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What to pack for your next river cruise

Author: Jeannine Williamson

Published on:

Discover the best tips on how to pack for your next river cruise holiday from comfortable shoes to toiletries.

One of the best things about taking a cruise is that you only have to pack and unpack once.

However, dressing for river cruises is not the same as ocean sailings.

Before you start packing your bags take a look at our guide on what to take on a river cruise and - just as importantly - what to leave at home.

We’ve put together some handy tips that apply to all sailings in Europe and beyond, along with some specific advice on how to prepare for river cruise in far-flung destinations such as Asia.

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Leave your ball gown and tux at home

The biggest difference between river and ocean cruises is that there are no dress codes or formal black tie nights.

By day, casual comfortable clothing is the way to go. Depending on the weather, shorts, skirts, sundresses, jeans and chinos paired with T-shirts and sweatshirts are all fine.

In the evening ‘smart casual’ is a good guideline. Most passengers - albeit not necessarily all - change for dinner, such as an informal dress for women and smarter trousers for men. If you like to wear a jacket or blazer then of course that’s fine, but there is no need for a suit or tie.

Most cruises have a gala evening or captain’s farewell dinner so you might want to bring one dressier outfit as that’s the night when passengers push out the sartorial boat.

- READ MORE: Stunning spring river cruises with Riviera Travel -

Comfortable shoes are a must

You’re going to do a lot more walking on a river cruise that you will do on an ocean sailing. With no sea days, river vessels stop in a different place every day with the option to join excursions, which are often guided walking tours, or explore under your own steam.

Comfortable walking shoes, such as trainers, boots or sturdy sandals that don’t dig in, are the most important things to pack as if you develop a blister on the first day it’s no fun at all.

Make sure to pack comfortable clothes for activities like walking tours at your stops. Credit: Uniworld

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Pack layers

Even if you’re travelling in the height of summer take a variety of clothes that can be layered over T-shirts and shirts, such as long-sleeved jumpers, cardigans, a jacket and lightweight raincoat.

Temperatures can fluctuate and it gets cooler at night if you want to sit out on deck with a cocktail. Shrugs or shawls for ladies are also a great idea and the latter take up little room and are easy to roll up in your suitcase.

For summer cruises take a sunhat or baseball cap and pack a beanie or similar for winter sailings. Most vessels have umbrellas for passengers to borrow, but check before you go as this will be included in the list of amenities on the line’s website.

- READ MORE: Douro delights: Experience a river cruise with wine and wildlife -

Avoid overpacking and don’t bring a huge suitcase

If you’ve got room in your suitcase it’s very easy to be tempted to throw in ‘just one more thing’ and before you know it you end up with a load of clothes you never wear. Set out your clothes before you go and plan mix and match outfits that can be worn in the day and then dressed up a little at night with accessories such as costume jewellery or a scarf.

Unless you book a suite the cabins on river vessels are smaller than those on ocean ships and have less storage space -- aside from Amadeus River Cruises which notably has walk-in wardrobes in all cabin categories on its latest ships.

All ships have space to store suitcases beneath the bed, but if you bring an oversize case it won’t fit and will take up valuable room in the cabin so leave your steamer trunk at home!

Avoid overpacking and instead focus on enjoying the moment on your many excursions. Credit: Avalon Waterways

If you’re active pack sportswear

River cruises are no longer sedentary affairs. These days there are small gyms on the majority of river vessels (again, check on the website before you go) and many, including AmaWaterways and Emerald Cruises have dedicated fitness hosts that organise daily classes such as yoga and stretching, so bring your gym kit if you want to join in.

Similarly, most lines have a small fleet of onboard bikes that are free to borrow and optional shore excursions, particularly on the Danube, feature cycling tours along flat riverside bike trails and through scenic countryside and vineyards. Paths alongside rivers are also great if you’re a runner and fancy a jog before breakfast or dinner.

