A River Cruiser for Everyone

Why choosing your ship is so important

Viking Prestige departs Amsterdam. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

One of the most important – and most often overlooked – aspects of choosing any river cruise is the ship you’ll sail on. After all, this single factor determines what you’ll call home for a week or longer during your vacation, and picking the right river cruise ship for you can easily make or break a vacation.

So what is the “right” river cruise ship? The answer lies in your personal preferences.

As diverse as deep-ocean cruising is, accommodations tend to be fairly standard across all lines: You have your inside staterooms, your oceanview staterooms, your balconies and your suites. But in the world of river cruising, accommodations can vary wildly.

French balcony staterooms, like this one aboard Viking Odin, are common on many river cruise ships. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

First and foremost, interior (windowless) staterooms on river cruise ships are few and far between. In fact, the single most common type of accommodations are French balcony staterooms. These offer a sliding glass veranda window, but lack the space to ‘step out’ like a more traditional balcony offers.

Full-featured, step-out balconies are becoming more and more common on newer river cruise ships, and you might be surprised to discover that one of the hottest trends in river cruising right now are “dual balcony” staterooms and suites. These offer both French and full balconies in a single room, and are exceedingly popular with passengers.

Some ships, like AmaWaterways' AmaVerde, feature both French and full balconies. Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways.

For the budget-conscious, standard “river view” staterooms typically offer half-height windows positioned at the waterline, but don’t worry – unlike the ocean, rivers seldom experience the “washing machine” effect found on the lower decks of deep-ocean cruise ships.

Within these three basic accommodation types lie a whole host of variations, so it’s always a good idea to pick up a brochure and familiarize yourself with it before booking anything. Look at what each category offers, and where it is positioned on the deck plan. You may find you can save yourself hundreds of dollars simply by choosing a category that is positioned at the extreme forward or aft ends of a deck, yet still retains all the features of those located amidships.

Suites, like this one aboard AmaWaterways' AmaLyra, are another popular option. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Just how different can two river cruise ships be? To find out, we take a look at three diverse river cruise ships to see what they offer.

Viking River Cruises – Viking Odin

Viking Odin sails up the Rhine, destined for Amsterdam and her Christening ceremonies. Photo courtesy of Viking River Cruises

The newest member in a massive 12-ship order for Viking River Cruises, Viking Odin and her sisters represent a radical departure from anything that has come before them.

Viking Odin's stunning interiors were designed by Yran & Storbraaten, the Norwegian design firm behind Seabourn's recent luxury vessels. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Dubbed the Viking Longships, these innovative new vessels offer an astonishing array of staterooms and full, true suites coupled with elegant design and crisp, clean Scandinavian décor.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises – River Queen

Uniworld's River Queen is seen here cruising the magnificent Rhine. Photo courtesy of Uniworld River Cruises.

Uniworld’s popular River Queen is the exact inverse of the Viking Odin and her sisters, opting instead for an old-world, country club elegance that recalls the glory days of the 1930’s transatlantic passenger liners, but with a modern twist.

Uniworld's 1999-built River Queen features all the elegance and charm of a 1930's steamship, with all the modern comforts and amenities. Photo courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

In fact, River Queen was recently ranked the #1 ship in the entire cruise industry in a Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Cruise poll.

Avalon Waterways – Avalon Tapestry

Avalon Tapestry cruises the magnificent Danube River. Photo courtesy of Avalon Waterways

The 2006-built Avalon Tapestry is one of the most unique ships in the Avalon Waterways fleet. Notable for her two-story wall of glass windows all the way forward, she is also distinguished by her rare, aft-mounted navigation bridge and engineering spaces that are physically separated from the passenger spaces for a quieter cruise along the waterways.

The Reception Lobby area aboard Avalon Tapestry. Photo courtesy of Avalon Waterways.

There are certainly newer ships out there, but Avalon Tapestry has a look and feel that is entirely unique to Avalon Waterways, even among other ships in its fleet.

With just these three ships, you can see there’s a world of difference in interior design and accommodation offerings. Each offers a great river cruise experience in its own right, underscoring that one of the most refreshing aspects of river cruising is just how diverse the experience can be.

  • Becky

    I love your reviews. We are booked on our first river boat cruise in June 2013, Legendary Danube with Avalon Visionary.  Your information has been so helpful and I look forward to more good advice between now and that date. Thank you.

  • Aaron Saunders

    Thank you, Becky!