Is a river cruise right for you?

by Fran Golden

Is a river cruise right for you?

by Fran Golden

River cruising is a carefree way to travel — it's all about lazing on deck as you float by scenic towns, towering castles, and sprawling vineyards. On the other hand, the slow pace and repetitive schedule might leave you wanting to swim to shore. So how do you know if this kind of trip is right for you? Read on to find out if you're the river cruise type.

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Heidelberg, Germany / iStock.com / sborisov
Bordeaux vineyard
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1. You don't mind buses. 

You think you've skipped the bus tour of France or Germany or wherever in favor of a river cruise, right? It's true that ships often dock right in the middle of town, meaning easy access for your walking tour. But some key attractions, including vineyards and some UNESCO World Heritage sites, won't be right near port, which means you’ll be climbing onto a bus to see them. And remember, if water levels are low and ships can't travel on the river, your cruise will likely morph into a bus tour.

You think you've skipped the bus tour of France or Germany or wherever in favor of a river cruise, right? It's true that ships often dock right in the middle of town, meaning easy access for your walking tour. But some key attractions, including vineyards and some UNESCO World Heritage sites, won't be right near port, which means you’ll be climbing onto a bus to see them. And remember, if water levels are low and ships can't travel on the river, your cruise will likely morph into a bus tour.

Bridge over the Seine in Paris
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2. You don't need room to spread out.

River ships are limited in size to the confines of the rivers — they need to fit into tight locks and get under low bridges. While the river companies creatively design the onboard spaces, the reality is you won't find a river ship in Europe that's larger than 38 feet wide and 443 feet long. You're cabin won't be particularly large either (book a suite if you need space).

River ships are limited in size to the confines of the rivers — they need to fit into tight locks and get under low bridges. While the river companies creatively design the onboard spaces, the reality is you won't find a river ship in Europe that's larger than 38 feet wide and 443 feet long. You're cabin won't be particularly large either (book a suite if you need space).

Many river ships include drinks with dinner.
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3. You like having things planned.

River cruises are basically floating packaged tours. You pay upfront for accommodations, meals, and shore excursions, along with other included niceties such as wine and beer with meals (on some lines even free cocktails) and complimentary Wi-Fi. It's great for those who like their travel spoon-fed, but DIY types face a conundrum: Do you skip what you’ve already paid for in order to be able to do your own thing?

River cruises are basically floating packaged tours. You pay upfront for accommodations, meals, and shore excursions, along with other included niceties such as wine and beer with meals (on some lines even free cocktails) and complimentary Wi-Fi. It's great for those who like their travel spoon-fed, but DIY types face a conundrum: Do you skip what you’ve already paid for in order to be able to do your own thing?

Swim-up bar
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4. You are social. 

River ships typically carry fewer than 200 passengers, and sometimes less than 100. Dining is open seating, and hangout spaces are limited to the main lounge, dining room, and sun deck, and sometimes a small library or second lounge. So if you're not the social type, there's no place to hide. Come on board expecting to eat, drink, tour, and converse with a group.

River ships typically carry fewer than 200 passengers, and sometimes less than 100. Dining is open seating, and hangout spaces are limited to the main lounge, dining room, and sun deck, and sometimes a small library or second lounge. So if you're not the social type, there's no place to hide. Come on board expecting to eat, drink, tour, and converse with a group.

Restaurant on AmaPura
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5. You don't mind regimentation. 

River ships operate on a strict schedule, which often goes something like this: breakfast buffet, morning tour, lunch buffet, afternoon tour or cruising, cocktail hour or daily briefing at 6 pm, dinner at 7 pm, nighttime entertainment (typically a movie, folkloric show, or piano player), bed. Then repeat this the next day in a new port.

River ships operate on a strict schedule, which often goes something like this: breakfast buffet, morning tour, lunch buffet, afternoon tour or cruising, cocktail hour or daily briefing at 6 pm, dinner at 7 pm, nighttime entertainment (typically a movie, folkloric show, or piano player), bed. Then repeat this the next day in a new port.

Sun deck
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6. You are of a certain age.

The river cruise crowd is mostly couples age 60 and up, sometimes way up. This doesn't mean someone younger won't have a great time — the "packaged" aspect of the experience can be appealing to any adult. But it does mean you should be prepared for tours to be conducted at a fairly slow pace, and for evenings to be quiet.

The river cruise crowd is mostly couples age 60 and up, sometimes way up. This doesn't mean someone younger won't have a great time — the "packaged" aspect of the experience can be appealing to any adult. But it does mean you should be prepared for tours to be conducted at a fairly slow pace, and for evenings to be quiet.

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