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What Are River Cruises?

River cruises combine all the convenience of ocean cruising – unpacking once, having someone else do the planning and visiting amazing places – all with the ease of navigating the slower pace of a river. A way of combining lots of city breaks rolled into one, you can reach a new destination each day and explore to your heart’s content with river cruises. Compared to ocean cruise ships, river cruise ships are much smaller, allowing them to sail further into the ports and inner-depths of the cities on your itinerary, and tend to sail during the morning and night, mooring throughout the day for you to explore the ports and immerse yourself in the culture and atmosphere. Riviera Travel, TUI River Cruises and Saga river cruises are among the big names in this sector.

What is the best river cruise line operator?

Riviera Travel

An award-winning tour operator, Riviera Travel specialises in river cruises aboard its ships throughout Europe and Worldwide. With a range of five-star river cruises, all including transport and transfers, all meals and a range of excursions Riviera Travel offers exceptional value for money on cruises to the Danube River, Rhine River, Rhone River and much more.

Founded in 1984, Riviera Travel is proud to be one of the UK’s leading river cruise lines, with Riviera cruises customers who return time and time again. As well as a great range of visits and excursions, you can also rest assured that the ATOL and ABTA protected holidays include all flights and transfers with Riviera Travel.

TUI River Cruises

TUI River Cruises offer adults-only voyages on all the major European rivers. The all-inclusive river cruises come with top service and an array of tempting shore excursions.

There will soon be three TUI River Cruises ships. TUI Maya and TUI Skyla set sail in 2021 with TUI Isla hot on their heels in 2022; all TUI River Cruises vessels have capacity for a maximum of 155 guests so there's plenty of personal space onboard.

TUI Isla will boast itineraries along the Rhine, Main, Moselle and Danube river cruise holidays, plus the Dutch and Belgian waterways as TUI River Cruises expands.

Saga river cruises

Saga river cruises cater for cruisers aged over 50. The river cruise line boasts two river cruise ships: Spirit of the Rhine (which sails the Rhine and Dutch waterways) and Spirit of the Danube (which will offer Danube river cruise itineraries).

Other destinations for Saga river cruises include the Douro, Elbe and Oder as well as Belgian waterways, French river cruises and German river cruises.

Saga river cruises guests can take in panoramic views from the lounge and bar, relax in sumptuous cabins, indulge in delicious food and enjoy guided excursions – all included in the price. Every Saga river cruise includes VIP door-to-door travel service.

Viking

One of the most well-known river cruise lines, Viking plies the waterways of Europe, Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Egypt with its fleet of more than 60 vessels.

While Viking has also launched an award-winning ocean cruise line, the company built its reputation on river cruising. These all-inclusive river cruises feature outside staterooms, wi-fi, wine and beer with meals, shore excursions in every port and Viking’s signature Culture Curriculum programme.

Avalon river cruises

River cruisers looking to explore Europe will find the largest standard staterooms and suites aboard Avalon Waterways’ fleet of luxurious ships. Onboard amenities for Avalon river cruises include fitness centres, a Sky Deck with a whirlpool and shade system, free wi-fi, flat-screen TVs and a self-serve beverage station.

The Avalon Choice programme also allows travellers on Avalon river cruises to customise the details of their experience, ensuring each of your Avalon river cruises is a perfect fit for you and what you want.

Crystal River Cruises

Crystal River Cruises took the world of river cruising by storm when it entered this market in 2016, bringing the Crystal river cruise line’s famed exacting ocean standards to European river cruising for the first time. Whilst other river cruise line operators have built on an existing model of river cruise operations, Crystal created a new style of river cruises based on its fleet of ocean ships.

The key differences with Crystal river cruise holidays include open seating dining in the main restaurant, Michelin-inspired cuisine prepared onboard with fresh ingredients and alternative casual dining in the Bistro. Crystal river cruise voyages provide an impressive crew to guest ratio and vessels with sufficient space to offer an abundance of facilities.

AmaWaterways

Many of the staterooms in AmaWaterways’ fleet of river cruise ships feature a French balcony and a full outside balcony, providing guests enjoying river cruises stellar views of the passing scenery. Joined by no more than 163 fellow passengers, guests find plenty of room onboard to spread out and relax.

Shore excursions are included in the fare, and in many ports of call, guests can choose from several options. A fleet of complimentary bicycles on board allows guests to explore destinations in a more active, leisurely way in a true river cruise style.

Uniworld

Uniworld has made a name for itself in the river cruise market for a good reason. Luxurious river ships with an average capacity of 130 guests and one of the best staff-to-guest ratios in the industry ply the waters of Europe, Russia and Asia under the Uniworld name.

Passengers on its river cruise ships enjoy gourmet cuisine, immersive shore excursions and many all-inclusive benefits. The river ships themselves are unique, complete with photo-worthy staterooms and original art commissioned exclusively for the company.

Scenic River Cruises

Scenic river cruises enjoy 'all-inclusive Space-Ships' boasting some of the largest suites among European river cruise line operators, with a wealth of luxury facilities, and include a spacious wellness area, complimentary wi-fi, electric bikes, five dining venues and a spacious sun deck.

Balcony suites on the newest European ships feature the Scenic Sun Lounge system that transforms your Scenic river cruises balcony into an all-weather conservatory-style space at the touch of a button – so if you are enjoying river cruises off-season, you can still enjoy great views in an enclosed balcony area.

Ashore, Scenic river cruises passengers can choose from unique 'Enrich' experiences; free choice exploration at your own pace, which lets you pack in back to back tours or go for a far more leisurely experience; tours by bike, hikes and more. During Scenic river cruises, the varied dining options and facilities of the ship give you a great base to plan your next day of activities.

