May 26, 2022 — Sooner or later the “what are you going to do” question comes up in conversations about retirement. For a whole lot of people their answer is: “Maybe we’ll take a river cruise”. Then the big question is where? There are so many great possibilities. For sake of conversation, here are 10 of the best ideas for river cruises, and we would love to hear Member suggestions as well. We will publish another article on other types of cruises in the future.
What kind of river trip?
For the purposes of this article we are breaking these cruises into 4 categories: American, European, International, and Adventure. In addition to where you take your river trip, you also need to decide what company will take you down that river, and in what kind of style. There are a number of companies that offer river cruises for a host of different budgets and tastes, so you don’t have to stick with the brand names you might have heard about. Talking with friends and your travel agent is a good way to find the one best suited to your needs and budget. We will list some of those operators under each category, but if you search the Internet you will be pleased with how many options there are.
1. Cruise the Mississippi. This river is mighty big, and the options for exploring it are just as outsized. You can cruise a round trip from New Orleans, just take the southern portion (New Orleans to Memphis), or sail from St. Louis north to Minneapolis in the northern section. Whatever option you take, there will be interesting explorations of old, historic, and beautiful cities and towns. All in much more comfortable style than Huckleberry Finn’s mythical accommodations on a raft, back when he navigated the Father of All Waters. One big company offering these type of trips is American Cruise Lines.
2. Columbia and Snake Rivers. Retrace much of Lewis and Clark’s historic explorations in search of the unknown American West on this beautiful cruise. Side trips to Mt. Sount Helens, Columbia Gorge, Multnomah Falls, and Astoria, Oregon are highlights. You can add on additional adventures like biking and hiking with companies like Backroads, or use a more conventional cruise company like Viking.
3. Danube. This is probably the most popular river cruise in the world. The Danube flows through Germany, Austria, and Hungary so there are many possible itineraries to choose from. This cruise is a great way to visit Vienna, Munich, Prague, Budapest, and other beautiful European capitals that you have always heard about. In Vienna you’ll get to visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Hofburg Imperial complex. That is where you can enjoy the Vienna Boys’ Choir and the Lipizzaner stallions. Viking is the name brand for these type of cruises but they have many competitors. On some trips you can get off the boat and bike or hike. Adventure-Life offers many exciting cruise options all over the world.
4. The Rhine. Ask an American to name a river in Europe, and chances are they will name this important river that travels from its origin in the Alps to its mouth in the Netherlands. Cruising the Rhine lets you visit wonderful European cities like Basel in Switzerland, Cologne in Germany, and Strasbourg in France. Starting options range from Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, and Munich. A highlight will be the Lorelei, a rock sheet high above the Rhine River gorge. Wine and food will be constant highlights on this bucket list trip.
5. European canals. Modern Barge Cruises are small vessels originally created for transporting cargo through Europe’s canals, now transformed into luxury hotels on water. They usually hold around a dozen passengers, making it great for charters for a large friend and family groups. Barges are slower than you might think, they travel under 5 miles an hour, so you can get off and bike or explore and then catch up in time for lunch.
6. Portugal’s Douro River. We have friends who took this cruise and just loved it. Not just for the scenery and history, but also the food and the wine. It is an example of how many river cruises there are to choose from.
7. Mekong. This amazing river runs from Tibet to Vietnam, going through Laos and Cambodia along the way. A mix of nature and history are to be enjoyed on this amazing river. Guides will explain the Khmer empire’s dominance in the 9th to 15th century as well as Theravada Buddhism in present-day Cambodia and Vietnam. Aquaexpeditions is one of the companies that runs trips on the Mekong.
8. Amazon. Like many other of the world’s biggest rivers, cruising the Amazon can have many options. Amazon basin cruises explore the western part of the River in Peru. Smithsonian Journey’s 36 passenger Zafiro cruises 500 miles of nature and water, including the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, the largest wetlands refuge in the world. Or you can cruise the eastern end of the River in Brazil, with cruises that offer exciting jungle expeditions, and amazon lodge stays in remote areas. Wildlife is abundant on all of these tours.
9. Nile. Fans of history and archeology can tour Cairo and Giza and visit the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. Highlights on a Nile cruise include the Valley of Kings and the Valley of Queens, where Tutankhamen’s tomb was found. You can cruise on a large river boat, or take a more leisurely trip on a small sailing vessel. American tourists have been nervous about touring in Egypt, but with caution many are going to this incredible place.
You can combine almost any activity with a traditional river cruise. Combination biking and hiking trips are just some of options. If you search for something like “adventure river cruises” on the Internet you will find many exciting trips.
10. Grand Canyon Raft trip. The options here are to go in a powered river raft or an oared boat. Anyone who has been impressed with the Grand Canyon and the power and beauty of the Colorado River will be even more enthralled by the awe of floating through it. The trip usually involves overnight camping – different tour operators offer a range of experiences – from rustic to more luxurious ones.
More to think about
Time of year is very important. Some rivers get too low in summer, meaning bus ride detours or missing certain attractions. The views of nature change as the seasons go by, so research the best times to go and also read trip reviews.
Talk to other people about their river cruises to hear what they liked and didn’t enjoy so much. TripAdvisor can also be helpful if used with caution, and your travel agent can also be a great resource.
Comments? Please share your river cruise experiences in the Comments section below.