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River cruise cliches couldn't be further from the truth.

Seven river cruise myths - busted!

Author: Deborah Stone

Published on:

Updated on:

Not sure river cruising is for you? Think again – today’s stunning ships and exciting itineraries can match anything you’ll find at sea.

Apples and oranges: they’re both fruit but they’re totally different, and it’s the same when it comes to comparing river and ocean cruises. Sailing the seven seas has a certain glamour, and most ocean ships do provide amazing food and entertainment.

But if you think river cruises are boring and river ships are too small to offer choices, then you haven’t been paying attention. Clever design has dramatically transformed river cruising over the past decade. Poky cabins are a distant memory; speciality restaurants and cafes offer flexible dining, and onboard entertainment can range from cocktail-mixing classes to yoga, as well as traditional destination-based lectures and performances by local musicians.

River cruise ships dock in the heart of the towns and cities you want to visit, so you’re only a short walk from the highlights of places like Paris, Budapest, Memphis or Ho Chi Minh City.

Most river lines include free excursions – and not just short city walks – while many offer complimentary wine or beer for lunch and dinner. Lots of ships now have bicycles to borrow without charge, with specialist excursions for those who like active holidays.

Today’s river voyages are a great option for ocean cruisers looking for a different experience. And if you’re new to cruise, well, they’re not a bad place to test the water. Still not convinced? Keep reading and let us bust those myths.

A Douro voyage is one of the most relaxing river cruises
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Myth one: the ships are too small
Complaints that river cruisers are cramped have been consigned to history, thanks to some cleverly innovative designs. Many new ships now have a choice of dining rooms, large observation lounges, a gym and beauty salon plus a roomy sun deck – often with a pool and somewhere to eat al fresco.

Ships on European rivers – especially the Danube, Main and Rhine – are limited in size by the height of bridges and the width of locks (which is why AmaWaterways’ double-width AmaMagna is confined to the lower Danube).

So if you’re looking for more space, focus on ships that take fewer than the industry average of 150 passengers, or look outside Europe for river cruises in the US and Asia.

-READ MORE: Shore thing-

Everything is super-sized across the pond, and American rivers such as the Mississippi and Columbia can accommodate much bigger ships. American Cruise Lines claims the largest staterooms in the industry, with standard cabins measuring a decidedly spacious 275 sq ft.

In India, the smallest suites aboard Uniworld’s five-star Ganges Voyager II are an equally generous 261 sq ft and the ship accommodates a mere 56 passengers, so the public areas feel very roomy too.

Myth two: the food is limited
Not enough choice, restrictive mealtimes and having to sit where you’re told – those are among the complaints once made about river cruises. Not anymore, though.

At the top of the market, Uniworld’s luxurious boutique ships offer four or five-course à la carte menus at dinner, as well as sumptuous buffets at breakfast and lunch. There’s butler service for any-time dining, while the main restaurant has open seating and flexible dining during opening hours.

-READ MORE: Food glorious food: healthy dining choices at sea-

Scenic
, another high-end all-inclusive line, has up to five different dining venues on its European ships, with room service in every suite and a late-night menu for night owls, while A-ROSA ships have fun deck-top barbecues.

Tui’s
more affordable river ships Isla, Maya and Skyla each have a main dining room and casual bistro, plus deck barbecues and two lounges for coffee or drinks. And as for choice, buffets on most cruise lines are huge, varied and locally sourced where possible, with regional dishes regularly available.

Set sail along the mighty Amazon

Myth three: the excursions are dull
Unlike ocean ships that often have to anchor outside the port and send you ashore by tender (or dock miles away from your destination so you have to jump on a bus), river ships tie up right in the heart of the towns, villages and landscapes you want to explore.

That means your excursion begins as soon as you hop off the ship, with lots of exciting options including guided hikes, after-hours museum tours, bike trips and personalised city walks.

-READ MORE: The best shore excursions in the world-

CroisiEurope offers themed hiking and gastronomy cruises in more destinations than most, while AvalonWaterways has a great series of ‘Active& Discovery’ cruises with excursions including an extinct volcano in the Rhine Gorge, kayaking down the Gorgesde l’Ardeche, food tours in Paris and painting classes in Amsterdam.

