River cruising, what’s it all about?

River cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors in the cruise industry at the moment, and with good reason. A river cruise is one of the best ways travel inland in Europe. But be warned, it is a vastly different experience to that of a mega ship on an ocean cruise.

River v’s Ocean cruise

Along the rivers you will visit beautiful villages, fairytale towns and fabled cities. Onboard the long, sleek ships you are able to squeeze under medieval bridges and through narrow locks. Unlike the towering ocean cruiseships with around 3,500 passengers, these low river ships only carry between 100-200 passengers.

Serving as a floating hotel without the cabaret entertainment, gambling and kids clubs, river cruising’s intense emphasis is on the towns visited along the way. 

But don’t think these vessels are plain and basic.When we boarded our Avalon Rhine River cruise we were pleasantly surprised. From the moment we boarded we were welcomed with a smile and received exceptional service.

What are the staterooms like?

River staterooms are complete with all the home comforts and quality. The facilities include spacious and luxurious cabins with large balconies. We found our stateroom onboard Avalon Vista more lavish than those of the ocean ships. Our bed faced a wall to wall, floor to ceiling, panoramic window that slid open to give the feeling of a balcony, although we could not step out onto it. The toiletries, bedding, etc were all very high quality and the comfort of the beds and pillows exceptional.

What is included?

Best of all once onboard it is all inclusive. From the champagne breakfast, wine with your dinner, excursions, L’Occitane toiletries, bottled water, even unlimited wi-fi, it is all inclusive. 

Well appointed bathrooms

What can I expect?

And unlike cruising the ocean seas, there are no interior rooms on the river. There is something soothing about being on the river in constant view of the land.River cruising is peaceful and calm as you sail gently past medieval castles, so no need to worry about packing sea sick tablets. It is a relaxing way to watch the world sail past, stopping at quaint little towns, experiencing the culture and sampling the cuisine.

What’s to do?

Unlike an ocean cruise, river cruises arrive at a new town or city each day, there are no ‘at sea’ days. And due to the smaller size of the vessels the ships dock right in the heart of the city, making the travel to each location’s points of interest shorter. The culturally rich excursions are included and although limited, additional excursions are offered in some towns offering a few options.

What are the facilities like?

The facilities onboard are remarkable and the decor tasteful. The dining room is large enough to cater for all the passengers to have their meal at the same time, but is still spacious and uncramped. The quality of the glassware, cutlery and table linen was very refined. The use of long windows makes the area very inviting. 

Although the decor is very tasteful, the dress code is more relaxed than ocean cruises with are no formal nights. The onboard entertainment is not glitzy, but low key and reflective of the culture of the destinations.

What is the food like?

The food served caters well for the discerning palate. Despite catering for a much smaller clientele than an ocean cruise the quality, presentation and choices are excellent. The food is prepared to perfections and it goes without saying the service from to finish is outstanding. Breakfast is a full buffet with sparkling wine, egg station and a good variety of a la carte. Lunch is an extensive buffet with pasta and carving stations. Each evening it is elegant dining where the chef delights with selection of appetizers, soups, entrees and desserts or cheese. Unlimited beer, wine and soft drinks are served at no extra charge during the meals. On the final evening is a five course farewell dinner and Captain’s reception starting with sparkling wine and canapes. The meal is exquisite with an Amuse Bouche and Intermezzo included. Desserts each evening include Sweet temptations, Ice Cream and Healthy Selections. 

What about the access?

With less passengers comes less queues, more space and no bumping elbows at the buffet. River cruising however is less suited for those with mobility issues or those who use a wheelchair. Sometimes the gangways can be quite steep due to the level of the river and at times it is necessary for the ship to moor alongside another vessel, necessitating going across another ship to disembark.

The Rhine and Danube would be the most popular, and in my opinion, most beautiful rivers, offering the world’s top destinations. At Christmas these areas are magical with itineraries including the European Christmas markets to bring some cheer to the festive season.

Who goes on a river cruise?

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against children, but a plus of river cruising is it is child free. With the focus on cuisine and culture and not entertainment, river cruising might be marketed to those who might be forty plus who are active and curious travellers.

TV, safe, bathrobe and slippers… even a log fire

Is there a downside?

For us, the only downside of a river cruise is that most of the travel is done late at night or very early morning, so most of the journey is missed. But the day starts early, though they do have a late riser breakfast session. This is not a problem for us being early risers, but for those who aren’t that will mean you have likely missed the morning excursion.

What’s the verdict?

Our verdict: we enjoy both methods of cruising and feel they can’t be compared. River cruising and ocean cruising are totally different products. While you do have the convenience and luxury of an ocean cruise, you get an in depth experience and personal freedom on a river cruise. What we can say is that river cruising does include a lot of things that add value for travellers looking to see the world differently. If you are looking for an alternative to traditional land tour and tired of packing and unpacking and checking in and out of hotels, then maybe you should step onboard a river cruise.

Exceptional, outstanding, that’s a yes from us.

Have you been on a River cruise? What do you think you’d enjoy most about river cruising?

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21 Responses

  1. Nicole Holding says:

    I have mobility issues and had no problem at all on the Viking River Cruise I did from Amsterdam to Basel. I didn’t experience any steep ramps or had any problem walking through other boats docked. What I am trying to say is that your comment is very generalised and some people with walking issues would be fine while others not necessarily so. We had people with walking sticks and frames as well as a blind man with his guide dog and none had problems. I think you just need to be not so general as this may put people off when they may be actually fine.

