River cruising may be less well-known than ocean cruising but its popularity is growing. Every time we take a cruise we find more things to love about cruising inland waterways. Here are 10 reasons to take a river cruise, in no particular order.
1. It’s an incredible value.
River cruise fares offer great vacation value because almost everything is included in the price, including a guided tour of each port, in-room wi-fi, and wine and beer with meals. Many cruise lines even include all gratuities for guides, drivers and crew. (Read more here.)
Not included in the price:
- Top shelf alcohol. Some cruise lines include an open bar (that’s what I’d expect with higher fares) while others offer a drinks package instead.
- Personal items and gratuities.
Our experience: Our cruises were with Viking, which does not have an open bar policy. For this reason, we splurged on the all-inclusive premium beverage package. We really don’t drink a lot of hard liquor but we do enjoy good wines, and it was nice to share a bottle of the local vintage without having to worry about the final bill. We considered it “no sticker shock insurance.” As for the gratuity, considering the incredibly attentive service, they certainly more than earned it and we were happy to pay.
2. There’s no nickel-and-diming on the cruise.
Every ocean cruise we’ve been on began with a hefty charge for “incidentals and gratuities” on our credit card, and then continued with daily sales pitches to buy, buy, buy. Not here.
The all-inclusive nature of river cruises allows you to relax, free from worrying about surprises when you get the final bill. There are no casinos, ever-present photographers, drinks-of-the-day, spa specials, or overpriced excursions.
Our experience: We booked and paid for our optional tours ahead of time, which were fairly priced. Again, there were no surprises at the end of the cruise.
3. There’s no worrying about logistics.
If you’re the type who stresses about the details and returns home wondering if you’ve seen all the highlights, relax. All the details are taken care of, from the well-planned itinerary to transportation, lodging and food.
Our experience: We loved not having to think about anything but having fun.
4. River ships are intimate.
Because they need to go through locks and under low bridges, ships that navigate the rivers must be limited in size. What this means to you: even the largest of river vessels can carry no more than about 200 passengers.
Not only does this mean that the staff will get to know you, you have a chance to get to know the staff, many of whom are from the countries you’ll be visiting. What a great way to get to know a local!
River cruising also offers a fabulous opportunity to get to know your fellow passengers—both on the sun deck, in the lounge, and at meals.
Our experience: We still keep in touch with a couple of people we met when we were on our 2011 Rhine River cruise.
5. River cruising is casual.
No reserved tables on this cruise: When it comes to dining there is just one seating, and it’s open seating. River cruising is casual dress at all times as well, so forget the long dress and tux. Leave your heels and ties at home.
Our experience: It’s nice not having formal nights. We brought along some slightly dressier clothes anyway (e.g., skirt, button-down shirt and a tie). We thought we would feel more comfortable at the Captain’s Dinner and the evening concert in Vienna.
6. You’ll never get bored.
Ships may calmly sail the waters with nary a ripple, but the rest of the river cruise experience is action-packed. Every evening you will find a cruise newsletter on your bed, listing tomorrow’s schedule. This will give you plenty of time to plan the next day’s activities, lectures, shore excursions, meals, and any planned on-board games and activities.
If you need some alone time to relax in your stateroom, look no further than your flat-screen TV. It offers a variety of movies, documentaries, news channels (in English), and itinerary-specific programs.
Our experience: Who has time for TV?
7. You’ll never get seasick.
If you’re looking for smooth sailing, this is it; it doesn’t get any smoother than this. River currents are easy and—with the possible exception of a passing speedboat—practically wave-free.
Our experience: We only needed the anti-nausea pills once: to share with a shipmate who was super-sensitive to the passing trees.
8. You’ll never have to worry about sinking in open waters.
Rivers are only a few meters deep—sometimes only a few feet—so even in the unlikely event the ship were to sink you could just bring a book to the top deck and wait for help. Oh—and you will never even think about sharks.
Our experience: I don’t know about you, but I think that there’s something very reassuring about always being able to see the shore.
9. The ships are luxurious.
Forget what you have heard: Newer vessels are a million miles away from the cramped, older ships of yesteryear. Think floating, upscale, modern hotel.
Even though they have to be small, the newest ships still have a serious “wow factor.” Public areas have incredible contemporary decor, lots of glass, plenty of light. Some lines offer spas, fitness rooms, and al fresco dining options. One line even has a swimming pool that transforms into a cinema in the evening!
These days, comfortable lounges, balconies and open decks provide an array of opportunities to hang out and relax in the sun or shade. There are computers for people who don’t want to bring along their electronics and libraries that offer a quiet spot to sit with a book or work a jigsaw puzzle. Sun decks can include pools, hot tubs, putting greens, chaise lounges, herb gardens, shuffleboard and oversize lawn chess.
In the staterooms—you can even book a 2-room suite—expect refrigerators, hotel-style beds and marble baths with heated floors and l’Occitane toiletries. When you book your cruise you’ll quickly discover that there is no such thing as an interior room. Every cabin has a view of the river and most have balconies or sliding doors that open. The staterooms rival any hotel with their fluffy linens and flat-screen TVs, but here your in-room wi-fi is free.
Our experience: No matter where you go, high demand will slow internet speeds. You’ll get better wi-fi while everyone else is ashore or asleep.
10. Traveling on the rivers are your best way to truly see a region.
No ocean cruise will let you check off Bucket List places like Nuremberg, Paris, Siem Reap and Budapest. No road trip will get you to as many World Heritage sites in a week without exhaustion.
Cruise itineraries offer the highlights of a region, many of which are UNESCO sites. They’ve done all the research so you reap the rewards with a wonderful mixture of scenery, big city life, and picturesque villages. On our 7-day Rhine River cruise, we were able to sample Swiss chocolate in Basel, enjoy photographing the intensely castle-laden Middle Rhine, explore quaint Alsatian villages like Colmar, see Cologne’s famous Gothic cathedral and enjoy the canals in Amsterdam. Not to mention sample Dutch jenever with new found friends.
If you’d like more ammunition to help convince your special someone to take you on a river cruise, you can find even more reasons in our second article.
Read our daily River Cruise Journal entries from our 15-day Grand European Tour, beginning in Budapest.