Is it a boat or a ship

This is something that causes confusion when talking about river cruises – is it a boat or a ship?  According to the website Diffen this is the difference –


A boat is a watercraft of modest size designed to float or plane, to provide passage across water. Usually this water is inland (lakes) or in protected coastal areas. In naval terms, a boat is something small enough to be carried aboard another vessel (a ship).


A ship is a large vessel that floats on water. In traditional terms, ships were considered to be vessels which had at least one continuous water-tight deck extending from bow to stern. Ships may be found on lakes, seas, and rivers and they allow for a variety of activities, such as the transport of people or goods, fishing, entertainment, public safety, and warfare.

Strictly speaking and quite uniquely a submarine is a boat as defined by the Royal Navy. Some boats too large for the naval definition include the Great Lakes freighter, riverboat, narrowboat and ferryboat.”

So then I guess that settles it – a river cruise is a ship.  Except maybe in the case of some of the river cruise ships that became boats when they were transported on special trailers across land for a new river home.  (It’s true!)

So a river cruise is the perfect way of travel for someone who has tried an ocean cruise and … well ….threw up!

It’s an interesting debate – the cross over from ocean cruise to river cruise.   On the oceans the risk is bad weather – while on a river cruise the risk is low water – or high water.  Both cause problems.

Another interesting debate is the size of the river cruise ship.

Yes I have decided it is a ship.

So because of the locks the ships can only be a certain length and a certain width.   Now each river cruise company wants to be different or have something unique to offer their guests and each line touts the value of that particular feature.  Viking has the Long Ships which are the same size as all the other longer ships…. 135 metres long … but has the feature of being one of the most dominant river cruise companies in the world with so many new builds that they made the Guinness Book of Records.  It also is extremely well known because of television ads on the History Channel.  These beautiful commercials give a very accurate depiction of what it is like to travel Europe on a river cruise.  Once you have done it you will return for sure.

New Viking ships christening

So what are the other companies doing that is special or different?  Avalon has adopted the approach that they don’t want to add balconies which will take away from the size of the room (remember – all river cruises can only be a certain width in order to get through the locks).  So the question is – do you really need a balcony when you are on a river cruise?  I guess this is a personal preference but one thing for sure, I love to have at least a window or french balcony so I can get lots of fresh air.

Avalon panorama suite

Scenic cruises have gone the balcony route but have included window type shutters that can enclose the balcony in times of inclement weather – which I would imagine is lots because this is Europe after all.

Uniworld have gone “olde world” with ornate decor and incredible old world service.

Where are you Marie Antoinette???

Yes – there is a lot of choice out there and the deciding factor will be itinerary, availability and of course special offers such as repeat passenger discounts, early booking bonus offers, free airfare ….. I could go on and on and on….But I won’t bore you.  Having travelled on the Rhine, the Danube, the Po, the Garonne, the Dordogne…. OK I will stop.

Just go do it.  Do a river cruise.  On a ship …. not a boat.



By Lesley Keyter

Lesley Keyter is the face of travel in the fast growing city of Calgary. Every week since 1997 she has has featured live on the Morning News Global TV.

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