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River cruising has been an increasingly popular form of leisure travel in recent years. River cruises are one-week or longer, overnight passenger cruises on vessels that range in size from a small four-passenger canal barge to the largest passenger river vessel afloat, the 396-passenger Victoria Jenna, which operates on the Yangtze River in China.
European river cruising takes place in what is, at maximum, a 38-foot-by-410-foot vessel, with dimensions dictated by the locks and bridges that the vessels must pass through and under. European river cruisers generally range from between 100 and 200 passengers.
River cruises travel along many of the major rivers in the world. In Europe, the Danube River is second in length only to the Volga River in Russia. The Danube is one of the most popular rivers to cruise along, and many river cruises include the Danube as part of their itinerary.
The Main, Rhine, Moselle, Elbe, Rhone, Saone, and Seine are also popular rivers in Europe for river cruising. Read more about Why River Cruising In Europe?
Elsewhere in the world, the Amazon River in Peru and Brazil, the Nile River in Egypt, the Yangtze River in China, and the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia are also popular river cruise destinations.
Also, see River Cruises Around The World
Barges typically are smaller and with fewer frills and amenities than river cruisers. Whereas river cruisers may carry more than 100 passengers, barges range from a few passengers to a few dozen. Read more about How River Cruises & Barge Cruises Differ
Amenities vary, but standard on most river cruise ships are a restaurant, bar and lounge, library, and sky deck.
Most river cruise ships have a fitness center with a few pieces of fitness equipment and possibly a sauna. There is often either a hair salon and/or a masseuse on board.
Some ships might have a whirlpool; others, like those on the Nile, almost always have a dipping pool on the top deck.
Increasingly in Europe, ships are adding elevators and smaller, alternative dining lounges at the aft of the ship. Outdoor grilling on the top deck is also becoming more popular on newer ships.
Also, see River Cruise Company Differences
In the past, river cruisers were defined by small cabins and twin beds, not an ideal choice for honeymooners. But cabins have improved tremendously in recent years. They are becoming more spacious and more like luxury ocean-going vessels, with comfortable beds and bedding, and well-appointed bathrooms.
That said, there is often more limited storage space for luggage and clothing in cabins than there would be on luxury cruise ships. The cabins generally come outfitted with TVs, safes, bathrobes and slippers, desks, and also increasingly more have sliding doors and French balconies. There are also higher numbers of larger suites being built on river cruise ships.
Luxury ocean cruises typically are defined by spacious staterooms, as noted above, fine dining, an all-inclusive product, including beer, wine and spirits, gratuities, and shore excursions on one luxury cruise line (Regent Seven Seas Cruises).
River cruisers don’t quite match the luxury standards of ocean-going vessels, but river cruisers do come close. Refer to the chart at How River Cruising Compares To Luxury Ocean Cruising for comparison.
Not always. Some ships might have a whirlpool; others, like those on the Nile, almost always have a dipping pool on the top deck.
River cruising consists of three main activities: dining, cruising, and touring.
The majority of meals are served on board in the restaurant or in alternative dining areas like the smaller aft lounge or on the top deck. Sometimes meals will be at restaurants or other dining venues at various ports of call.
Cruising from one destination to the next often takes place at night while passengers are sleeping, but sometimes the cruises will also sail during the day, giving passengers an opportunity to relax or enjoy the scenery.
The main purpose for river cruising though is to tour the various towns, cities, and ports along the way. There is a fair amount of walking on river cruising during informative walking tours. There is often usually free time to roam the port towns as well.
Some river cruise ships in Europe carry bikes on board for people to ride into town or from one port to the next.
The food on river cruise ships in Europe is generally very good. It is European-influenced cuisine.
Breakfast and lunch are usually buffet style. Breakfast usually consists of cereals, yogurt, fruit, pastries, egg dishes, meats, juices, tea and coffee.
At lunch, there is often a salad bar, soups, several hot and cold dishes, and desserts.
Dinners are generally three-course meals with table service. The cuisine often ties in the local dishes of the region passengers are sailing through. Some river cruise companies include wine and beer during dinner at no additional charge.
River cruising appeals strongly to baby boomers and matures. That said, a wide range of people river cruise. Some river cruise companies have family-friendly sailings for people traveling with children. The introduction of bikes on board is also enticing younger cruisers. There is a wide range of nationalities on board, generally from English-speaking countries, including from the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
River cruising is not for everyone. Non-smokers, in particular, beware. Read more about Why River Cruising Is Not For Everyone
Pack as light as possible due to storage limitations in the cabins. Pack for variable weather, meaning layers, taking into consideration that even during warmer months river cruising can be windy during sailings. Pack comfortable shoes for walking. And pack for nicer occasions like concerts or performances on shore, or more formal dinners on board.
See Cruise Companies for a complete listing.
In Europe, the main river cruise companies are AMAWaterways, A-ROSA, Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Emerald Waterways, Grand Circle Travel, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld River Cruises, Vantage, and Viking River Cruises.
Some river cruise companies have family-friendly sailings for people traveling with children. But otherwise, not very. There is not much for younger children to do on board, in terms of games or activities.
This is a tough question for more than one reason – and sadly, the short answer is this: European river cruising in general is not well-suited to those confined to a wheelchair. River cruising through Europe can be surprisingly wheelchair unfriendly. Variances in water levels along the rivers can result in steep gangways, and some docking locations are downright unfriendly when it comes to the mobility-impaired.
For guests coming from North America, this might seem to be unfathomable. The simple fact remains, though, that many cities may not have wheelchair ramps at convenient locations simply due to the structure of the cities themselves, which can be hundreds of years old. While major cities will likely have facilities catering to those confined to a wheelchair, smaller towns, and villages are less likely.
Most river cruise ships in Europe either have wireless Internet access on board or are trying to get it installed. Be warned, the connection can be spotty and is often not 100 percent reliable. See What You Need To Know About Shipboard Internet On Your River Cruise