The Top River Cruise Lines in 2017

Be it taking a cooking class with a Michelin-caliber chef or getting a behind-the-scenes tour of a museum with the chief curator, immersive, high-end tours are all the rage these days, as travelers look to take home experiences — not things — from their vacations. River cruises are known for offering experiential guided excursions — and that’s one of the big reasons this method of travel continues to gain in popularity year after year. Whether it’s an adventure-and-wildlife trek along Peru’s Amazon, a wine-and-food-focused sailing to Bordeaux, France, or a history-and-culture-rich trip along the Mekong from Vietnam to Cambodia, a river cruise can offer the chance to see smaller, more rural ports; eat hyper-local food both on and off the ship; and tour destinations with just a handful of other travelers. In 2016, Crystal Cruises, a company better known for its two large ocean ships, took to the rivers for the first time with the beautifully designed Crystal Mozart: a 154-passenger vessel that makes regular round-trip sailings from Vienna along the Danube. Even after less than a year in the river cruise business, Crystal River Cruises rocketed to the top of our World’s Best list. The cabins, which are done in sleek blue and silver tones with splashes of green and start at 219 square feet, are some of the most luxurious in Europe. “The itineraries on the Mozart are educational, enchanting, and exciting,” said one reader. “Food was six-star for every meal — kudos to the chef.” Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated individual cruise ships on their cabins and facilities, food, service, itineraries and destinations, excursions and activities, and value. Those assessments were combined to generate results for the cruise lines in five categories, including river cruising. Crystal River Cruises also had excellent company: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, which just launched its new vessel along the Seine, the elegant Joie de Vivre, placed second, followed by perennial favorite Viking Cruises. Read on for the full list of winners.

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5. Tauck

Tauck Cruises
Courtesy of Tauck

Score: 94.59

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4. Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expedition Cruise Amazon
Richard Mark Dobson/Courtesy of Aqua Expeditions

Score: 95.04

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3. Viking Cruises

Viking Cruises
Courtesy of Viking Cruises

Score: 95.19

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2. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
© Uniworld River Cruises, Inc.

Score: 95.32

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1. Crystal River Cruises

Crystal River Cruises
Ian Schemper/Courtesy of Crystal River Cruises

Score: 97.09

One T+L reader put it succinctly: “Gorgeous ship. Fabulous service. Beautiful itinerary. Well-run.” With four restaurants, high-tech guest rooms that come with iPad Minis, and a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1:1.75, the 154-passenger Crystal Mozart feels like a floating palace on the Danube. The food and wine reflect the destination, so passengers can expect to feast on Viennese goulash paired with a crisp Austrian white in the main dining room, Waterside. Overall, the experience feels fresh, intimate, and highly personalized. “I love how nice it is to travel with a small group of people,” added another reader.

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