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10 Reasons to Take a River Cruise

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Although river cruising may be less well-known than ocean cruising, it's becoming more popular every year. And for good reason. We have vacationed on Europe's waterways twice, and we have really enjoyed it. In case you haven't considered it as an option for your next holiday (or you need some ammunition convincing someone to join you), we have come up with 10 reasons to take a river cruise, in no particular order.

1. It’s an incredible value.

The cruise fare offers great vacation value because almost everything is included in the price. Yes, unlike ocean cruises even a tour of each port is included (read more about that below). Ships also provide free in-room wi-fi and offer free wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner.

Food, transport, room, all included in the price. Credit: Viking Cruises
Food, transport, room, all included in the price. Credit: Viking Cruises

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.
  • Tips for private guides. Viking Cruises suggests €2 (Euro) per person for tour guides and €1 for bus drivers
  • Tips for staff. Viking suggests a (per guest, per day) gratuity of €2 Euro for your Program Director and €12 (Euro) which will be shared among the other staff on board.

Our experience: Viking does not include alcohol in its price so we splurged on the all-inclusive premium beverage package. We really don't drink a lot of hard alcohol but we do enjoy good wines, and it was nice to share a bottle of the local one 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.

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 high-priced excursions.

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.

Our experience: We booked and paid for our optional tours ahead of time. 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 thought out itinerary to transportation, lodging and food.

Our experience: We loved not having to think about anything but having fun.

4. River ships are intimate.

Ships that travel on the rivers have to be limited in size because they need to go through locks and under low bridges. What this means is that 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!

It 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.

Meeting people on our river cruise ship
Tasting jenever with one of the friends from our last 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 experience is action-packed. You will receive a cruise newsletter at turn-down listing the schedule for 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.

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. And I didn't need any Bonine to protect my ever-queasy tummy.

Viking veranda stateroom
Shore is always within sight. Credit: Viking River Cruises

9. The ships are luxurious.

Forget what you have heard: Newer vessels are a million miles away from the cramped, older ships of yesteryear, and they are new and updated. Today's cruise ship is a floating, upscale, modern hotel.

Even though river limitations mean they have to be smaller, the newest ships on the river 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!

This is the atrium on the Viking Bragi cruise ship. Credit: Ralph Grizzle,
This is the atrium on the Viking Bragi cruise ship. Credit: Ralph Grizzle,

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: You get better wi-fi while everyone else is ashore.

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, Vienna, 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 World Heritage sites. They’ve done all the research, 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, we'll continue with more reasons to take a river cruise in our next article.

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages has inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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15 thoughts on “10 Reasons to Take a River Cruise

  1. Oh Linda, I don’t need any more reasons to go on a river cruise! I almost booked a trip on Viking this spring, but I changed my mind at the very last minute for the train tour in Switzerland. No worries though, the river cruise is at the top of my list. Your cabin was so nice!

  2. This post is full of good information. Even though a river cruise is an unique experience, I keep comparing it to an ocean cruise because that is my only point of reference. This help me to get away from that mentality.

    1. We just returned from our 15-day river cruise; we felt spoiled, indulged and pampered. The intimate atmosphere was quite a contrast to our Adriatic cruise when we were just one couple among thousands on the ship.

  3. This was very enlightening post for me- I never river-cruised and did not know about many (not so obvious) differences with ocean cruising. I would have to give it a thought after I get rid of the road tripping bug:) which is my preferred mode of travel within Europe right now:)

    1. Road tripping Europe is such a wonderful adventure, no wonder you like it so much! We do, too. If we’d had more time we would have taken one the last time we river cruised. We did manage to squeeze in a few extra days before and after, though. 🙂

  4. The allure of the river cruise is so tempting, but, like the barge cruises on the Canal du Midi in France, we are afraid that we would feel trapped on board a slow moving boat and miss out.

    1. We’ve never been on a barge cruise, so I’m afraid I don’t understand what you miss out on. We sure never felt trapped on the fast-moving Rhine, Main or Danube Rivers; there was plenty to do on board and we had lots of opportunities to go ashore.

    1. We just returned from our cruise. Have to say we felt completely indulged. It’s an amazing experience to have nothing to think about but having a good time.

  5. I went on a river cruise years ago in Egypt it was fantastic value.
    However we were not advised about what to tip and where and being Australian it just isn’t in our culture to tip so advice would have been very helpful.

    1. One of the hardest things about traveling is knowing how much to tip … or even if it is an accepted part of the culture. In Panama 10% is the customary amount, while in the US it’s 15%-20% which may sound like a lot until you realize that wait staff get paid as little as $2.13 per hour. We really appreciated that Viking had suggested amounts to tip because we really had no clue.

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