Other excursions can include guided hikes so bring walking shoes or boots if you want to join these. For keen keep-fit enthusiasts, Avalon Waterways offers dedicated Active & Discovery sailings that feature running tours of cities, kayaking, hiking and other activities.

- READ MORE: New river cruise ships 2022 - full list of maiden river voyages this year -

Bring a swimsuit and flip flops

Many lines have small swimming pools and hot tubs. Emerald Cruises has a lovely pool area at the back of its European vessels which converts to a cinema at night, Uniworld has elegant indoor pools on some of its ships and AmaWaterways boasts outdoor pools with a swim up bar on selected vessels.

A-ROSA will have both an adult-only and children’s pool on its new dedicated family vessel, A-ROSA Sena, which sails on the Rhine. Amadeus River Cruises has a beautiful infinity pool on its French ship Amadeus Provence.

You’ll find hot tubs on lines including AmaWaterways, Nicko, Scenic and Tauck. Even if your ship doesn’t have a pool, do pack a costume if you are visiting Budapest as it’s well worth taking a trip to the city’s famous thermal baths.

Make sure to pack a swimsuit for the pool onboard your river cruise! Credit: AmaWaterways

Take your favourite toiletries

All cruise lines provide a hairdryer and toiletries, ranging from fairly basic body wash that doubles up as shampoo to (on the more expensive lines) a full range of branded shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, shower caps, make-up remover pads and nail files.

If you have your favourite brands then you might want to bring your own, and don’t forget sunscreen and any medications you need.

It’s also worth noting that some lines provide slippers and robes, or have them available on request, so check with your line before travelling to save taking your own.

Ships have laundries

Another reason you don’t need to take too much is that all river ships provide laundry and pressing services. These are chargeable, but usually very reasonable, and worth the cost for the benefit of being able to pack light.

The showers in many cabins have extendable washing lines so you can rinse through undies. Even if they don’t it’s easy to take a travel sachet of washing powder to wash small items in your cabin.

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Gadgets and gizmos

Almost all river ships provide free Wi-Fi, although it can be patchy when sailing outside cities and sometimes non-existent for extended periods on cruises in Asia. Take a UK adaptor for European and US power points.

Although many modern vessels are now equipped with USB ports, not all do. You’ll be taking lots of photos so take extra memory cards for your camera.

Also consider taking a portable power bank so your phone doesn’t run out of charge when you are on excursions.

Relax in your cabin aboard an AmaWaterways ship on the Mekong River. Credit: AmaWaterways

Tips on what to pack for an Asia river cruise

If you’re heading to Asia for your river cruise there are additional packing considerations to take into account. For cruises to destinations including Vietnam, Cambodia and India be sure to take loose-fitting clothing that will be comfortable in hot climates. Natural fabrics such as cotton or moisture-wicking tops are best.

When visiting temples it is important to dress respectfully which means clothes that cover the knees and shoulders. Sometimes head coverings are required so also pack a scarf. Wide-brimmed sunhats, sunglasses, strong sunscreen and insect repellent are all essentials, too.

If you are taking an internal flight on a small plane then check the baggage allowance, as this will dictate what you can take for the entire trip.

- READ MORE: Best river cruises for families in 2022 and why you should take one -

On Asian river cruises beautiful inexpensive clothes and accessories can be bought along the way, so it really pays not to overpack and to leave room in your case to buy things when you are there. Some Indian river ships even have onboard tailors that can run up tops, dresses and trousers while you are there.

Take a couple of pairs of old shoes or trainers. Village walks are a highlight on Asian cruises and your shoes can get dusty and muddy along the way. Lines offer shoe cleaning services, but sometimes this amounts to dunking your shoes in the river or hosing them off so it’s good to have a second pair in case they are still wet the following day.

If your cruise includes a visit to a local school then take along any spare notebooks or pens that you have stashed in a drawer. Passengers are not encouraged to give to children begging in the streets, however donations to schools are welcome and your cruise director can organise an onboard collection and hand over items to the teacher during the visit.

Finally - and this applies to all cruises - don’t forget to pack your passport!

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