Travel

River Cruises Offer More Scenery, Fewer Crowds

Considering a vacation on the water? River cruises provide a calmer, more intimate experience than mega-liners.

If you’d rather drift through quiet gorges with a small band of travelers than island-hop in the Caribbean on a packed mega-liner, consider a river cruise. At first glance, these calmer, more intimate voyages appear costlier than an ocean cruise. But river cruises are often less expensive overall. The savings start when you board: Even ships not designated as all-inclusive often include wine and beer, shore excursions, and more in the sticker price.

It’s easy to find a river cruise that suits your tastes. Themes range from jazz and beer to opera and Jewish heritage. Family-oriented trips are increasing, and surcharges for singles on some lines are disappearing. Seasoned cruise passengers will appreciate the choice of more-exotic destinations, such as Myanmar and the Mekong Delta. Interest is also increasing in American waterways, including the Mississippi River and the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest.

Expect a more engaging experience than you’d get on an ocean liner. You’ll often dock in the heart of town and spend the day touring. “Excursions might take you to a castle or wine tasting, then you can come back and bike along the river,” says Colleen McDaniel, of CruiseCritic.com.

For help narrowing the choices, read reviews on CruiseCritic.com, or consult a travel agent accredited by the Cruise Lines International Association (this is generally free). Save money by scheduling your cruise during the region’s more affordable shoulder season (early spring and late fall in Europe; the height of summer in Southeast Asia). Seek ways to cut costs without sacrificing too much. For example, choosing a window cabin instead of a balcony can save hundreds of dollars.

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