There are a lot of details to be considered when selecting a river cruise. We’ve addressed many of them below. The following video by Sixty and Me is a great primer for those looking at booking their first river cruise.
Whether you’re in Europe, South America, Asia, or Africa, river cruises share one main similarity. That ships are much smaller than ocean vessels and they travel on much calmer waters than Ocean going vessels, making them less crowded and much more stable, giving you more of a personalized intimate experience in a variety of accommodations,
Unlike ocean ships, river vessels visit a new and different port each day, sometimes even more than one; passengers can visit multiple countries in a single cruise yet still feel they have fully explored each destination. Another benefit is you return to the same accommodation at the end of your tour rather than switching hotels each night.
All meals are included. Most meals will include some menu items related to the region you may be traveling through at the time and the wine served may also come from that region. Most lines offer complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, plus unlimited tea and coffee. A few are totally all-inclusive offering all meals, snacks, top-shelf alcohol at any time (open bar), tours, gratuities and even bicycles outfitted with portable GPS systems, allowing you to tour on your own.
The onboard dress code is more laid-back than on oceangoing voyages, there is no formal dress code. There’s usually a captain’s reception and gala dinner, where some people opt for smarter outfits, but it’s not obligatory and smarter dress may be nothing more than adding a sports coat or wearing a dress.
Entertainment is more low-key, destination-oriented with the major attraction being the passing scenery. Most cruises will also provide music and dancing in the evening with a local show featuring local singers and dancers. There may also be educational lectures about the regions and areas the ship is passing through providing more in-depth knowledge and understanding.
Staterooms tend to be slightly smaller than oceangoing vessels, but are not short on comforts and amenities, particularly on the newer ships. Standard amenities include hotel-style beds, bathroom with high-quality toiletries, TV and entertainment system, hairdryer, safe and ample storage space for your clothes and luggage. As with ocean-going cruises, each cabin is assigned a cabin steward to make your cruise more enjoyable and comfortable. A few will actually include butler service. All include room service for those intimate dinners or a leisurely breakfast to start the day.
River cruises are not well suited to wheelchair users or passengers with severe mobility issues. Most modern ships have elevators, and some have handicapped-adapted cabins, but gangways can be steep and in some instances, you may have to cross another ship or two to reach the shore when disembarking.
River levels can fluctuate and sometimes be a concern on some rivers depending on weather conditions and how that river controls the water levels through a series of locks and dams. All these situations are covered by the cruise line and you won’t be left stranded somewhere on the river.
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—Sharon and Geoff Millar