Most peoples vision of a modern cruise is sailing the open seas aboard something that more resembles a floating city than a ship but for those that enjoy an intimate experience there is an alternative – a river cruise.
With upwards of 4000 guests on board, an ocean cruise can sometimes feel a little regimented, with staff seemingly directing you at every turn. In contrast, with average passenger numbers of around 150, a river cruise can far more personal and rewarding experience.
The ultimate in relaxation
In 2011, over 114,000 Brits took a river cruise and discovered what is arguably the ultimate in relaxing holidays. Forget about travelling from hotel to hotel or sitting in queues on the autobahn. With a river cruise your berth is your home for the duration of your holiday, simply unpack, layback and relax.
And if you weren’t born with sea faring genes, fear not because while you are still on water, things don’t get quite so rough.
The personal touch
With many boats accommodating less then 200 guests, a river cruise is also a much more personal experience, although the size of vessels does mean one possible downside for some, which is less onboard entertainment.
Don’t worry though, less entertainment doesn’t mean no entertainment and many cruises will offer at least some form of live music. An example of a differnet type of entertainment comes from US cruise company, American Cruise Lines. They offer a series of evening lectures that focus on the history and nature of your surroundings and these prove very popular with guests.
Straight to the heart of things
One thing that a river cruise does give you thanks to sailing inland, is a chance to see the heart and soul of a region. Throughout history, rivers have been used as the arteries of a country, transporting merchants and their goods. As a result, many towns and cities have grown up along them and a cruise will often take you to their very centres.
Lots to see and do
A river cruise is also great for those that like flexibilty, while trips and excursions are laid on for those that like to have their itinery planned, for the more adventurous there’s the opportunity to stride out on your own.
Choosing a destination is always a personal decision but here are a few pointers that might help
Europe boasts some of the Worlds most historic and beautiful cities. From the laid back atmosphere of Amsterdam to the anciet Port producing regions around Lisbon or how about the romance of Paris or the architectural wonders of Budapest. Europe has something to offer for everyone.
For the more adventurous, Asia provides a great opportunity to experience adifferent culture at a sedate pace. Flying halfway around the globe to connect with your Asian river cruise is a journey in itself but it’s well worth the effort.
At nearly 4000 miles long, China’s Yangtze is the third longest river in the World and home to the spectacular Qutang, Wu and Xiling Gorges. Chinese river cruising treats passengers to a side of China rarely seen by outsiders.
Another popular Asian river cruise destination is the Mekong. From its source in Tibet it flows through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam where it empties into the South China sea.
North & South America
If culture is what you’re seeking then a trip up the Mississippi on a genuine Mississippi paddle boat is hard to beat. Departing from New Orleans, Memphis or St Louis it’s a great way to experience the World famous southern Bayous.
Other popular US cruise rivers include the Hudson where you can take in a little retail therapy Manhattan style.
If nature is more your thing then South America boasts the Worlds second largest and arguably most famous river, the Amazon.
The River Nile was the most popular destination for British river cruisers in 2011.
Egypts history goes back millennia and a Nile cruise is a great way to see it at close quarters. Cruises sail between Luxor and Aswan retracing the exact routes taken in ancient times.
Who to spend your money with
Like any holiday, who you book your river cruise with is not a decision to be taken lightly.
As of February 2013, the top three river cruise companies serving the UK market are Viking River, AmaWaterways and Avalon Waterways but many others exist and whilst it pays to shop around for the best deals, it’s equally important to make sure that the company you’re dealing with is reputable and trustworthy.
If you have any doubts or questions, a quick search of the internet will turn up many cruise review sites but remember that people are more compelled to write about a negative experience than a positive one so try to keep things balanced.
Is it for us?
Remember that a river cruise is a very different animal to its ocean going relation.
If fewer amenities, less flexible meal times and limited entertainment isn’t an issue for you then it could well be just the ticket.
What you gain for these minor inconveniences more than compensates. Riverside berths with full height French windows, you’ll get to see far more of a country with two or more stops every day and more time to explore the sites and cuisine of your host country.
Our final advice would be to check exactly what your cruise does and doesn’t include. Does it include all meals and drinks, does connecting travel cost extra, what if you have to cancel etc.. Better to ask questions now than regret later.