The relaxed pace gives travellers an unparalleled opportunity to fully absorb the beauty and charm of the European countryside and historic riverside settlements.
Meandering slowly past timeless villages, lush vineyards and centuries-old castles, guests on a river cruise holiday are able to take it all in across multiple countries or regions. Some concentrate on specific areas like Bordeaux in France or the Douro in Portugal.
Evoking a sense of wonder and enchantment, a river cruise is unlike anything experienced on an ocean cruise.
While the large ocean liners carry thousands of passengers, river cruise ships are more like floating boutique hotels - big enough to offer the sumptuous surroundings cruisers enjoy while still providing intimate experiences for less than 200 people.
On a river cruise, passengers don’t usually have to contend with long queues or the delays that come with disembarking thousands of passengers from a single gangway. The ships effortlessly dock in ports allowing guests to leisurely disembark at their own convenience and step right into the heart of the destination.
With almost every day spent in a new town or village, river cruising on European waterways feels more like a friendly small-group tour than a mass tourism experience.
Of course, there are some similarities between ocean and river cruising experiences – unpacking just once being the best – but there’s also some very appealing differences.
More intimate ships
With generally less than 200 passengers, the river cruise experience is a much more intimate experience. While there are still bars and lounges to accommodate group gatherings, you won’t find pulsating dance clubs, ice-skating rinks, rock-climbing walls, children’s waterparks or mega casinos for example.
To navigate their way through the many river locks along Europe’s inland waterways, river cruise vessels are generally less than 150-metres long and 15-metres wide.
Unlike ocean cruising’s al-a-carte approach to extras and services, river cruise prices typically include extras like wine and beer with meals, specialty restaurants, Wi-Fi, land tours, transfers to the ship, gratuities and more.
With most things included in your fare upfront, there is no need for your credit card at check-in or your room key to charge expenses back to. The only cash you’ll need is for shopping.
As with all cruises, food is an important part of the river experience. Local seasonal fare is used wherever possible and during select port days, you can often follow the chefs as they walk through the villages and farms in search of the freshest ingredients for the evening’s menu.
Breakfast and lunch may be buffet style but not as you know it. Expect a selection of European favourites such as smoked salmon, meats and cheeses, freshly baked breads and more.
An a-la-carte menu for hot dishes cooked to order is usually available with table service.
More days to explore
Your next destination is never far away on a river cruise. Each day brings a new port and often a new country.
Most cruising is done overnight, so there are no endless sea days between ports. Some days may see designated hours for scenic cruising when the relaxed pace provides excellent views of the passing scenery.
Steps from your destination
While river cruise companies provide coaches for the more distant shore excursions, generally, you do your exploring on foot because you have the luxury of docking near the heart of the town you’re visiting.
Because time isn’t wasted piling onto buses or standing in long lines to disembark the ship, there’s more time to explore and see the sites.
Immersive shore excursions
Most river cruises include a variety of shore excursions in the price of the ticket – some basic tours plus optional paid experiences. From immersive tours that focus on local culture and food, to onboard activities that include lectures and entertainment, passengers are able to get a unique feel for each destination.
You won’t get seasick
Motion sickness can be a holiday killer. No one wants to be stuck in their cabin, unable to experience the wonderful benefits of cruising but while the river systems are tidal, you won’t find large swells as you would on an ocean cruise. In fact, there’s barely a hint you’re moving at all on a river cruise.
Published under license from Well Travelled