Mediterranean ocean cruise on Viking Star and a Danube Waltz river cruise on the Viking Freya. These were our first experiences with the Viking brand.

Trying to decide which was our favorite, these are some of the key issues to think about when you make your own Viking River or Viking Ocean choice.

We were guests of Viking Cruises aboard the Viking Star and Viking Freya.

1. Destination and Timeframe

If you already have a destination in mind, that may be all the decision-making input you’ll need. Hoping to recreate that pre-Downton Abbey image of a ship slowly passing the Budapest Parliament? Then a river cruise on the Danube is your choice.

If stops in Barcelona, Florence, and Rome are more to your liking, a Mediterranean ocean cruise is right for you. Russia, Asia, and Egypt are only on the river cruise list, and the Americas and Caribbean are only available on an ocean trip.

Viking Freya in Budapest
Viking Freya longship in Budapest

But if you are open to many destinations, you’ll have to dig deeper. There are more options on the river cruise list, but the ocean cruise itineraries are expanding quickly since the 2015 launch of the first Viking Ocean ship.

Consider how long a cruise you want to take and what time of year you are able to travel to further narrow your choices. The Find a Cruise pages on the Viking River or Viking Ocean websites are an easy way to focus on a particular part of the world or timeframe. You can quickly see whether there is still availability and compare itineraries.

2. Expected Weather

Weather can play a big part in any vacation but especially for a river cruise. If you are traveling someplace cold, like one of the popular Christmas Market tours in Europe, you will spend little time on your veranda (if you book that stateroom class) and the top deck may not be very appealing. Cold or rainy weather can make the river cruise ship feel more restricted, as everyone is confined to the same lounge area for downtime.

On the other hand, there are many more common spaces and things to do on Viking Ocean ships. When the weather is cold and rainy, you will find many areas to relax beyond your stateroom. We were surprised that even with 900 passengers on board, no part of the ship ever felt crowded and there were always quiet spaces available.

Spaces to enjoy on the Viking Star
Spaces to enjoy on a Viking Star ocean cruise

On our river cruise, we spent more time in our room when the weather was bad—it actually snowed in Vienna during our April cruise! The piano player and other entertainment in the single lounge were excellent, but we sometimes craved a quieter spot.

Entertainment in lounge Viking River
Entertainment in the lounge Viking River

Of course, a stormy ocean voyage is also a risk. We lucked out with fantastic, warm weather in the Mediterranean. We barely felt the ship moving when we headed to a new port each night, but stormy seas might not have been so pleasant. If sea sickness is a major concern, stick to the rivers.

3. Time On Board or In Port

The Viking Cruises brand has always been dedicated to maximizing time in port. Whether you choose Viking River or Viking Ocean Cruises, you’ll generally have at least a full day in each port, often extending into the evening hours.

Active Budapest tour option from the Viking River Cruise
Active Budapest tour option from the Viking River Cruise

On our ocean cruise, we were usually docked by the time we woke up, and we generally left port during or after dinner. River cruises often spend even longer days in port, which allow you to take more excursions, linger at a cafe, or head out for evening entertainment in town.

Towns and vineyards Viking River
Towns and vineyards in the Wachau Valley, Viking River Cruises

Viking River Cruises include daytime cruising through especially spectacular sections of the river. The hours we spent cruising the Danube through the Wachau Valley—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—were a highlight of our river trip. We also loved our evening sail to enjoy the lights of Budapest and the interesting process of passing through locks.

Budapest Parliament building at night
Budapest Parliament, evening cruise with Viking River Cruise

Daytime sailing, or full days at sea, may be part of an ocean itinerary but they are unlikely to be as scenic or engaging. The scenery can be beautiful as you approach or depart a port, but most of the time your sailing view is of open ocean or a distant shore.

Exiting a Danube lock Viking River
Viking River ship exiting a Danube lock

It is usually an easy walk into town from the docks used by Viking River cruises. While Viking Ocean’s small ships stop in ports the big ships cannot visit, they are often a longer walk or shuttle ride into town. Ports and views will vary though. While our longship docked right next to the famous Chain Bridge in Budapest, offering beautiful views from our veranda, we sometimes woke to a close-up look at neighboring ships tied up beside us.

