When The Motion of the Ocean Doesn't "Float Your Boat"
by Chris Dikmen
We tend to associate "cruising" with getting on a huge ship filled with thousands of people and sailing to foreign ports of call in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Alaska or Far East. It is interesting that many ignore the most original form of travel on water: river cruising. It is safe to say that mankind was moving goods and people up and down rivers long before ocean travel came into fashion. In fact, the majority of cities and towns throughout the world (up until 100 years ago or so) were constructed on or near a river. Before the railroad, rivers were the lifeline to commerce and travel.
River Cruising - American Style
Sternwheelers are nostalgic vessels that not only transport you from one river town to the next, they take you back to a point in history when the country was young and travel was an adventure. Who can step aboard a sternwheeler and not wonder what it must have been like for Mark Twain to book a cruise down the Mississippi for 50 cents a day?
A new company, American Queen Steamboat Company, has resurrected the grand American Queen to give travelers quite a different river cruising experience. American Queen is the largest steamboat ever constructed and she sails the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Here, the emphasis is on the history of steamboating and the role these great rivers played in the development and expansion of America. The southern portion of the Mississippi is filled with Civil War battlefields and great history while the northern leg (St. Louis to Minneapolis) offers more scenery and wildlife.
You can read our review of American Queen here.
European River Cruising
European riverboats have been purpose-built for modern river sailing. A typical European riverboat is a long, sleek, narrow vessel with no more than four decks. The shape allows them to navigate the various locks and bridges found on European riverways. A river cruise in Europe is all about the history of the land. Over the past ten years, we have watched the European river cruise market explode. There are dozens of companies that operate ships on the Danube, Rhone, Moselle, and Rhine rivers alone.
European river boats are long and short to fit under bridges
European River Cruise Operators
Viking River Cruises is unquestionably the largest operator in the world. We have sailed with Viking River Cruises several times over the past ten years. Viking River Cruises continues to grow and expand throughout the world. They are launching six new riverboats this year alone! And, their new longships promise to revolutionize the river cruise experience. Viking River Cruises' sailings are uniquely geared towards the North American audience. All tours are conducted in English and everything is geared toward American/Canadian tastes. Viking River Cruises offers a great value and a wonderful way to see Europe, China, Egypt, Russia or Asia via river. To read our latest Viking River Cruises review, click here.
Tauck is a company that has been providing tours around the world for 87 years. They have expanded their reach into the European river cruise business with four identical ships that offer upscale luxury and amenities. We have sailed on two Tauck river cruises and have been very impressed with the quality and professionalism. We would consider Tauck to be at the upscale end of the river cruise segment with lots of extras included in the cruise fare. To read our latest review of Tauck, click here.
Uniworld claims to offer its guests a "6-star experience." Even though our CruiseReport rating system only goes as high as 5-star, we can't argue with the claim that Uniworld is at the top of the river cruise pack when it comes to service and quality. Our 2015 sailing aboard the new SS Catherine reveals that this is a true luxury river cruise line that offers quality and all-inclusive value. To read our review of Uniworld, click here.
Since 2002, AmaWaterways has earned a reputation as one of the river cruise linew operating on the world’s most scenic waterways. With 16 ships sailing the waterways of Europe, AmaWaterways is one of the larger river cruise operators. We had the opportunity to sail on a Christmas Markets cruise aboard AmaReina in 2014. To read our review, click here.
Although we have not had the opportunity to sail with Avalon Waterways, they have some very impressive looking, and innovative river boats. They claim to have the youngest fleet of riverboats with the largest staterooms at 172 sq. ft. Avalon has ships operating in Europe, China, Egypt and even Galapagos Islands. For more information about Avalon Waterways, click here.
Advantages of river cruising
Convenience - On a river cruise, you have the ability to visit several cities, perhaps even in multiple countries, without having to pack and unpack each time you move from one place to the next. You literally wake up in a new city every day and, in many cases, you can step off the boat and walk into town or even take a bicycle ride!
Inclusive - Unlike ocean cruises, the fare your pay for your river cruise will include most, if not all, land tours and excursions. Tauck even includes all gratuities, beverages and pre-/post-cruise hotel stays. Uniworld also includes gratuities and all beverages. This makes river cruising an exceptional travel value.
Smooth sailing - You never have to experience motion sickness on a river cruise. In fact, you probably won't even know the ship is moving! It's that smooth.
No long lines - Riverboats typically carry only 100 to 150 passengers, so you will never find yourself standing in long lines.
Adult-oriented - River cruises tend to attract a more mature clientele. There are no facilities or staff dedicated to entertaining children. Therefore, a river cruise is probably not the best choice for a family vacation with the kids.
Casual - You can leave your suit and tie at home. River cruises tend to be much more casual and relaxed than ocean cruises. There are no formal nights.
Want more information? Read our head-to-head comparison of European River Cruise companies, click here