Emerald Waterways

Emerald Waterways' custom-built Star-Ships give Emerald river cruises guests more space than almost any other river cruise ships in Europe.

Onboard amenities for Emerald river cruises’ eight to 17-day itineraries include a heated pool, nightly cinema, sun deck, fine dining, beer and wine, soft drinks and EmeraldPLUS experiences – activities designed to immerse Emerald river cruises guests in the culture and history of each fascinating destination they visit.

Emerald river cruises operate on the waterways of Europe, Russia, Egypt and Southeast Asia. Travellers can choose from itineraries on the Danube, Rhine, Main, Rhône and Portugal’s Douro, along with sailings on Russia’s Volga River. Emerald river cruises also operate on the Nile and the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Related articles

Top river cruise destinations - which river cruises are the best?

Rhine, Main & Moselle rivers

The mighty and romantic Rhine carries river cruise ships and cargo through a landscape shaped by time and history. Glimpse the spires of medieval churches and visit castles that were once impregnable fortresses; see the verdant terraced hillsides, and taste their refreshing white wines; stroll the streets of historic cities and fairy-tale towns.

Danube River

What to know about Danube river cruises? Well, often referred to as ‘the Queen of Europe's rivers,' the enchanting Danube river is one of the best-loved rivers on which to cruise. It has cast its spell on poets, musicians and artists – and Danube river cruise voyages will do the same for you thanks to the river's magical cities, great art collections, Viennese palaces, medieval abbeys and captivating scenery. Perfect for those river cruise fans who love history, art, architecture and music.

Nile River cruise

Sail on a Nile river cruise, one of the most famous rivers in the world, and immerse yourself in the history of Ancient Egypt. In Cairo, hop off your Nile river cruise ship and see the mighty ancient pyramids and the timeworn, enigmatic sphinx before wandering amongst the towering ruins of the Temples of Karnak and Luxor, then visit fascinating burial places, following in the footsteps of renowned scholars and explorers before returning to the comfort of your Nile river cruise cabin.

Mekong River

On river cruises down the mighty Mekong, you will visit two of the most beautiful, historic and friendly places in all of Asia, dynamic Vietnam and pastoral Cambodia. You will visit Vietnam's capital Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Cambodia's Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap, gateway to the vast jungle temple complex of Angkor Wat.

Russian Waterways

Sail the unique experience of Russia's great rivers and lakes, seeing Unesco World Heritage sites, stunning architecture and legendary art as you go, and learning about the passion and grandeur of Russian history and culture. Journey from glittering St Petersburg to stately Moscow, taking in the vast and beautiful countryside and the timeless towns along the Golden Ring.

Yangtze River

Take an unforgettable river crusie through 5,000 years of Chinese culture and history on the Yangtze, from Beijing, where you visit the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Great Wall, to the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an, and then on to the natural beauty of the Yangtze river's Three Gorges, before finishing your trip in ultra-modern Shanghai. Finish it off with a post-cruise stay in the country where the possibilities are endless.

Rhine

The Rhine River is one of the world’s most popular, and most beautiful, waterways to cruise on.…

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Moselle

The River Moselle is the serene sister of the mighty River Rhine, a tributary of the great river…

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Elbe

The Elbe river is a very popular European waterway to cruise on, offering passengers the chance to…

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Oder

The river Oder is one of Europe’s hidden gems, starting in the mountains of the Czech Republic and…

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Danube

There’s something extraordinarily romantic about the Blue Danube, the second-longest waterway in…

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Rhone

The romantic Rhône is one of France’s most beautiful and majestic waterways, sailing past rolling…

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Seine

The inimitable Seine is France’s best-known river, a mighty waterway rising northwest of Burgundy’s…

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Saone

Often living in the shadows of the Seine and Rhône, the Saône is France’s most underrated river to…

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Po

To cruise on the River Po is to sail right through northern Italy’s majestic heartlands, past…

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Douro

The Douro river is a beautiful tapestry of gold, red and green. Gold, for the rolling sun-tinged…

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What are river cruises like? What to expect on a river cruise

How many passengers on river cruises?

Most river cruise ships accommodate between 140-200 guests, some even fewer, but all much less than the average cruise ship which holds roughly over 2000 guests.

And although the vessels are smaller in size, on average the space-per-guest ratio is higher. This brings fellow passengers together, making it easier to get to know each other and make friends. Many river cruise guests choose to dine with their fellow passengers or even arrange to meet for a drink.

What's more, the smaller size of a river cruise ship enables them to dock in locations unbeknown to an ocean ship. River vessels dock right in the heart of some of the world’s greatest cities and towns, which means you can literally walk straight off the vessel and into town.

Why take a river cruise

River cruises feature a fantastic variety of complimentary tours taking you to some of the world’s most famous landmarks. Most river cruise operators will provide guests with a couple of options at each port of call – choose the right river cruise and your options could include city tours by foot, cycling tours and cookery classes. There’s truly something to suit everyone.

A river cruise provides a real insight into the local cultures, from tours ashore and lectures onboard, to onboard activities and entertainment. River cruises can take you to the heart of the culture and history behind each destination.

You will also experience a taste of local cuisine on board, as some of the river cruise line operators adapt their menus according to the different places being visited. Activities and entertainment on board often also reflect the itinerary and location of the cruise to add that extra spark to the trip.

How to choose a river cruise

Are you a wine connoisseur? An art lover? A wellness guru? If so, there’s a river cruise for you. Many lines offer special themed sailings. You’ll find everything from golf and history to jazz, wine and food-themed itineraries. A music-themed cruise down the Danube River on a Danube river cruise? that’s no problem at all.