If you thought all cruises were the same, you haven’t taken a river cruise. While the basics are comparable to an ocean cruise—you pay once and get lodging, meals, and activities bundled together—these ships are designed with the width of the river and the height of the bridges in mind. As a result, passengers will see smaller vessels and passenger counts: usually just under 200 guests. Less space means you won’t likely find onboard rock climbing walls or zip lines (think: the 6,780-guest Harmony of the Seas, from Royal Caribbean) though you’ll find the experience is more intimae and inclusive. River cruisers often enjoy complimentary, guided walking tours of ports, free Wi-Fi, and wine with lunch and dinner.
Because you won’t find hot nightlife or sprawling, floating casinos, the appeal of a river cruise is simple: You unpack once, and get to see an immense swathe of countryside without having to navigate train schedules or rent a car. In addition, most river cruises (save for select holiday and summer sailings) are adults-only. River-sailing ships tend to attract a more sophisticated—and yes, older—crowd, though young travelers shouldn’t be deterred if they’re more concerned with destinations than with onboard parties.
Most travelers associate Europe with river cruising (dozens of new cruise ships recently launched in this region), with barges navigating every imaginable waterway, from the Danube to the Moselle). But there are rivers all over the world, like the Chobe in Africa and the famed Nile, that can be explored by boat, on vessels designed to reflect the style of the region. Take a trip on one of the best river cruises in the world to see the charming, riverfront villages you’d otherwise miss. No matter where you go, we promise you’ll find it impossible not to unwind and relax.