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River cruising is increasingly popular with today’s travelers, and it’s easy to understand why. River cruises are a memorable and stress-free way to explore the world in comfort and style. These unforgettable journeys offer magnificent scenery, fabulous cuisine, immersive tours of enchanting destinations, active adventures, and a wide array of enriching experiences.
River cruise ships are like small floating boutique hotels sailing on the world’s most beautiful waterways. This highly-inclusive type of sailing focuses on the destinations, with plenty of time at each port of call. Unpack once and relax as spectacular new views, storybook villages, towns, and cities arrive each day.
Here are our readers’ six favorite river cruise lines to consider when planning your next vacation. All of these award-winning companies are known for offering incredible river cruise experiences.
Viking operates the world’s largest river cruise fleet, and it’s our readers’ favorite river cruise line as well. Viking is marking its 25th anniversary this year in grand style. New additions to the cruise line’s fleet include eight new river cruise ships in Europe and Viking Mississippi, which begins sailing on the Mississippi River this summer.
With 80 river cruise ships sailing worldwide, Viking offers a wide variety of carefully curated itineraries and departures along waterways in Europe, Asia, Egypt, and the United States. The line currently features 26 different river cruise itineraries in Europe, and special themed sailings are also available. Viking has a strong adult focus, with all guests required to be at least 18 years of age.
Viking’s river cruise ships have an appealing Scandinavian design and feature comfortable staterooms, plenty of storage space, bathrooms with heated floors, and an expansive outdoor sun deck. Most Viking river cruise ships are their classic longships carrying 190 guests, but some are smaller.
Destination-focused cuisine is one of the many highlights of Viking River Cruises. I sailed with Viking several years ago and have wonderful memories of the casual indoor/outdoor dining at the Aquavit Terrace and exceptional meals at local restaurants recommended by our ship’s excellent staff. Dining was also a high point for our TravelAwaits contributors on their Viking voyages.
Viking’s river cruise fares include meals and accommodations, one shore excursion in each port, free Wi-Fi, complimentary beer, wine, and soft drinks with on-board lunches and dinners, entertainment and enrichment programs, and more. The Silver Spirits beverage package is also available for purchase.
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours has 15 luxurious river cruise ships operating on 10 major rivers in Europe and Southeast Asia. The Scenic river cruise experience is personalized and intimate, with just 44–163 guests on-board. Ship staterooms and public areas are spacious and well-appointed, particularly on Scenic Space-Ships, which sail along Europe’s waterways.
Are you craving a five-star pampered cruise experience? Complimentary butler service is provided for guests in all Scenic staterooms, and 87 percent of Scenic’s accommodations have innovative private balconies known as Sun Lounges. Scenic’s ships also feature gyms, spas, sun decks, and walking tracks — and most offer soaking pools and complimentary e-bikes. Guests can choose from five on-board dining options ranging from casual to elegant venues, including 24-hour room service.
Scenic river cruises are exceptionally all-inclusive, with rates covering everything except spa services, hair appointments, and personal items. Scenic fares include accommodations, dining, unlimited premium drinks and spirits, shore excursion choices in ports of call, entertainment, transfers, gratuities, Wi-Fi, extra activities, and other special touches. Such inclusiveness is a plus for travelers who prefer convenience since they only need to budget funds for spending ashore.
The wide range of included shore excursions on Scenic river cruises is notable, offering plenty of flexibility. Scenic Freechoice small-group excursions are designed for a variety of paces. Unique Scenic Enrich experiences exclusive to Scenic are also included, such as a private evening concert for guests at Palais Liechtenstein in Vienna. The Scenic Tailormade app is a great tour guide option for those who prefer to explore independently.
3. American Cruise Lines
Looking for a fantastic river cruise experience closer to home? American Cruise Lines offers memorable voyages on the mighty Mississippi River, the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, Florida’s St. Johns and Tolomato Rivers, the Hudson River, and the Northwest’s Columbia and Snake Rivers. With numerous convenient U.S. embarkation ports, guests can often drive to their ship’s departure location. There are no foreign ports of call, so passports aren’t necessary.
American Cruise Lines’ sophisticated fleet of U.S.-built and fully U.S.-flagged ships enables the company to operate in an extensive array of American ports. The fleet includes four classic paddlewheelers and six modern-style riverboats, accommodating 100–190 guests. Nearly all staterooms have private balconies, and all offer windows with beautiful water views. Guests also enjoy multiple indoor and outdoor lounges, grand dining rooms, casual cafes, exercise rooms, and spacious top decks. All American Cruise Line’s ships feature handicap-accessible staterooms, as well as suites and single cabins.
Guests enjoy the relaxed, all-inclusive nature of the American Cruise Line experience. Fares include accommodations, fine dining featuring regionally-inspired cuisines, complimentary cocktails every evening, complimentary beer and wine with lunch and dinner, on-board entertainment, Wi-Fi, and at least one included shore excursion or more at each port. Many cruises also include complimentary pre-cruise hotel accommodations.
