You may have heard of river cruising and most likely it was through a Viking commercial on TV. You may be less sure if it is the right vacation for you or your family. So what is a river cruise? A river cruise is a voyage along an inland waterway with multiple stops. The nice thing about them is they usually stop in the city center and go through the heart of the country vice skirting around the outside of the country. They are a means to get to a destination with lots of scenery along the way.
These cruises usually appeal to the historically minded. They are not the best choice for families with kids since there are usually no kids programs onboard. They are also generally not a good choice for the mobility challenged because there is generally a lot of walking on their shore excursions. Speaking of shore excursions, most of them are included in the price of the cruise and are always led by local guides. They include castle tours, bike tours, culinary tours, and wine tastings.
If you’ve seen the ships before you can see a big difference between them and ocean going ships. They are on smaller ships that accommodate a smaller number of people (150-250) as opposed to 2500-4000 for ocean going ships. The ships are generally longer and lower to get under low bridges except for those in Asia. Many companies in Asia charter ships so they look very different from what you will see in Europe. There is a smaller contingent of staff but you still see personalized service.
You probably recognize Viking again from the commercials but there are a number of companies out there. Viking is known for its understated elegance. AMA Waterways is known for its classic design. Uniworld focuses on opulence everywhere. Avalon is all about sleek modern style. And finally, the American Steamboat Company showcases the Victorian era.
Cabins are a little different than ocean going ships. Here’s the laydown
Cabin Categories (descriptions vary per line)
- Portholes and Windows-roughly comparable to an inside (inside cabins don’t really exist on river cruises)
- French balcony-no outdoor balcony area but room opens to the outside
- Split balcony-combination of French balcony and standard balcony
- Standard balcony-actually space outside the room for sitting area (found on American and exotic lines)
Entertainment is also different than an ocean going ships. There are no big production shows on most ships. The exception is the American Steamboat Company as they have larger venues. Most shows are locally sourced and showcase the culture and customs of the area.
Dining is also a little different than ocean going ships. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style with open seating and unlike ocean going ships that is your only option. Dinner is a sit down more formal meal and some ships have specialty dining venues. Unlike ocean cruises beer and wine is included in the price of the cruise.
You can expect to see some standard amenities. These include: bar, lounge, and sun deck often with a pool, hot tub, workout room, boutique, and spa. Remember these are smaller ships so the communal spaces will be smaller than ocean vessels.
I’ve included some major destinations
- Europe- is the most popular
- Africa-features Egypt on the Nile
- United States-Mississippi and Ohio River
River cruises are definitely something to try if you’re historically minded and like sampling the local culture and cuisine.