There’s a new compelling way for posh travelers to sail. It’s called river cruising.
A river cruise is a cruise on an inland passage like a river, lake, or Intracoastal waterway. Generally, river cruises stop in small ports of call. They also dock on the river’s edge, where no dock exists.
River cruising is the antidote for the mega-ship cruise for several reasons. Frist, river cruises are smaller ships that sail on rivers, not oceans. Second, they voyage on the inland waterways such as rivers of Europe, Asia, and the Americas. And finally, they stop at river ports: often the region’s oldest and most colorful towns.
River cruise ships are generally small. They have the canal barges that are smaller than deluxe cruise ships to sail. There’s also the low-lying European river cruisers that often hold 100 to 300 passengers.
River cruises are popular throughout the world. Their known destinations are as follows:
The United States:
- Columbia River
- Snake River
- Mississippi River
- Hudson River
- Saint Lawrence Seaway
- Main River in Germany
- Danube River
- The Seine and the Rhine in France
- Mekong River
- Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar.
And finally, there is the part of an enormous river system in south-central Africa, the Chobe River.
River Cruises vs. Ocean Cruising
The critical difference between ocean and river cruising is the very aspect of the experience.
When it comes to the vessel’s size, mega-ships carry thousands of people, while river cruise ships host fewer than 200 passengers.
And as the sailing goes, river water is smoother than the open seas, which can be rough most of the time. River cruises always stop at a different port, sometimes spending a night, while ocean cruises usually have at least one “sea day” with no port to visit.
River cruise ships pull right into a port of the town’s historic center and cities, which is sometimes the oldest, most colorful section.
Ocean cruise often stops at ports that are far from the city center. They are usually anchored in the port’s harbor, where you must wait for transfer boats.
Ocean cruise ships are a party-on-ships. River cruise ships, on the other hand, don’t offer gambling, discos, karaoke, and Broadway-style shows.
Ocean cruise ships offer a vast array of dining options at your leisure, plus room service, and let you eat when and wherever you want. River cruise ships have one main restaurant, a café, or a bistro with one seating for each meal at a set time. They also have limited room service.
River cruising is a fast-growing sensation fueled by travelers who have time and money.
In general, the passengers in river cruises are travelers with upscale cultural interests. They’ve already done all the travel cliches and still looking for more enlightened vacations.
That’s because they want to explore a destination in-depth. They’d rather have an experiential journey than visit the “Top 10 Tourist Sites.”
Most river cruise passengers are well-to-do couples in their forties and beyond. Some river cruise companies offer family-friendly river cruises though babies are rare. Some river cruises focus on solo travelers, which makes it are extra-social.
Giant cruise ships are like floating resorts. Hence, they tend to be crowded and sometimes overwhelming.
River cruise ships are more like boutique hotels: compact, stylish, and personal. They use their space well, with everything you need and a little more.
One dining room serves all three meals. And if space allows, you might find smaller specialty restaurants or a bar and lounge near the dining room and a café.
You also find a library and quiet areas, a sun deck, and sometimes an outdoor bar with a smoking area. You will usually find a small business center, gym, spa, sauna, pool, hot tub, and observation decks/lounges, fore, and aft.
Since most river cruises are luxurious, cabins are comfortable and well-configured. They even boast around 150 to 350 square feet of living space.
Beds are full-sized, and the bathrooms are well-appointed, with showers but rarely tubs. Also added in the room amenities are TVs, safes, robes, slippers, and desks. Of course, the best rooms have full balconies.
All accommodations have river views and tend to come in a range of categories: a cabin with half-window, a stand-up balcony, or a suite with a full balcony.
The food is always fresh and delicious. Chefs often shop daily in each port for fresh, local produce, seafood, meat, fish, cheese, and wine.
Usually, river cruise chefs have extensive culinary backgrounds. Many of them have cooked in high-end hotels, and most of the time are Swiss- or French-trained.
One popular pastime of foodie passengers is to go with the chefs as they shop in the port’s markets, which are typically very close to the dock.
Most river cruise ship kitchens usually accommodate specialty diets like vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and lactose-intolerant.
