Words by Ashton Rigg
The tides are changing when it comes to cruise holidays, with many travellers swapping the open seas for an intimate riverscape River cruises have become the journey du jour for holidaymakers seeking the three L's: leisure, luxury and landscapes guaranteed to give their cameras a workout.
So, why choose a river cruise over a traditional ocean-bound voyage, or add one to your existing itinerary? Here are 10 benefits of river cruising that might sway you to take to the waters on your next holiday.
The sun sets on a spectacular Huangpu River cruise in Shanghai
1. Unpack just once
When you're travelling point-to-point, it can be hard to feel settled knowing you will have to re-pack and head to another hotel before too long. Forget about lugging those bags from one lobby to the next – river cruises allow you to really get comfortable. Unpack just once and keep your home comforts close by in your private cabin, with plenty of room to stow away your purchases from your port stops along the way.
2. A new destination every day
Far from being a fleeting fad, river cruising is one travel trend that is here to stay. A big reason for this is the ability to greet each new day in a new city; refreshed from a smooth night's sleep en route. A river cruise allows you to sample the sights of several different places, stopping at each port for a few hours at a time. Tick off a few bucket-list destinations at once, like France, Spain and Portugal on an APT European river cruise, or an all-in-one Asian adventure through Vietnam, China and Cambodia.
3. Luxurious accommodation
River cruise ships are often called ‘floating hotels’ and it's easy to see why. On-board accommodation varies in size and style, with the majority of cruise ships fitted out with 4- and 5-star rooms and suites. You are almost always granted a room with a view to watch the landscapes change from the confines of your cabin, while some abodes have their own French balconies. For the utmost comfort, book yourself a stateroom and soak up the European grandeur. Most river cruises are around seven nights, though some are longer and others shorter, and rooms are generally double occupancy.
Cruising down Douro Valley, Portugal
4. A range of on-shore activities
Historically, life has blossomed on the riverbank. This source of agriculture and sustenance has seen villages become towns and towns become cities throughout the ages. Most river cruises take place during the warmer months, perfect for on-land excursions. Depending on your cruise itinerary, you will have the opportunity to explore several ports either independently or on a pre-arranged guided tour. Cruise companies often partner with local guides to offer more intimate adventures ashore, from tours of ancient castles to bustling markets and other cultural hubs.
5. Indulgent wining and dining
The gourmet side of river cruising is perhaps one of its biggest selling points. Renowned for overall luxury, river cruises certainly don't skimp when it comes to mealtime. On board you can expect fine dining that wouldn't be out of place at a Michelin star restaurant – 5-star fare matched with top-shelf beer and wine. Many cruises also theme their meals to match your surrounds, so you can glide through Bordeaux enjoying a full-bodied red or feast on hearty Bavarian fare in southern Germany.
6. VIP service
Thanks to smaller passenger numbers, you won't feel like just another guest on board. Concierge services ensure all your needs are taken care of, whether you're chasing an extra blanket to cosy up and watch the sunset from your private balcony or want to plan activities for your next docking. Many first-time cruisers are blown away by the level of service they receive on board. It's the little things like baristas remembering how you take your coffee that make all the difference. Modern, larger cruise ships are chock-full of amenities too, such as fitness centres, spas, bars and pools.
A scenic cruise along the Seine in Paris
7. Inclusive extras
Cruise holidays in general have surged in popularity over recent years, largely due to their affordability. Chances are your river cruise will come with a bunch of added extras already worked into the cost, making it much more budget-friendly than you might imagine. Your meals and beverages on board are almost always complimentary, with more all-inclusive cruises taking care of airport transfers, gratuities and even on-shore tours, meaning you'll get plenty of bang for your buck.
8. A more intimate experience
River cruise ships are often boutique or exclusively built for the company, boasting state-of-the-art facilities without all the flash that are common with ocean liners, like on-board casinos or theatres. Ships can vary in size from 50 guests to around 200, in styles to suit all travel personalities from friendly and casual to elegant and refined. While some ships may cater to families, river cruising is generally adults-only – perfect for those seeking a little romance.
9. Iconic world-wide waterways
APT says 1992 was the year everything changed for the river cruise industry. Europe's historic maritime landscape opened up and the canals began to welcome a new type of sightseer. Europe is a major frontrunner when it comes to river cruising, boasting iconic waterways like the Rhine, Rhône, Seine, and Danube, while the upper and lower Mekong meandering through Asia is an ideal introduction to the Orient. Egypt's Nile River, the USA's mighty Mississippi and China's Yangtze are just some of the aquatic highways you might choose to travel.
Beautiful vistas day and night in Budapest
10. A relaxed pace
River cruises tend to attract a certain type of traveller; one who isn't in a hurry to inhale every world city, but would rather sit back and savour the sights both grand and humble. You can really get the lay of the land on a river cruise, and the vantage point of a spacious sundeck makes the viewing experience even sweeter. Some river cruises dock at night and cruise by day, some do it the other way around, but all river cruises allow ample time for on-land exploring and on-board enjoyment. Bon voyage!