If you’re not a fan of large cruise ships because of crowds, you may find that river cruising can be a better choice. Because river cruise vessels generally hold less than 200 guests, many travelers prefer them for a more intimate sailing experience. I have taken four river cruise trips, and it's an enjoyable vacation option.
However, many travelers have misconceptions about river cruises. With input from the experts, we’re busting these myths so you can make an informed choice about your vacation options.
MYTH: A RIVER CRUISE IS SLOW, UNEVENTFUL, AND BORING
The pace of a river cruise is leisurely, and that's a good thing. You won’t experience seasickness like you might on larger ships because the rivers are smooth. Plus, the slower pace offers panoramic, up-close views of scenery and several port cities.
“It’s interesting, because the act of backpacking through multiple cities and countries is so romanticized as being the ultimate adventure,” says Colleen McDaniel, spokesperson with Cruise Critic. “River cruising provides you with that same adventure—seeing a new city or town just about every day—but without the stress and hassle of taking various forms of transportation, staying in a new place every night, and packing and unpacking repeatedly.”
MYTH: THE RIVER CRUISE IS ALL SENIOR TRAVELERS
The belief that river cruisers are all retired guests is another myth. “River lines have made great strides over the past few years to offer sailings, activities, and excursions that appeal to a wide audience—which has helped introduce the concept of river cruising to a younger audience,” says McDaniel. “From active excursions to itineraries that tap into things like local wine or overall wellness, lines are really making river cruising appealing to travelers of all ages and interests.”
Sue Martinez, a travel advisor with AAA Club Alliance in Dayton, Ohio, shares that she’s been on four river cruises, and says her observation is that the average age is 60 for guests. “Cruise when you’re young so you can enjoy your experience to its fullest,” says Martinez.
MYTH: FOOD IS BUFFET-DESIGNED AND BLAH
McDaniel with Cruise Critic reports the cruise industry as a whole is very well-positioned to serve travelers with various dietary needs, more so than land-based restaurants with static menus. “River lines are also known for their phenomenal dining offerings and sit-down restaurants—often taking into account the destinations they’re visiting, and bringing those flavors on board,” she continues. “Visiting Vienna? You’ll probably find authentic wiener schnitzel on your river cruise,” McDaniel says. “Chefs have been known to disembark in port to shop local markets to use in dinners that same night and they often invite guests to join them so they are part of the journey. If you’re a foodie on a river cruise, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.”
Martinez with AAA agrees about the top-notch culinary experience onboard a river ship. “Food quality and service is amazing,” Martinez says. “River cruises also include soda, beer and wine with lunch and dinner.”
MYTH: YOU CAN’T TRULY EXPERIENCE THE DESTINATIONS YOU’RE VISITING
River cruises offer a travel experience unlike any other, says McDaniel, as you sail directly into the heart of a town or city, disembarking and immediately starting your adventure. “Cruise lines have also done a phenomenal job of designing itineraries that take the more limited time in port into consideration and allow their guests to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences there,” she adds. “Whether taking a local cooking class, dining in a castle or hunting for truffles, the experience is incredibly special.”