    • Lyn says:

      Thanks for your comment Nicole. To reiterate river cruising is less suited, but not impossible for those with mobility issues. Glad you had no problems on your river cruise as dependent on the water level when sailing the ships’ gangways can get quite steep. Our ship ported alongside another vessel which is not uncommon in smaller European cities, meaning we had to transfer through another vessel to get back to our ship. Being a Christmas cruise it was lovely to see the ships side by side festively decorated.

  2. Cadu says:

    What a nice way to know the places and enjoy all the trip! And it’s not a bad idea travelling without children sometimes. You know, there will always be a Disney Cruise to take them to (and I suppose they would prefer this option). Thank you very much.
    Cadu recently posted…E foi assim que descobrimos la bella Itália…My Profile

  3. Tami says:

    Beautiful photos! I would absolutely love to go on a river cruise of the Rhine river in Germany!
    Tami recently posted…Arizona Snowbowl – Not Just for SkiingMy Profile

  4. Natalie says:

    We always travel with the children so, as you pointed out, this is not something for us, just yet. BUT, when the time comes it looks like a great way to travel because you only unpack once yet see a lot of things! I’m only an early riser on vacation because I can’t wait to see what the day has in store! You can sleep when you get home. 😉
    Natalie recently posted…5 Japanese Foods Your Kid Will LoveMy Profile

  5. Yuen Mi says:

    I’ve never been a fan of cruises since there are moments where it seems like you’re at sea for way too long, but a river cruise sounds interesting. I think I would like to try that. I love how every room has a view, that is awesome.
    Yuen Mi recently posted…Seoul Travel Guide: N Seoul TowerMy Profile

  6. Suze says:

    I’ve never been on a cruise but river cruising sounds like the perfect introduction, especially on the Rhine. The ship looks surprisingly spacious and the food must have been very tasty!
    Suze recently posted…Palazzo Victoria, Verona – Roman Ruins & a Love WallMy Profile

  7. Paula says:

    You have confirmed my thoughts about river cruises. I would love to go on one, especially a Christmas one. My husband gets really seasick so ocean cruising has a lot less appeal for us. We also like the idea of smaller crowds and the destination being the highlight rather than bars and buffets. Now we just need to save the $$$

  8. Rhonda Albom says:

    I haven’t done a river cruise yet but they do look quite different than an ocean cruise. They do look more luxurious and intimate. I am thinking about a river cruise in Myanmar.
    Rhonda Albom recently posted…Sarah’s Snapshots – 13 Photos of Argentinian SweetsMy Profile

  9. Sabrina says:

    Somehow the idea of a traditional cruise never appealed to me. But I’ve always liked the idea of a river cruise. Your post totally confirmed it 🙂 Sounds like a lot of fun!

  10. Ruth says:

    I have been interested in river cruising for a long time. That interest grew when we day a short cruise through the Danube last year. I would like the experience to last more than one day. And the amenities and extras sound fantastic. #WeekendWanderlust
    Ruth recently posted…Best of Budapest: Sights, Itineraries and Day TripsMy Profile

  11. Oooh, I’ve never considered doing a river cruise to see the Christmas markets, but you have now firmly planted that notion into my mind. This boat looks very nice and luxurious. Not being seasick would be a huge plus as that is a constant problem for me on ocean cruises. Do they stay in port late enough for guests to have dinner in town?
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted…Close Encounters on Devils TowerMy Profile

    • Lyn says:

      It was an incredible experience and a great way to see the Christmas markets. I am pretty sure we set off after the evening meal, but might be confused with the fact it gets dark so early in winter, it may not have been after dinner. Check with the cruiseline if you are interested in booking.

  12. Glad you had a great experience! Laurence is wanting to do some river cruising next year. We have been on one cruise for about a week in Russia and it was much more basic than I had imagined for a “luxury” cruise. But I think that may be the difference between Russia and Western Europe. Right now though we are looking forward for a week at sea on the Queen Mary 2 again in June to head to the USA 😉
    Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats recently posted…Finding Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona: Guide to Over 20 Gaudí Sites in Barcelona SpainMy Profile

  13. Wow, that stateroom! I definitely want to do this, particularly the Christmas Market cruise. I’ve never been on a large cruise ship, but we just did a small boat cruise with Uncruise Adventures and I think small boats are the way the go.

  14. Karen Macmillan says:

    This sounds fabulous! I’m definitely checking into a river cruise.

  15. We love cruising but have never done a river cruise. As you say they are two different experiences and difficult to compare. We would love to to go on one at some point, this post is really useful and gives a great insight. Thanks for sharing. #WeekendWanderlust
    Paul and Carole recently posted…Sunborn Yacht Hotel, London – Paul and Carole’s ReviewMy Profile

  16. I’ve never been on a river cruise but this looks amazing. Someday when our kids are older and aren’t traveling with us…
    Harmony,Momma To Go recently posted…Best Big Island ActivitiesMy Profile

  17. We have not been on a river cruise yet. But this is the kind of cruising I would enjoy. I like the idea of every room having a view! Thanks for adding your inspiration to #wkendtravelinspiration, Lyn!
    Jim ~ Reflections Enroute recently posted…How And Where To Go – Chasing Holland TulipsMy Profile

  18. A very timely post. David and I have just booked a river cruise in Asia. We are going to cruise from Siam Reap to Saigon. Our cabin is so large it has a huge deck complete with a jacuzzi. As you know, we aren’t really cruise people but I think we’ll enjoy this a lot.
    Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields recently posted…Is QANTAS Premium Economy Worth the Extra Cost?My Profile

  1. January 1, 2018

    […] for our upcoming cruise had me writing about the difference in River Cruising and what it’s all about. As we were including Japan in our cruise I also wrote about Planning […]

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