Sailing vs. Cruising: Is There A Difference?

To you, one of the most relaxing things in life is gently riding the waters in your sailboat. You watch in awe as large sailboats glide by you, and maybe you’ve even seen a cruise boat or two in your time as well. That has you curious, is there any difference between sailing and cruising?

Sailing is typically a shorter-term maritime adventure in which you can reach your destination semi quickly. Compare that to cruising, where you’re on an extended trip going almost anywhere around the world. Since your stay is longer, cruise boats tend to offer more entertainment options than sailboats would.

In this article, we will dive deeper into the differences between sailing and cruising. If you’re having a hard time choosing between an expedition on a sailboat or a cruise ship, then this article is for you. Keep reading, as you won’t want to miss it! 

What Is Sailing?

Before we can talk about the differences between sailing and cruising, we should explain both terms clearly. Let’s begin with sailing. When sailing, you would ride in a sailboat, obviously. Sailboats may use kites, wingsails, or traditional sails to travel through the water. The gentle force of the breeze propels the boat forward. 

Sailing doesn’t have to occur exclusively on water. Land yachts can traverse land while iceboats are designed for crossing ice the way a sailboat would water. For the purpose of this article, though, we’ll talk about regular sailboats that do ride through bodies of water.

If you’re about to embark on a sailing expedition, then you’re typically going on a smaller boat with less of a crowd. You could have a few hundred people onboard, but it’s not an endless throng. 

While modern sailboats can venture almost anywhere you can get to via water, sailing trips are typically not very long. Maybe it’s an afternoon adventure or an overnight voyage. Given that you’re not on the boat for days, there’s little need to provide a whole host of entertainment options. You might have food and drink and a few means of keeping yourself occupied, but nothing extensive. 

That’s because, before you know it, you’ll have arrived at your destination. You’re then free to exit the sailboat and explore to your heart’s content until it’s time to get back on the boat and go home. 

What Is Cruising?

You can also go cruising. Powerboats and even sailboats are sometimes used for cruising. These boats would have either a multihull or monohull design and be between 33 and 50 feet long. Yachts and cruise boats or ships can accommodate a much larger crowd than a powerboat. 

When you go on a cruise, you should expect a trip that spans several days, maybe even a week or more. Instead of setting out for just one destination, a cruise typically takes you to many places in one trip. You can exit the cruise ship and spend time in each location, making the venture more worthwhile.

Since you’re on the ship for many days or weeks, cruises often have extensive entertainment. These include bingo and trivia at the very least to themed events, live productions, casinos, bars, fine dining, and shows. Riding on the ship is as much of an experience as is getting off and seeing new parts of the world. 

As such a unique way to travel, it should come as no surprise that cruises attract large crowds, often more than a thousand people, sometimes several thousand.  

What Are the Differences Between Sailing And Cruising?

Now that we’ve outlined the basics on sailing versus cruising, we want to share some of the differences between these two boating adventures. 

Boat Size

Now, this one’s not universally true, but for the most part, cruise boats tend to outsize sailboats. We say it’s not universally true because, if you remember from the last section, sometimes sailboats can be used for cruising purposes. If it comes down to powerboats versus sailboats for cruising, most favor sailboats. That’s because powerboats tend to cost a lot of money, both to buy and to use, especially when traveling long distances on the ocean. 

If we’re talking about a more traditional cruise ship or a yacht, though, then that’s going to be larger than even a pretty big sailboat. 

Crowd Size

As we said before, cruises will have bigger crowds. Many describe a sailing trip as something cozy and intimate. Sure, there’s still 100 or 200 people onboard with you, maybe even more. You won’t get to know everyone, but you can make friends easily enough due to proximity and crowd size.

On a cruise, you can expect several thousand more people than on a sailing trip, making the numbers quite significant. The biggest cruise boats can accommodate over 5,000 people, so it almost feels like living in a big town, just in closer quarters. The experience has much less of an intimate atmosphere.  

Trip Length and Destinations 

The key difference between sailing and cruising is that the latter lasts much longer. It’s like we said before, when you sail, you have one destination you’re heading for. It may take an afternoon to reach it, sometimes longer, but you’re never gone for upwards of a week. It’s a short trip: there, back, and then home. 

On a cruise, you’re not limited to a single destination. You port at several places. Maybe you don’t get to spend as long there as you would have wished, but you can see many places during your trip. This takes time, though, so a cruise could last upwards of a week, maybe even two or three weeks in some instances. 


You know the old saying that you get what you pay for, right? That’s the case when taking a maritime adventure as well. The shorter your trip, the less it tends to cost. The boat doesn’t venture out as far, thus it uses less fuel and other resources. 

Longer trips often include more entertainment and accommodations (more on this momentarily), increasing the price. The type of boat you travel on, in this case a cruise ship or a yacht, can also contribute to the higher bill. 

Entertainment and Accommodations 

When you ride on a boat, you can’t rely on your smartphone to pass the time. Internet service can be spotty, as it’s not exactly like you’re close to any cell towers right? This may be okay if you’re riding a boat for a few hours, but once you get into overnight, even multi-day trips, you need something to do.  

Even on a sailboat voyage, you’re not left to twiddle your thumbs. You could sip a drink or eat a meal with your fellow passengers and swap some stories. There may also be dancing, card games, and other entertainment, but it’s often on a much smaller and more inexpensive scale. 

As far as accommodations, most sailboats have but one dining room. You don’t get an expansive menu because there’s just not as much room to prepare a multitude of tasty dishes.

That’s not a problem at all on a cruise. You can enjoy five-star dining and a wealth of meals to savor for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. You’ll eat like a king or a queen and love every minute of it.

You won’t ever spend a minute bored, either. As we said in the intro, cruises have all sorts of live shows and productions. The more upscale cruise ships even feature waterparks onboard. 

If you have kids or you yourself are prone to boredom, you’ll never wonder what you’re going to do to keep yourself busy while on a cruise. 

Stricter Schedule

While cruises do sound great, we want to reiterate that when you port, you get a certain amount of time off the ship and that’s it. If you’re not back in time, then the ship will take off without you. On a cruise, there’s a very strict schedule to follow. 

Since you’re only going to one destination on a sailboat, there’s more room in the schedule for alterations. If someone’s late getting back on the boat or there’s a delay when porting, that’s okay. 

Related Questions

Is it dangerous to sail in the Caribbean?

Like many other places, sailing in the Caribbean is considered safe. You want to make sure you always lock up all your belongings when leaving your room or lounging quarters, though. Don’t carry around a lot of cash or valuables either. While there’s a low risk of being robbed on a cruise ship, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Can a yacht capsize?

As we’ve written on this topic before, no boat is capsize-proof. Click here to read our previous article on this topic. That goes for yachts as well. However, if you’re traveling on a commercial cruise ship or sailboat, then the captain will know ways to minimize the likelihood of capsizing. They’ll maintain weight distribution onboard, avoid strong winds, and heel without angling the boat too much to either side. 


I am the owner of sailoradvice. I live in Birmingham, UK and love to sail with my wife and three boys throughout the year.

Recent Posts