Some people consider river cruises the black sheep of vacation options. The truth is they are potentially one of the most versatile and enjoyable ways to explore new places. If you’ve ever considered a cruise of any kind, it might be time to look towards the world’s vast network of rivers and enjoy sailing without the accompanying seasickness. Here are some reasons why.

River Cruises make Logistics Far Simpler

People standing in line with luggageAvid cruise-goers will tell you: boarding and disembarking from a ship is a giant pain. The processes designed to facilitate moving thousands of guests and their luggage onboard are complicated and can take hours. Having to leave your baggage curbside with proper labeling (which is always slightly terrifying), filling out paperwork, waiting in lines, and the labyrinthian terminals make ocean-going cruises really stressful … which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid on any vacation. 

Embarking on a river cruise, on the other hand, is basically like checking into a hotel. You often walk right onto the boat with your luggage, check in at the main desk, and then walk right to your cabin. Since river cruise ships have far fewer guests compared to ocean liners — about 200 on average — the wait time is minimal. When you have to leave your river cruise, the reverse process is equally simple: you check out and walk off into the sunset. 

Also, because river cruise ships are smaller, they can embark from far more places than the giant ocean cruises, which can only dock at a few particular ports of call. This makes the travel required before you even start your vacation simpler and could end up saving you money as well.

You can See More Places with Less Hassle

River Cruise in port at nightThe absolute best part of a river cruise vacation is the fact that you get to see more places without ever having to repack your suitcase. Say you’ve always wanted to visit the German Christmas Markets. You wouldn’t want to go all the way to Germany to visit just one. But if you were to go on your own, you would have to plan your accommodations and travel options between the various cities that host the markets, as well as live out of your suitcase pretty much the entire time. A river cruise, on the other hand, allows you to experience a number of cities and markets without ever repacking or driving or any of the other unfun aspects of nomadic existence. Heck, most of the actual travel is done at night, so a river cruise is almost like experiencing a country via teleportation: you fall asleep in one place and wake up ready to explore in another.
And speaking of less hassle: many river cruise companies only allow children over the age of 12, and several companies don’t allow children at all. This creates a quieter, more relaxing environment for just about everyone on board and ensures that the cruise can cater to more mature sensibilities. Several companies cater to younger families as well, but can we just point out that a cruise sans children means calmer meals and no tiny feet stomping on the ceiling at 6 am?

When it comes to River Cruises, Size Does Matter

Riverboat dining room set for dinnerRiver boats typically host about 200 guests, making them a lot like a small, floating hotel. This creates a more intimate atmosphere, because you’ll end up sharing a dining room and common areas with the same people for the duration of your trip. Socializing isn’t required beyond polite nods, but it can be really fun to meet like-minded people to talk with during cocktail hour. Also, we hate to bring up the C-word in an article about cruises (which got a really bad rap during the height of the pandemic), but fewer people on board means fewer chances that you will be stuck in an enclosed space with someone who has Covid.

River cruises won’t have the big ocean liner attractions, such as water slides, big-name concerts or full casinos — there just isn’t the space for that kind of thing. Instead, river cruises offer quieter entertainment like small folk bands to accompany your dinner, or local artisans who demonstrate their crafts. Because most of the travel is done at night, you don’t have the “sailing days” that often happen on cruises at sea, which in turn require you to find ways to fill the time. You’ll hardly notice the lack of a three-story climbing wall.

The other benefit of the smaller ship is the personal touch. Your waiter will learn your name and that you prefer one type of wine over another. The people behind the desk will remember if someone in your group has mobility issues and actually remember to ensure that they are properly accommodated. It really does start to feel a little like a floating home away from home.

But What About the Cost?

Gorgeous lunch with musselsIt’s true: river cruises tend to be expensive. A typical Viking river cruise, just as an example, costs between $2,000 and $8,000 per person. There are differences based on location and duration of the trip (some last 21 days!), but in general they will be more expensive than an ocean cruise by a good bit. That said, it’s helpful to break down exactly what you’re getting for that price. Most river cruises are an all-inclusive package, which means that your meals and at least one excursion per day will be included. Wine and beer are often included with meals on European trips as well, and some companies even offer unlimited complimentary beverages. Ocean cruises, on the other hand, piece-meal their pricing so while the cost per night might be lower, the excursions and costs for beverage packages can add up quickly.

In addition to the fact that the costs tend to be bundled (and thus seem more intimidating than some other options), it’s helpful to consider all the different places you’ll be seeing. River cruises are more port-intensive, meaning you usually make more stops at different cities and even small towns along the way. That means you’re not having to pay the exorbitant prices at some of the tourist traps in which the ocean liners are forced to make port calls. Along the same line of thinking, your excursions will be more authentic to the places you are visiting, and wouldn’t you rather pay a little more for authenticity?

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