American Cruise Lines caters to mature, sophisticated travelers seeking personalized service and culturally enriching immersive experiences along America’s legendary rivers. History comes alive on these voyages. Guided small-group shore excursions explore the culture, history, nature, music, and local cuisines in America’s vibrant cities and towns. Special interest cruises are also available.
4. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises offers all-inclusive cruise itineraries in Europe, Vietnam and Cambodia, India, Peru, and Egypt — sailing on a total of 17 rivers in 26 countries. Uniworld is a part of The Travel Corporation, a family of travel brands that includes leading tour operators and the five-star Red Carnation Hotel Collection. The influence shows as Uniworld’s luxurious ships feel like chic floating boutique hotels with no two vessels having the same décor.
Uniworld’s river cruise ships carry 120 guests on average and feature up to four dining venues, depending on size and itinerary. Ships offer on-board fitness centers, spas, complimentary bikes, and Nordic walking poles. Some also have cinemas, guest laundry facilities, and swimming pools. Guests appreciate Uniworld’s high staff-to-guest ratio, which provides an attentive and personalized vacation experience.
I sailed with Uniworld a number of years ago, and some of the features I loved most were the highly all-inclusive experience, exceptional service, and the wide array of complimentary shore excursions. Uniworld’s fares include accommodations, delicious meals, unlimited premium wines and spirits, a choice of shore excursions at each port of call, wellness classes, entertainment and enrichment programs, gratuities, airport transfers, complimentary bicycles, and high-speed Wi-Fi. In-suite butler service is also provided on many itineraries.
Uniworld is also known for its themed river cruises, including Jewish Heritage voyages, culinary-focused Connoisseur Collection journeys in France, hosted LGBTQ+ sailings, and Generation Collection cruises designed for families and multigenerational groups. Uniworld also offers innovative Cruise & Rail itineraries in Europe, providing travelers with additional opportunities to explore.
Founded in 2002, family-owned-and-operated AmaWaterways offers highly immersive river cruise experiences on its 26 custom-designed ships. AmaWaterways’ guests enjoy enriching itineraries on over 10 of Europe’s most spectacular waterways and unique voyages on Southeast Asia’s Mekong River, Africa’s Chobe River, Egypt’s Nile River, plus Colombia’s Magdelena River in 2024. An extensive array of special interest sailings and land packages are also available.
The cruise line’s ships feature contemporary décor and amenities such as fitness centers, complimentary bicycles, massage and hair services, wellness activities, and sun decks with walking tracks. There is a heated swimming pool or whirlpool on select ships. Nearly all staterooms have French balconies or AmaWaterways’ view-enhancing twin-balconies. Twin-balcony ships carry an average of 156 guests. Eight ships also feature connecting cabins well-suited for the line’s growing demand from multigenerational families. Triple and quad accommodations are available on AmaWaterways’ newest ships, and some offer single staterooms.
AmaWaterways’ inclusive fares cover accommodations, on-board meals, unlimited wine, beer, and soft drinks at lunch and dinner, a complimentary pre-dinner cocktail hour, entertainment and enrichment programs, high-speed Wi-Fi, and a wide range of small-group shore excursions. Since gentle walkers, regular, and active tours are available, guests can choose their own pace.
On my AmaWaterways cruise several years ago, I was particularly impressed with the ship’s exceptional crew, memorable cuisine, immersive shore excursions, and how guests were welcomed like family.
Dining is a key element of the AmaWaterways cruise experience. Guests can choose from the Main Restaurant or The Chef’s Table, an exquisite specialty restaurant. Four unique dining options are available on-board AmaWaterways’ revolutionary AmaMagna.
Tauck has been a family-owned travel company for over 97 years, offering highly-acclaimed tours and cruises. Tauck operates nine river cruise ships along Europe’s scenic rivers, including the Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Main, Main-Danube Canal, Rhône, Saône, Seine, Douro, and the waterways of the Netherlands and Brussels.
The company provides a relaxing, upscale river cruise experience — providing more inclusions and carrying fewer passengers than some other lines. Tauck features a wide variety of itineraries, including themed river cruises and the Tauck Bridges sailings designed for families and multigenerational groups. Spacious ships carry between 84 and 130 guests, and since the single supplement is waived on select cabins, it’s a good choice for solo travelers.
Tauck’s all-inclusive fares cover virtually everything, including accommodations, all shore excursions, on-board dining and special dinners ashore in memorable places (like castles and palaces), on-board beverages of all kinds, gratuities, entertainment and enrichment programs, airport transfers, and more. Many river cruises include pre- and/or post-cruise hotel stays. All Tauck ships feature two dining venues, a fleet of bicycles, and either a plunge pool or hot tub. Most offer a boutique, fitness center, hair salon, and massage services.
Every Tauck riverboat is staffed with a cruise director for every 35 guests, providing a high level of personalized service. Tauck’s European river cruises offer enriching small-group shore excursions with multiple guides in each port of call. In addition, Tauck guests often enjoy exclusive access to unique locations, cultural connections, and special events ashore — making the cruise experience even more memorable.
See what other cruise lines have been featured in the 2022 Best of Travel Awards:
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