When most people think about river cruising, they imagine sailing leisurely along the Rhine or the Danube, visiting charming little towns with centuries old gothic architecture.
This may be the ideal vacation for many; however, the popular travel option has evolved into much more than that. Whether it be a trip down the Nile, exploring Asia’s Mekong River, or the sights and sounds of the Mississippi, river cruising has tons of options for every traveler.
There are some significant differences between river and ocean cruising, including the size of the ship, amenities and itineraries, to name of few, but that’s not to say one is better than the other; they are different experiences.
For those of you thinking about embarking on a river cruise, here are some important things to know.
Pretty much anywhere you want to go, there is a river cruise with a fantastic itinerary. Many people do the classic European river tour, but a great starting point can also be a North American sailing. There are tons of options, including sailings in New England, the Pacific Northwest, or the mighty Mississippi.
Guests can enjoy classic riverboats and paddle wheelers that feature culinary and music themes, or perhaps a historically inspired sailing retracing the explorations of Lewis and Clarke.
One of the biggest advantages to river cruising is its access to remote locations, places most tourists don’t get to see. Historically, waterways were thoroughfares for development, with towns and villages sprouting up around them. Immersive, cultural excursions let guests enjoy the best of local food, history and scenery.
River cruising also affords the opportunity to explore exotic locations. Where else do you get to travel the Amazon River and see its lush rainforest? Kayak, see elusive pink dolphins and stop for an evening to take a night safari with Delphin Amazon Cruises.
One of the most significant differences in river cruising is the size of the ship. To navigate the winding waterways, river cruise boats are much smaller than their ocean counterparts. Some accommodate less than 100 people, while others can be larger, with 300-400 guests, still relatively small.
Onboard there won’t be 10 different dining options or a maze-like casino. However, smaller doesn’t mean lower quality. Many river cruises are known for their high quality food and service, and staff who get to know their guests’ preferences to personalize the experience.
With smaller ships, some expect smaller cabins, but this is not always the case. The more compact staterooms can run as low as 150 square feet to larger suites with luxurious amenities and personal verandahs. It all depends on budget and preferences.
America Cruise Lines offers a modern fleet that includes paddleboats with elevators, and spacious amenities. Their single occupancy cabins are 200 square feet, with their largest at 445 square feet.
Just for retirees?
Not so. River cruising, like ocean cruising, has evolved into a multi-generational event, with cruises to suit guests of any age. Some are adult focused, such as renowned Viking Cruises, but some cater to families or younger millennials.
Solo travelers need not shy away from a river cruise. Many have single cabin options along with discounts. Leading cruise company AmaWaterways has promotions to waive the single supplement fee, and most offer promotions throughout the year.
Well, that depends on the company. Some like Viking are all inclusive, with drinks, wifi and excursions, whereas others may offer meals only. It is essential to understand what is included to make a good comparison for decision making.
Keep in mind that for many cruises, guests will need to fly to their embarkation point. Many cruise lines offer promotions for flights and transfers, so it is best to consider all of the transportation and cruise details when selecting a cruise.
Wine and culinary attractions are a natural fit for river cruises, but they also cater to various interests. Nature walks, birdwatching, tulips in bloom as some popular outdoor options.
For those who want a more active vacation, Uniworld positions itself for younger, energetic cruisers. With a contemporary black and white design, it has unlimited wifi (for those great Instagram pics); bicycle excursions, hiking and onboard fitness.
If you are a person who suffers from seasickness, a river cruise might be a good option. The river water tends to be calmer, and the lock systems used in transportation help stabilize water levels. The ships have far fewer decks, making them sway less.
Although river cruises don’t have to deal with swirling ocean currents, they do have to manage tides and the occasional low water level. In this case, the company will usually bus passengers to the next location while waiting for the water to rise. Some ships even collapse their upper deck and wheelhouse to pass under a low bridge.
Evenings on a river cruise don’t tend to be the action packed events of their larger counterparts. No Broadway shows and formal nights, although some have music and light entertainment. U by Uniworld does have d- jays and karaoke for the livelier crowds.
Although with a port intensive schedule and long days in ports, evening events may be a secondary consideration for many, as they want to chill out and relax before tomorrow’s busy day.
Picking your first river cruise
Given the number of river cruise options, it may be best to seek out the help of a good travel professional. Travel agents will know different brands and help you decide what works best for you within your budget. They will help by arranging details, coordinating flights and transfers.
Recent events have shown the benefit of good travel assistance. If you need to change or cancel your trip, they will make the phone calls and arrange the details, saving you time.