On Mississippi cruises with American Queen Voyages you can visit Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis, while in New Orleans you can stroll through the pulsating French Quarter on an evening tour.

A cruise down the Nile guarantees extraordinary private excursions to temples and monuments. Then there’s Cambodia and Vietnam, where Mekong shore trips include the Vietnam’s Cu Chi tunnels, used in the French and American wars, and Cambodia’s incredible Buddhist temple complex at Angkor Wat.

Myth four: the ships are too basic
If you think river cruisers aren’t luxurious enough, you haven’t seen Uniworld’s boutique ships with their chandeliers and liveried butlers. The line’s ‘Super Ship’ SS Beatrice even has a Picasso on the wall.

If you prefer a more contemporary take on luxury, Viking’s ‘Longships’ are renowned for their Scandi-chic interiors and hygge ambience – as well as superb service, food and wine.

-READ MORE: Seabourn takes delivery of its first expedition ship-

You might also want to look at new A-ROSA Sena, which is not only wider than most cruise ships, at 58ft, but has larger than average cabins, two deck pools and a supersized spa with an ice grotto, sauna, whirlpool, relaxation room, treatment rooms and a fitness area.

All-inclusive line Scenic’s ‘Space-Ships’ also have butlers for all suites, with complimentary drinks all day, a choice of included excursions, free use of the salt therapy lounge and e-bikes. And despite those sky-high levels of service, tips are included in the fare.

Most Indian river cruises involve setting sail on the sacred waters of India's famous Ganges river

Myth five: entertainment is limited
"There’s nothing to do in the evening" is a common complaint about river cruises, and it’s true that there are no West End-style shows on board. But these days many cruise lines import local musicians, from string quartets to cover bands that get you dancing.

-READ MORE: Cruise ship entertainment keeps getting bigger and better-

Late departures or overnight stays also give you the chance to explore the nightlife of the city you’re docking in. There are special interest trips that come with extra entertainment – such as Saga’s Gilbert & Sullivan cruise – and even on standard itineraries the range of activities is much wider and more imaginative than you might expect.

U by Uniworld offers mixology classes, dance parties and painting sessions with wine; Emerald Cruises transforms its indoor pool into a cinema after dinner, while Avalon Waterways has a new Storyteller Series of cruises, accompanied by best-selling writers including Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn and Sex and the City’s Candace Bushnell.

Myth six: the prices are too high
A typical river cruiser carries only 150 guests. Without the economies of scale offered by a big ocean ship, river fares do tend to be higher – but with so few fellow guests you can also look forward to a better and more personal standard of service.

That said, you can save money by choosing a cruise line that offers only what’s important to you. Complimentary excursions can save you a lot of money, and it also makes sense to have air or train tickets included, unless you can use loyalty points to arrange your own. But if you can do without other extras, such as a butler and a free minibar, don’t pay to travel with a line that includes them.

-READ MORE: TUI River Cruises reveals special summer deals-

Riviera Travel’s
Rhone-Soane cruises, for instance, include a trip to historic Beaune for wine tasting, a coach tour of the Ardeche Gorge and a tour of the Popes’ Palace in Avignon – but no butler. Look out too for all-inclusive cruises such as those offered by CroisiEurope and TUI for great value deals.

Over the last couple of decades, river cruising has gone through massive changes

Myth seven: the itineraries are boring
Complaints that river cruises don’t go anywhere exciting are nonsense. How can sailing down the Amazon be boring? And what about crossing from Cambodia into Vietnam on the mighty Mekong, seeing India from the Ganges and Brahmaputra, or sailing back through time on the River Nile in Egypt?

-READ MORE: Fred. Olsen's 2022/23 Itineraries will ignite your wanderlust-

Exciting new itineraries are being added all the time. Uniworld now offers a cruise along the Peruvian stretch of the Amazon from Lima to Cusco in the Andes mountains, with the chance to visit the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.

Similarly, Jules Verne has a new Egypt cruise that’s perfect for those who’ve already done a classic Nile trip but want to explore the region in more depth. Sailing from Cairo, with a day to see the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum, it explores the Nile south of the capital, visiting Beni Suef, Meidum and Minya to see pyramids and tombs that don’t usually feature on a tourist itinerary.

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