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River cruising is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing and most popular modes of leisure travel. The ships are much smaller and more intimate than larger ocean-going ships and onshore excursions are usually included in the price. Then there's the continuous sights all along the riverfront, not just in port stops. Stride can help you navigate smoothly to the right river cruise for you.
As has been true across the globe, many of the great cities of Europe -- Paris, London, Rome, Florence, Budapest, Vienna, and Cologne to name just a few -- grew up along rivers, which have served as water-borne trade and transportation routes for thousands of years (and still do).
Rivers have also served as the lifeline for atmospheric European small towns and villages, many of them seemingly right out of the Middle Ages. So when you take a European river cruise, it’s a wonderful way to view both grand cities and picturesque towns that you often won’t experience by driving, walking -- or by ocean cruising.
The same is true for river cruises in other parts of the world as well. Manaus, Brazil, was settled along the Amazon; Cairo and Luxor in Egypt, flourished along the Nile; Mandalay, Myanmar, lies along the Irrawaddy; Shanghai, China, straddles the Yangtze; Calcutta (Kolkata), India, grew up along the Hugli River, an arm of the Ganges; and Memphis, Tennessee, St. Louis, Missouri, and Minneapolis, Minnesota are all situated along the Mississippi.
Many great cruise port stops are only available via riverboats. Riverboats have the advantage of being much smaller and more intimate than most ocean cruise vessels, some of which are now the size of small cities. Most riverboats hold between 100 and 200 passengers, compared to up to 5,000 or more on the largest ocean cruise ships. That means you can get on and off the ships much faster -- especially since riverboats are usually able to dock right in the center of a city or town, which the ocean-going behemoths often cannot.
Port stops tend to be longer on river cruises as well, allowing for additional sightseeing time, while organized shore excursions and tours are usually included in the price (along with food and often drink). And there’s almost always something to keep your viewing interest -- whether it’s vineyards in Austria or temples in Cambodia -- while you’re on a riverboat, since you’re seldom far from shore. The chances of getting seasick on a river are also not nearly as high.
There are some things to keep in mind when booking a river cruise. Because of their popularity, river cruises -- especially the most coveted cabins -- can fill up fast. So it’s a good idea to book early, especially for European itineraries - such as a classic Danube river cruise. Lines like Viking River Cruises and CroisiEurope are adding ships as fast as they can, yet the demand is still greater than the supply on some routes.
If you travel during the rainy season at your destination, occasional flooding may make river travel difficult or impossible (in this case, passengers may have to travel part of the route on buses) -- though off-season travel does often bring good discounts, and the chances of severe flooding in any given year are fairly rare.
Be sure to check out our other river cruising guides as well: The Top 12 European River Cruises; The Top Seven Non-European River Cruises; and individual river guides including those to the Danube, Rhine, and Seine, among others.