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River Cruise ABC’s

River Cruising Basics

Top Reasons for Booking a River Cruise
River cruising is a different experience than ocean cruises, which tend to offer a Las Vegas-style experience — glitzy shows, casinos, slides and rides, and bars open all night to several thousand passengers at a time. Here are eight reasons why river cruising makes the perfect vacation experience:

1. It’s intimate. The size of a river vessel is set by the rivers it navigates and is much smaller than ocean cruise ships. With 130 to 190 passengers on average onboard, you’ll get to know everyone and make friends easily. Smaller tours and intimate meal settings with open seating create a warm, personal atmosphere. In addition, the staff will also get to know you a lot better, and be able to show you more attention.

2. It’s all inclusive. The majority of river cruise companies offer an all-inclusive experience, with all or most (depending on cruise line) drinks and shore excursions included, along with free Internet access, live, cultural entertainment onboard and more in the cruise fare. This inclusive vacation provides incredible value when you consider amenities included. Therefore, don’t let the initial booking price scare you.

3. It’s close to town. Enjoy the excitement of waking up in a new city each day, just steps from markets, landmarks and more. A river cruise ship typically docks right in the heart of town, which means no wait times or tenders/transfers to reach the tourist attractions. You can literally stroll ashore for included excursions or set off to explore on your own. This makes sampling local culture easy.

4. It’s time well spent. Because of the ship size, there are no long embarkation or disembarkation times with river cruising or long lines waiting to get on and off during port stops. Plus, everything on the ship is near your cabin, so it takes no more than a minute or two to be where you want to be.

5. It’s scenic. The scenery constantly evolves as you slowly glide through the river, and you always see the shoreline. And there is always a prime view, from your stateroom balcony to lounges with numerous windows the sun and sky decks above. By cruising the world’s most scenic waterways, you’ll experience some of the oldest cities up close and personal.

6. It’s convenient and comfortable. River cruises offer the amenities of a first-class hotel. Unpack just once and then settle in as each destination comes to you. With no need to navigate from place to place, you’ll find a sense of adventure and a sense of home all in one vacation. And relaxation comes easy, with lounges, libraries and decks to discover.

7. It’s relaxing. Constant, soft-flowing river waters are smooth and peaceful; there’s no worry of motion sickness. Many of the river cruise ships offer whirlpools, small spas and inviting decks with al fresco dining to enjoy the fresh river breezes and unforgettable scenery. Plus, enjoy live music in the lounge or curl up with a book. (You’re also not constantly being pitched to buy art, drinks, jewelry, duty-free items and more that often come with megaship cruising.)

8. It’s personal. On river cruises, you spend more time the captain and officers, because you’ll see them in the wheelhouse or dining room daily. The cruise manager is always accessible, and other key staff are always nearby. Also, most of the river cruise lines offer many cruise itineraries with specific themes, such as art, music, history, fine wine and more, so you can truly tailor your vacation to your personal preferences and bucket list. Programs may include special guest speakers, performances by noted entertainers, theme-related shore excursions and the chance to interact with experts in a particular field.


Q: Who might enjoy river cruising?

River cruise passengers tend to be well traveled, retired and with disposable income. They usually have experienced ocean cruising. However, river cruises are becoming more popular with travelers of all ages, including younger honeymooners and for family reunions.

History buffs, educators and travelers looking for a slower pace away from mega-crowds and non-stop action are prime candidates for river cruising. Travelers who love cruising but get seasickness on ocean cruises or are fearful of a ton of water should also enjoy river cruising.

Q: Where can I go to take a river cruise?

Just about anywhere there’s a major river or waterway, there’s a cruise line offering itineraries – from North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Russia.

Q: How long are river cruises?

By Land or By Sea Vacations sells river cruises that range from xx-night getaways to xx-night vacations that include a land tour and a river cruise. Most river cruises average from eight- to 14-days.

Q: When is the best time of year to take a river cruise?

River cruises are offered most months of the year, and you often receive substantial discounts for booking far in advance. September is the most popular time to cruise but also the most expensive. You’ll find lower prices during the months of November, December, March and April.

Q: Is a river cruise suitable for families with children?

Most river cruise lines will tell you that children under the age of eight typically are too young to fully enjoy a river cruise vacation. Also, most river cruise companies do not offer special arrangements or activities for children onboard and impose a minimum age requirement for all guests. However, some river cruise operators do offer a few sailings per year exclusively tailored for families. Check with The Vacation Guy® on specific cruise line rules and family-friendly itineraries.

Q: What are my dining options onboard and what else do I need to know about the cuisine, seating, etc.?

