Travel & Leisure Magazine's Top River Cruise Lines for 2014

By Clark Norton
October 7, 2014
Dennis Cox/WorldViews

In its 2014 World’s Best Awards, Travel & Leisure Magazine has named its top five river cruise lines, as chosen by its readers. All five are repeats from the 2013 survey, though the rankings have changed slightly. Here are the winners, complete with a sample cruise for each of them:

1. Tauck:

Tauck repeated its number one ranking from 2013 by scoring highest again with the Travel & Leisure readership in 2014. A long-established land tour operator with a reputation for quality, Tauck has been expanding into European river cruising, and now operates a fleet of seven European river boats.

While its primary focus has been on the 50+ age market, special family river cruises are offered in the mix.  Pricing is virtually all-inclusive, and the Tauck staff is known for its attentiveness and individualized service. While Tauck may not appeal to the true budget traveler, value for the money remains high.

Sample Tauck Cruise: Rendezvous on the Seine


2. Viking River Cruises:

Viking River Cruises -- which shot up in the rankings from fourth to second in 2014 -- is the world’s largest river cruise line, with some 66 ships now operating worldwide. Besides European rivers such as the Rhine and Danube, and the waterways of Russia between Moscow and St. Petersburg, Viking now cruises three rivers in Southeast Asia -- the Yangtze, Mekong, and Irrawaddy -- and along the Nile in Egypt.

Overall, Viking has established a reputation for offering great value -- high-quality service, food, and guided shore excursions at competitive prices -- all adding up to strong repeat customer loyalty rates.Viking caters primarily to English-speakers aged 55-plus.

Sample Viking Cruise:Rhine Rhapsody


3. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection:

While Uniworld dropped from second to third in this year’s rankings, it remains a leader in the luxury river cruise category. Its fleet of 19 river ships around the world carry an average capacity of 130 passengers, and it claims to have the highest staff-to-guest ratio in the river cruise industry. Noted for its high-quality cuisine and service, Uniworld’s pricing is all-inclusive, including gratuities (on most voyages), shore excursions with personalized options, and unlimited beverages  

Besides Europe and Russia, Uniworld runs river cruises in China (the Yangtze), Vietnam and Cambodia (the Mekong) and is expanding to India (the Ganges) in 2016.

Sample Uniworld Cruise: Imperial Waterways of Russia


4. Grand Circle Cruise Line:

Grand Circle, which was third in the 2013 survey, maintains its spot in the top five in 2014. The company, which caters exclusively to Americans, promises a “four-star experience at a three-star price.” (It claims to have the lowest per diem cost per day in the industry.)  International airfare is included in the price, making it a particular bargain.

Grand Circle operates a dozen of its own custom-built European river cruise ships, ranging from 46-passenger ships in France to a 216-passenger ship in Russia. All cabins have river views and the atmosphere onboard is casual. Each voyage is accompanied by a resident program director, and emphasis is placed on “immersive discoveries” such as touring wineries or viewing demonstrations by regional artisans.

Sample Grand Circle Cruise: Holland and Belgium in Springtime


5. AmaWaterways:

Ama passengers tend to be affluent, over age 50, English speaking, and interested in a mostly casual, all-inclusive experience.. Good service is prized, and the line has a special reputation for top-notch onboard regional cuisine. Most everything is included in the price, including shore excursions and wine or beer at meals, and its cabin designs are stylish and spacious.

Ama has undergone rapid expansion and now cruises on three continents. Europe tops the roster, with fifteen ships, while three ships ply the Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers in Southeast Asia. Rivers in Russia (on the Volga-Baltic Waterway between Moscow and St. Petersburg) and Africa (on the Chobe River in Botswana) each sport one ship.   

Sample AmaWaterways Cruise: Golden Treasures of Myanmar

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