River Cruising 101

By Sarah Gallo

Imagine waking up, sliding open your balcony door, and breathing in the fresh air of an exotic, new destination every morning. What a way to start the day! You don’t need to plan where you want to eat or what you want to do, as the options have already been given to you and organized according to your preferences. Now that is the beauty of river cruising!

River cruises are traditionally smaller than the massive cruise ships that you see throughout the Caribbean and Mediterranean. River cruises carry around 200 passengers or less (on average), meaning that not only will the service be exceptional, but you will have the ability to navigate into much smaller ports during your trip as well.

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For the first-time river cruisers, here are some things to consider:

1. What region would you like to explore? You can find popular river cruises all over the world! The most popular river cruises in the United States go down the Snake River and the Mississippi River. If you’re eager to get outside of the States, you have ample options for river cruises, depending on what you’re most interested in seeing. Looking for grand architecture and history? Try cruising down the Danube. Want to be on the lookout for wildlife? Check out the Amazon! Want to expand your palate with new Asian cuisine? Have a look at a river cruise down the Yangtze. Interested in the temples, ruins, and ancient civilizations? Don’t miss out on a Nile river cruise! There’s truly an option for every type of traveler.

Fancy indoor lounge on a river cruise

2. How much do you want to spend? River cruising usually comes with a heftier price tag compared to ocean cruising due to the fact that they are smaller, more personalized experiences. And most river cruises actually include the daily shore excursions bundled into the price as well. Just do your research or speak to the right travel agent, and you’ll find out if excursions, WiFi, alcohol packages, airport transfers, port fees, gratuities, and various amenities are included in your package! Of course, it’s important to remember that some destinations are simply more expensive than others and that the price of the river cruise may not include expenses like your flights, visas, vaccinations, etc.

3. How many ports would you like to visit? This is crucial. Some river cruises give you the opportunity to visit two ports a day, allowing you to go on a morning shore excursion after breakfast, come back for lunch while you cruise to a new destination, and disembark for an afternoon shore excursion. If that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, make sure you choose a river cruise that gives you the opportunity to relax and take in the sites! Many Nile River cruises, for example, give you the option of a 3-night or 7-night cruise. While the itineraries don’t differ, the weeklong river cruise allows you the opportunity to spend more time on board, taking in the sites from the ship, lounging on the sundeck, or soaking in the jacuzzi.

Outdoor pool on deck of a river cruise

4. What activity level are you looking for in your excursions? Shore excursions vary immensely depending on the destinations that you’re visiting and your activity level. Before booking your river cruise, you need to decide if you’d prefer your excursions to be half-day excursions or full-day excursions. Keeping that in mind, you may be better guided toward your destination of choice. For instance, you can easily enjoy a half-day wine tasting in Bordeaux, but in order to maximize your time cruising down the Chobe River in Botswana, you’d have to plan for a full-day safari excursion. And how active do you actually want to be? You could swim with the pink dolphins in the Amazon, or you might prefer to explore the easily walkable White Emperor City along the Yangtze River. The choice is yours, and the options are plentiful!

Woman with a drink in hand standing by the pool

5. Will you want to extend your stay post-cruise? Whether you’re flying near or far, there’s always the option to stay at the destination from which you disembark. Personally, I try to stay a few nights in the destination after every cruise to further explore the area. If you’re cruising down the Yangtze to Chongqing in China, I highly recommend arranging a transfer to Chengdu to see the pandas! If you’re heading down the Nile, you’ll certainly want to tack on a trip to the Pyramids. And if you’re cruising down the Seine, there are so many charming places that you could visit in France after your cruise. Be sure to factor these little, but important, details into your planning.

No matter which destination you choose, you are bound to have an incredible time on your river cruise. With so many options around the world, once you go on one river cruise, they’ll simply keep calling you back. And next up for me? Checking out the world’s largest river cruise ship!

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