If you haven’t experienced the delights of river cruising, permit me to introduce you to one of the most tranquil forms of vacationing. River cruising has become one of the most popular and fastest growing forms of leisure travel in recent years.
River cruising is vastly different from ocean cruising. It’s about the journey and the destination, with the ships as supporting players.
Imagine relaxing on a deck chair or a sofa in a comfortable lounge sipping a drink as you glide slowly and silently past verdant fields, farmlands, vineyards, orchards, villages, towns, historic cities, and an occasional castle on either side of you. Every day you’ll find yourself in a different port, often with only a short walk into town, where you can wander and explore on your own or with a scheduled excursion. Many kinds of itineraries are available, on just about every continent.
Think of river ships as small floating boutique hotels that offer a friendly, personal, and enjoyable experience onboard. The ships in Europe are small enough to slip through locks and under bridges, often with only inches to spare, but large enough to provide the amenities you would expect. And with fewer than 200 guests (and now many fewer than that), you could meet everyone on board if you wanted to, and dine with different people at each meal. Crewmembers quickly get to know you and what you like.
After a long hiatus, river ships are sailing and welcoming guests again. As with ocean cruises and resorts, they are implementing rigorous health and safety guidelines to protect guests from Covid-19. Requirements are determined by the countries sailed through.
Five reasons to consider a river cruise
1. A different kind of experience -- a perfect balance of relaxation and adventure and a level of luxury, depending on the cruise line you choose. You’ll have many types of excursions to choose from at all levels of physical exertion, from slow walkers to bike touring and hiking. Ships may be in port into the evening, so you can take advantage of evening activities onshore. Heated pools, hot tubs, health clubs, and spas are available for your enjoyment. One cruise line offers a wellness coach on every sailing who teaches classes and leads excursions. Some ships have bicycles available onboard or arrange for them onshore. All staff members speak English.
2. Value – Prices are higher than for many ocean cruises, however river cruises tend to be all inclusive or nearly so, along with attentive personal service. You pay up front for the level of stateroom and experience you want, then leave your wallet in the safe. Fares cover accommodations, all meals, snacks, parties, and entertainment. Other typical inclusions are a selection of excursions, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, sparkling wine with breakfast, specialty coffees and teas all day. The cuisine on some ships is extraordinary. Some cruise lines include all beverages, along with pre-paid gratuities. Others offer drink packages. Often, special cultural activities such as local concerts and performances, culinary events, or museum visits are available, either included or for a small charge. Sometimes you can catch a promotion that offers free air or a free pre- or post-land package, along with onboard credits.
3. Cultural immersion. River cruises tailor their onshore and onboard experiences to provide an authentic dip into the culture. Experienced local tour guides lead you to cultural and historical landmarks and hidden gems. You’ll visit venues for local residents, not just tourists. Local entertainers give performances onboard. Many river ships serve meals, wines, beers, and spirits characteristic of the areas you visit. The ship’s concierge would be happy to arrange for you to take part in a local activity, such as a visit to a thermal bath.
4. Comfort. From four-or-five-star amenities to fine dining, excellent service and luxurious experiences are provided throughout your trip on many cruise lines. Casual dress is the standard. River cruises are low-key, never feel rushed or crowded, and have no lines to get off or on. Just pick up your boarding card, and walk off the vessel and return any time you want when in port. Rivers tend to be calm, so motion sickness is not an issue.
5. Themes. It’s easier than ever to find cruises that are designed around a theme, such as wine, beer, culinary, art, photography, crafts, gardens and nature, golf, history, Jewish heritage, Christmas markets, wildlife and safari. You can also host your own group around a hobby or special interest of yours.
How to choose
River cruises are available on just about every continent. Rivers include the Rhine, Main, Moselle, Danube, Elbe, Seine, Rhône, Saône, Garonne, Dordogne, and Douro in Europe; the Nile and Choba in Africa, the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia, Yangtze in China, the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, the Volga in Russia, Dnieper in Ukraine; the Amazon in South America, and the Mississippi, Ohio, Colombia and Snake rivers in the US; and recently added by one cruise line, the Magdalena River in Colombia.
Some cruise ships can accommodate multigenerational groups and children, with special features such as connecting cabins and special activities. Business owners, professionals, clubs, and religious leaders have had great success in hosting groups of their clients or members on themed cruises.
You’ll need to consider many factors in choosing a river cruise beyond the country, itinerary, and price. Each cruise operator and river ship has a distinct character, services, and amenities. I recommend that you work with a travel professional who is familiar with the offerings, has personal experience with this style of travel, and can suggest options that would be right for you. I’d be happy to have a conversation with you when you are ready to explore an exciting vacation or group cruise on a scenic river.