River Cruises

Over the past several years, river cruising has become one of the fastest growing and most popular areas of leisure travel. Travelers love it because not only do you just have to unpack once and your lodging and food come as part of the package, but the ships are much smaller and more intimate than larger ocean-going ships. Other pluses: sightseeing tours are usually included in the price (with often additional excursion choices), and there are continuous sights all along the riverfront, not just in port stops. With an increasing number of cruise line, river, and ship options to choose from around the world, Stride can help you navigate through them smoothly.

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Top Trip Memories

  • Sipping wine on deck or on your balcony as your river cruise boat drifts past an ever-changing panorama of old-world Europe.

  • Gazing at the vast Amazon rainforests via riverboat while listening to howler monkeys crying in the distance.

  • Sailing through Germany’s Rhine Gorge, where more than 40 castles and fortresses stand guard on hilltops.

  • Cruising on an authentic paddle-wheeler down the Mississippi River from Memphis to New Orleans.

  • Taking a night cruise past the grand illuminated buildings of Budapest, Hungary, known as the “Queen of the Danube” for its dramatic setting along the river.

  • Drinking in the scenery along the Three Gorges section of the Yangtze River in China.

  • Enjoying a water-borne passage from Moscow to St. Petersburg via the Volga and other rivers and lakes, while visiting traditional Russian towns en route.

  • Gliding past French chateaus, palaces and medieval cities on a history and art-lover’s voyage along the Seine.

  • Searching for rare Indian rhinos and tigers in Kaziranga National Park on a cruise down the Brahmaputra River in India.

  • Retracing the route of explorers Lewis and Clark along the Columbia River in the U.S. Northwest.

  • Discovering temples, villages and pagodas on slow-going riverboat cruises through Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.

  • Seeing Egypt and its vast cultural treasures while drifting slowly down the Nile on a four-tiered riverboat.

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Tour Tips

  • Find the right cabin: If you value space, look for cabins that are at least 170 square feet in size.

  • Read the fine print to check what’s included: To judge the best value as opposed to just the lowest price, watch for how many “extras” are included in the base rate – such as port excursions, alcohol, balcony cabins and even free international airfare – that could add considerably to the cost if purchased separately.  

  • Avoid unnecessary expense: You could easily find yourself paying premium prices for luxuries that you might not be interested in: butler service, for example, or unlimited top-brand spirits, or crystal chandeliers in the lobby.  

  • Evaluate the shore excursions: The quality of port excursions (which may or may not be included in the base price) is especially crucial on river cruises, since you’ll be spending more time on shore than you do on ocean-going vessels.

  • Check out the guides: Knowledgeable, personable guides – who speak good English – can add immeasurably to your enjoyment, as can well-planned side trips to nearby cities, towns, wineries, or historic sites.

  • Book as early as possible: If you don’t want to lose out on that balcony cabin you’ve been eyeing, or on some nice early-booking discounts, get your deposit down as soon as possible. Demand is outpacing supply in Europe, especially, so booking a year in advance is necessary on some lines.

  • Consider the clientele: Some cruise lines attract a wide-ranging international clientele, while others appeal mainly to Americans. Similarly, some river cruise lines market almost exclusively to ages 50 and up, while others also cater to younger passengers, including families.

  • Compare and contrast the itineraries: While many itineraries may appear similar for the same rivers, some lines may offer more time in port, some less, or offer a few different ports and side-trip options than their competitors.  

  • Review the dining options: On some ships, everyone eats at the same time in one dining room, while others offer several dining choices both as to venues – including alfresco dining -- and hours. Table size can vary, too.  

  • Weigh the costs of going solo: If you plan on traveling alone on your cruise, check into the cruise lines’ policies on charging for single supplements, and whether or not they will match you with a same-sex roommate if you’d like to avoid the extra charge.

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River Cruises Trips & Tour Advice

As has been true across the globe, many of the great cities of Europe -- Paris, London, Rome, Florence, Budapest, Vienna, and Cologne to name just a few -- grew up along rivers, which have served as water-borne trade and transportation routes for thousands of years (and still do). Rivers also have served as the lifeline for atmospheric European small towns and villages, many of them seemingly right out of the Middle Ages. So when you take a European river cruise, it’s a wonderful way to view both grand cities and picturesque towns that you often won’t experience by driving, walking -- or by ocean cruising.

The same is true for river cruises in other parts of the world as well. Manaus, Brazil, was settled along the Amazon; Cairo and Luxor, Egypt, flourished along the Nile; Mandalay, Myanmar, lies along the Irrawaddy; Shanghai, China, straddles the Yangtze; Calcutta (Kolkata), India, grew up along the Hugli River, an arm of the Ganges; and Memphis, Tennessee, St. Louis, Missouri, and Minneapolis, Minnesota are all situated along the Mississippi.

Access to Ports 

Many great cruise port stops, then, are only available via riverboats. Riverboats also have the advantage of being much smaller and more intimate than most ocean cruise vessels, some of which are now the size of small cities. Most riverboats hold between 100 and 200 passengers, compared to up to 5,000 or more on the largest ocean cruise ships. That means you can get on and off the ships much faster -- especially since riverboats are usually able to dock right in the center of a city or town, which the ocean-going behemoths often cannot.

Port stops tend to be longer on riverboats as well, allowing for additional sightseeing time, while organized shore excursions and tours are usually included in the price (along with food and often drink). And there’s almost always something to keep your viewing interest -- whether it’s vineyards in Austria or temples in Cambodia -- while you’re on a riverboat, since you’re seldom far from shore. The chances of getting seasick on a river are also almost nil.

Cabins Fill Fast

There are some things to keep in mind when booking a river cruise. Because of their popularity, river cruises -- especially the most coveted cabins -- can fill up fast. So it’s a good idea to book early, especially for European itineraries. Lines like Viking River Cruises and CroisiEurope are adding ships as fast as they can, yet the demand is still greater than the supply on some routes such as the Rhine and Danube rivers.

Besides looking over our “Top Tour Tips” section, you should be aware that if you travel during the rainy season at your destination, occasional flooding may make river travel difficult or impossible (in this case, passengers may have to travel part of the route on buses) -- though off-season travel does often bring good discounts, and the chances of severe flooding in any given year are fairly rare. Be sure to check out our other river cruising guides as well: The Top 12 European River Cruises; The Top Seven Non-European River Cruises; and individual river guides including those to the Danube, Rhine, and Seine, among others.