Viking River Cruise at Chain Bridge Budapest
Viking River Cruise at Chain Bridge Budapest

On our ocean cruise, the Viking Star port views and access in Corsica and Monaco were excellent, while Barcelona and Livorno were more industrial and further from town.

Viking Star, Port of Ajaccio Corsica, Viking Cruises
Viking Star, Port of Ajaccio Corsica, Viking Cruises

4. Community or Privacy

Because there is more room, the Viking Ocean ships offer many more places to enjoy relative privacy and quiet. There are several restaurants to choose from, with tables for two to ten diners, and 24-hour room service means you can even dine in your room.

There are also many more common areas on board the ocean cruises—from lounges to libraries to the incredible spa—so you can always find a quiet spot.

heated spa chairs on Viking Ocean Cruises
heated spa chairs on Viking Ocean Cruises

On the Viking River longships, less space means less privacy, except in your room. There is one large lounge, a large dining room with tables seating six to ten, and a more casual indoor/outdoor area for meals and lounging. The upper deck of the river longships adds another large, open space, as long as the weather is good.

Enjoy these Viking Cruises secrets from the start of your Viking River Cruise or viking ocean cruise instead of discovering them near the end, like I did.
hang out in this Viking Cruises lounge and be first to eat lunch

We found it very easy to meet and interact with people on both the river and ocean ships. Large tables and a single lounge on the Viking River cruises encourage community and interaction. You will definitely be sharing a table during some of your meals, and we enjoyed catching up with people in the lounge after a day of touring.

Viking River upper deck games
Viking River upper deck games

You can create the same camaraderie on the Viking Ocean cruises if you just ask to join others, and we highly suggest you do, but it does take more effort.

5. Choice or Simplicity

Every Viking cruise offers a wealth of choices—which tours to take, where to eat and what to order at meals, whether to join the fun in the lounge or crash in your room. However, Viking Ocean Cruises definitely offers a wider variety of choice. There are more dining spaces, more varied cuisines, more on board activities and more common spaces on the ocean ships including a luxurious spa, indoor pool, and on-deck pool.

Viking Cruises Chefs at work
Viking Cruises Chefs at work

Viking River Cruises, on the other hand, offer a simpler and, some feel, more social environment. With less variety to explore on board, you are encouraged to spend more time exploring in town. Sometimes having fewer temptations around you can be very relaxing.

See also 8 Great Tips for Selecting a Cruise

Which is Better? Viking River or Viking Ocean Cruises

No matter which trip you choose, you will find Viking River and Viking Ocean Cruises have a lot in common:

We also uncovered some Viking Cruises secrets that make the journeys even more pleasing.

From our perspective, choosing between Viking River or Viking Ocean Cruises is more about destination and timeframe than any other factor. We loved both experiences and cannot wait to return for more.

Article by Julie McCool, whose Northern Virginia travel site helps locals and visitors find fun places to explore, dine, drink, and play in the Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland area. 

See also 8 Reasons Carnival Journeys Are Ideal For Adult Travelers

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Our comparisons and tips will help you decide whether Viking River or Viking Ocean Cruises will offer the better vacation for your travel preferences.

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9 thoughts on “Viking River or Viking Ocean Cruises: Which is Right for You?”

  1. Thanks for the comparison between a river and ocean cruise. Now if you could offer tips on how to convince my wife to take a cruise I’d be set.

  2. We have been eying one of the Viking ocean cruises for a while now. Thanks for the comparison here. Really appreciate it. I still think we would want to travel on a large vessel as we are used to the bigger ships from major cruise lines. But, a river cruise does sound like a great way to get closer to the ports of call.

  3. This is very interesting. We’ve been considering a river cruise for a very long time. The Fathom cruise was my first cruise ever and someone told me I wouldn’t love a big ship. I’m thinking a river cruise may be my cup of tea.

  4. You people and your love for Viking Cruises really makes me want to get in on one. Howard and Charles kept telling me that I have an “old enough” spirit for them, whatever that means. Lol.

    Anyway, this is a good breakdown. Thanks for sharing.

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