This article was updated on 7 August 2020.
A river cruise is an ideal way to explore new destinations or rediscover familiar ones, but some would-be river cruisers are missing out because of faulty preconceived notions.
As a cruise expert, I hear so many misconceptions about river cruising that I was inspired to do a quick round up of the most prevalent myths about river cruising.
Let’s embark on our debunking….
Myth #1: River cruises are not for active people. Nothing could be further from the truth these days! The river cruise lines have evolved from the early days of predictable itineraries and ho-hum city tours to lively sailings that are perfect for travelers seeking to explore a destination in a more immersive, active way.
The upscale and luxury river cruise lines are vying for today’s health-conscious, active travelers. Here’s what I had to say when I was interviewed by The Chicago Tribune on river cruise trends:
“Everything needs to be more active,” Schlegel said. When I get clients calling about a river cruise, they want to know: Are there enough bikes on board? What’s the spa and fitness center like? Do they offer yoga? Are there lighter fare dining options? And they are putting much more importance on the freedom to vacation their way.” (Ellen Uzelac, “Not your grandma’s vacation: river cruises turn to active travel and technology to recruit the next generation of passengers,” Chicago Tribune, 26 Nov 2019.)
The great news is that all of these things can be found on a river cruise these days. So long as you choose the right river cruise ship and itinerary, you can experience a rejuvenating and active vacation, while also delving deeper into the culture of the destinations you visit.
Myth #2: River cruises are only for couples. Nope! Did you know that Adventures by Disney has dedicated river cruises? Of course, they are all about being family friendly, but they are not the only ones.
More and more on river cruises, you will see friends traveling together, mother-daughter travelers, affinity groups (such as wine lovers, military history buffs, photography groups), multi-generational families, as well as skip-generational travelers (grandparents traveling with grandchildren). Some ships also have dedicated single traveler staterooms. That said, not all cruise lines are family friendly, and some are strictly adults only: it pays to know your cruise lines.
Several of my Bluetail river cruise travelers are couples that travel together in a small group of two to three couples: what a fun way to explore the world. In any case, whether you are traveling as a couple, group, or family, it makes sense to know the demographics and vibe of the ship and itinerary you choose.
Myth #3: River cruises are only on the Danube and Rhein. No doubt, the Danube and Rhein are the European rivers most people think of when they think of river cruises, and they do offer excellent and diverse sailing itineraries. In Europe, however, there is also the Douro River in Portugal, the Rhone, Seine, Saone, and Loire in France, the Dnieper in Ukraine, Russia’s Volga River, and the Elbe River that flows through Germany and the Czech Republic.
What most of the European cruise itineraries have in common is that they follow the major trade routes of old, and the surrounding hills and valleys boast that continent’s top wine growing areas: this is why river cruises are perfect for lovers of history, culture, and wine.
Beyond Europe, river cruising gets more adventurous with cruises embarking on the Nile in Egypt, the Chobe in Botswana, the Amazon, the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, the Yangtze in China, the Irrawady in Myanmar, and the Kolkata portion of the Ganges in India. Closer to home, we have the Columbia, Snake, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, all navigable by river or steamer cruise ship.
Myth #4: There’s not much choice in river cruise lines. River cruising really made it big in the American market when, in 2011, Viking River Cruises struck advertising gold by becoming a corporate sponsor of the Downton Abbey series on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater. Many of my new-to-river-cruising clients are initially only familiar with the Viking brand and, indeed, at my last count, Viking has a vast fleet of 67 river ships, all but six of them built since 2010. But we have so many options! From AmaWaterways to Crystal to Scenic to Uniworld and more...we are spoiled for choice in the upper premium and luxury segment.
I always say that in both river and ocean cruising, selecting the right cruise line and ship are the most important factors that will determine whether you love your cruise journey or not. As a professional travel advisor, I go beyond the advertising glitz and know the behind-the-scenes, the “feel,” the value proposition, the demographics, and suitability of the cruise line for the particular destination and for your travel style. Aside from selecting the itinerary, finding the right river cruise that suits you and your travel style is paramount.
Myth #5: River cruises are expensive. So, yes, the upper premium and luxury river cruises come with premium pricing, and that is OK. A river cruise should be something special, and the best lines are like floating boutique hotels with top class service, food, ambiance, excursions, and amenities.
Like any investment, it is important to consider the value and experience as a comprehensive whole, and not simply look at the base price. Many of the upper premium and luxury lines offer a more inclusive travel experience that encompasses items like excursions, speciality dining, and speciality beverages, sometimes even shipboard gratuities at no extra charge.
More and more, I am also seeing limited time promotions with enhanced onboard credit, stateroom upgrades, and, perhaps most significantly, bundled air and air upgrades, often with included in-destination airport transfers. Many times, the promotions are stackable with our Virtuoso-exclusive complimentary perks and amenities that are available to our Bluetail travelers. It can be overwhelming and confusing to make sense of the constantly changing promotions, differing cruise line inclusions, and the variations in the river cruise travel experience from one line to another: that is just one reason why working with a professional cruise travel advisor is smart.
My best advice when it comes to selecting a river cruise sailing is two-fold: 1) work with a professional travel advisor specialized in cruises who is knowledgeable about the full range of river cruise offerings and not beholden to a particular line, and 2) book as far out as possible (this is especially true now, with so many rollover bookings happening). With the popularity of river cruising showing no signs of slowing down and the capacity of river ships being relatively small, it is wise to book as early as possible for the greatest itinerary and stateroom availability, as well as for maximum value.
Curious about river cruising? I am here to be of service: feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a complimentary travel consultation. I look forward to connecting!
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Photo credits: Bicycle in Europe by Wix Media, Budapest by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash, Angkor Wat by Giulia Brochetto on Unsplash, Wine by Ella Hughes on Unsplash. Used by permission.