The wine is included in your river-cruise fare, but the inclusive selection will often be limited to house wine and “well drinks.” On cruises that sail through wine regions such as in France, onboard wines are local.
Booze packages cover premium cocktails, high-end spirits, craft beer, and premium wines. Many river cruise lines also offer spirits or drinks as packages for the duration of the cruise.
River cruises travel along the major rivers of the world. Some of them are very popular in Europe and are expanding in Asia, North America, and South America.
River cruising first started in Europe, with many time-honored itineraries. The big ones like the Danube River are one of the most famous rivers to cruise. Other in-demand river cruises are the Main, Rhine, Moselle, Elbe, Rhone, Saone and Seine. And the Fjord and coastal cruising are a hit in Norway.
The most popular European river cruise itineraries are the Christmas Markets on the Danube.
It sails through Germany, Austria, Bratislava, and Hungary with stops at markets in Nuremberg, Linz, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, others.
River cruises often stop at Provence and Burgundy market towns in France, along the Rhone and Saone Rivers.
Some of the famous French ports include Lyons, Arles, and Avignon.
Passengers on Rhone wine cruises can skim down to explore wineries in the Cotes du Rhone, Beaune, etc. France’s Canal du Midi hosts trim barges, which allows passengers to explore the historic canal.
The Douro Wine Valley in Portugal is scenic and historic. The most in-demand itinerary goes from Lisbon down the Douro River in Porto, which is famed for its wineries.
The Fjords of Norway are one of many luxury travelers’ bucket lists. Hurtigruten, Norway’s national steamship and cruise line, travels through Norway’s most famous fjords.
Russia’s River, the Volga, gives passengers a good look at the European portion of the world’s biggest country. Itineraries also include the Black Sea, which can be sailed through Odesa to Kyiv and Moscow to St. Petersburg.
The United States
River Cruising in the United States includes the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The American Cruise Lines’ American Queen, a replica of Huckleberry Finn-era stern-wheeler, sails through here.
Alaska’s inner Passage is being sailed by many river ships, including American Cruise Lines. The routes, along with Alaska’s Southern peninsula, include coastal waterways and the Glacier Bay National Park.
River cruising in Asia has become popular, especially the Mekong River in Southeast. River cruises on this fabled waterway can reach cities, villages, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Cities include Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia. Amazing sights include the Mekong Delta’s floating markets and villages and the magnificent Angkor Wat temple city.
In China, the Yangtze River, which holds more than 60 river cruise operators, stretch 3,900 miles from Shanghai through China’s heartland.
These ports include Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chengdu, and Lijiang. Some itineraries also include an excursion to Tibet.
The Ganges river in India is a Hindu pilgrimage place. Uniworld line’s all-suites river ship Ganges Voyager II carries 56 passengers max on the Ganges from New Delhi to Kolkata.
River cruises that were built to explore the Amazon sail through South America’s mysterious river and the world’s wildest place.
Ships depart from two ports, the Iquitos in Peru on the western end and Manaus and Brazil on the eastern end.
Included in the voyage are Peru’s tourism treasures like the Andes, the Incas’ capital city of Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Machu Picchu.
Nile River cruises have been attempted for thousands of years.
Back then, Cleopatra’s barge strolls the Nile. Today’s Nile cruises follow the river down to Lake of Nasser, where the giant statues of Ramesses II and Nefertiti reside at Abu Simbel.
AmaWaterways’ Africa itinerary aboard the Zambezi Queen explores the Chobe River, mostly in Botswana and Zambia.
The itinerary also includes the following:
- Land experiences
- Stays in luxury safari lodges
- Two-night journey aboard the Rovos Rail luxury train.
River cruises are ideal for those who are seeking in-depth adventures and off-the-beaten-path destinations. After all, the world is connected through magnificent and breathtaking rivers.
Unreachable rivers aside, there are still many waterways in the world that allow small cruise ships to pass. And by “small cruise ships,” we mean vessels that can carry between 150 and 500 people.
Thus, a river cruise is what you need if you are looking for an intimate adventure at sea.