Is a River Cruise Right for You?
To support this growing trend, companies such as Viking River Cruises, Avalon Waterways, AmaWaterways and Uniworld have expanded their fleets. So what exactly is river cruising all about?Vibrant itineraries
Rather than traversing the coast, river cruises offer rich itineraries that highlight riverside cities such as Vienna, Paris, Cairo, Beijing and ports throughout Africa. With ports in the center of town, secondary travel time on buses or trains is minimal, leaving travelers more time to tour. This is a major perk, as many large-ship itineraries claim desirable ports such as Rome and Florence when they actually visit Civitavecchia and Livorno -- two port cities about 90 minutes outside of town.Worldwide exploration
Contrary to popular belief, the boundaries of river cruising extend far beyond Europe. Plan to explore ports along narrow waterways such as China’s Yangtze River, the Nile River in Egypt or even the Amazon River in Brazil and Peru. Here in the U.S., companies such as American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines slip in and out of ports along the Mississippi River, Chesapeake Bay, Erie Canal and beyond.All-inclusive experiences
Most river cruise lines offer at least one free shore excursion in each city. Led by local guides, walking tours and visits to local Christmas markets or museums offer an authentic sampling of what each city has to offer from an insider’s perspective. Additionally, all onboard meals are included, along with wine, beer and soft drinks.Local flavor
Because river cruises have fewer passengers, the intimate vessels are able to procure a treasure trove of local produce, seafood and meat for onboard meals -- food is often fresher and more regionally inspired than on large-ship cruises. Entertainment is also locally cultivated; classical pianists, folk dancers and small bands may be brought on board for a show. You won’t find multiple lounges, casinos, sprawling spa areas or fancy gyms, and activities such as trivia and making animal-shapes out of towels are replaced with cultural seminars and cooking demonstrations.Themed options
As river cruising continues to evolve, opportunities for themed experiences are more prevalent. New itineraries highlight Holland in tulip season, Europe’s famous Christmas markets and France’s majestic wine region, in addition to safari and wildlife cruises through Africa. Activity-focused cruises hone in on golf, history and biking.
River cruising might not be for everyone. Smaller ships mean limited outlets, and there won’t be a bevy of onboard restaurants and nightlife, if that’s your cup of tea. Cruising in general affords the opportunity to explore many countries in just a few days, and river cruises zoom in just a bit further to bring guests to cities that aren’t just port cities, but prime destinations.