Most ships have one main restaurant, and breakfast and lunch are often buffet-only (or buffet mainly, with a few items to be ordered a la carte). Dinner is full dining experience, with multiple courses and free-flowing wine to match the cuisine. A few have secondary venues such as light lunch in the lounge or bistro on the sun deck. Room service, when offered, generally incurs an additional fee.

With smaller guest ratios on river cruises, everyone is seated in the dining room at one time for dinner. Breakfast and lunch have a set time based on itinerary schedule that travelers can dine within. Generally, travelers can expect open seating during these set meal times.

All meals are prepared by accomplished chefs and consist of local food adjusted for North American tastes. The small passenger count and daily port calls mean the venues are better able to bring in fresh ingredients such as fish and produce or offer regional specialties.

Dietary restrictions: It’s important to discuss any special dietary or medical needs you have with us before booking to ensure you can be properly accommodated by the river cruise line you’re considering. In most cases, the cruise lines require additional documentation in writing, but usually they can easily accommodate requests for menu items that are low-sodium, low-cholesterol, low-fat or sugar-free.

Q: What type of dress is appropriate on the ship?

Dress will vary on the ship and destination, but typically dress onboard and on shore is casual (daytime) to resort casual (dinner/evenings). Remember to bring comfortable walking shoes for sightseeing! There might be a Captain’s Welcome or Farewell Dinners that is dressy but not formal. On some itineraries, you may attend a ballet performance, concert or other dressier event, and for these evenings, you might like to bring more semi-formal attire.

Q: What are the accommodations like?

While you won’t have any condo-size suites on a river ship, accommodations are favorable and comparable in size to those on ocean cruises. Cabins depend on the river cruise company but typically average xxx to xxx square feet, with suites ranging from xxx to 500 square feet on average. Most also have panoramic windows and/or French balconies to soak in the views.

The river cruise companies assign rooms to cabin categories, based on the cabin’s size, amenities, deck level and location on the ship. These factors also help to determine price.

In general, river cruise companies offer cabins with two twin beds that can be pushed together to form a queen bed. Most staterooms on river cruise ships are outside cabins with a river view.

Q: What onboard amenities and entertainment can I expect?

River cruises are all or almost all inclusive. This means that your bottled water; wine, beer and soft drinks with meals; most or all cocktails (on luxury lines); and even shore excursions are typically included with your cruise fare. Fine dining is a highlight of most river cruises.

On a river cruise, your evening entertainment will include a resident piano player/singer or small ensemble, folk dancers or other local troupes, cabaret singers and regional historians. Some might also offer educational seminars and cooking demos.

In addition to viewing lounges and open air decks, many riverboats offer libraries, small spas and/or salons, fitness centers and whirlpools.

Q: Are there “sea days” on river cruising?

Most of the cruising is done at night to give you the maximum amount of time at each port, so sea days are a rarity on a river cruise. However, if relaxing on the ship is important to you, you can always forego the included excursions and stay onboard or venture out later during the day to explore on your own.

Q: What do I need to know about docking in port, exploring the destinations and excursions?

Your riverboat will tie up right in town, usually a short walk or sometimes a quick bus ride into the heart of the city.

There may be times when your ship moors next to another ship or between ships, especially in busy ports. This simply means that you may walk through other vessel’s lobby or sun deck, if your ship ties up to another ship while berths are occupied. Docking locations are determined by the local harbor authorities.

River cruises allow plenty of time to explore great towns and cities at your desired pace. At each port, you can choose an excursion offered by the river cruise company or explore on your own.

The hallmark of the river cruise shore excursion is the walking tour, where you follow an English-speaking guide and listen to details of a quaint city’s history and culture on the included headset. Most river cruise lines offer various activity levels for their excursions – from easy/slow walkers to active, with some including bicycle tours. There’s also time to explore destinations on your own – great for shopping, enjoying a local café or returning to a favorite tour spot you want to investigate more

Important Note: River cruises are port intensive, and you’ll visit a new destination each day. The ports, not the ships, are the key attractions, and you will certainly pack a lot of sightseeing into your cruise. This kind of travel can be exhilarating but also exhausting. Bring comfortable and sturdy walking shoes, and don’t be embarrassed to take a day off if you’re getting overwhelmed.

Many port towns and nearby cities in Europe have uneven cobblestone sidewalks and streets. Travelers with limited mobility may find it difficult to negotiate some of the historic sites and steep stairs. Therefore, if someone in your traveling party has mobility challenge, please discuss with our travel advisors so we can find the right itinerary for you that will allow you to experience the destinations more fully.