Comparing the River Cruise Lines

It's true what they say, that oceans take you to countries, while rivers take you through them. The chance to explore ancient sites, experience magnificent cities and immerse yourself in the culture and cuisine of places that can't be reached on a traditional cruise ship is the allure of river cruising.

But which river cruise line is right for you? What amenities or services are offered by each? How does each river cruise line compare?

Comparing the Cruise Lines

Peaceful, scenic and intimate, river cruising offers a smooth, gentle ride along the world's most remarkable waterways visiting the world's most historic cities and hidden charms in style and safety.

The handy chart below offers a quick comparison of the world's best river lines , but read on to see why our experts recommend each of these river cruise options.


Exploring the world in comfort, Viking boasts the largest river cruise fleet on earth and is also one of the most well-regarded and most-awarded, offering destination-focused itineraries on the rivers of Europe , Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Egypt.

Rhine River Heidelberg, Germany

On a Viking river cruise you'll enjoy exciting cities, culturally enriching local experiences including visits to UNESCO world heritage sites, and spacious accommodations aboard elegant, state-of-the-art ships.

Why our experts recommend Viking:

  • Destination-centric voyages
  • Complimentary shore excursions in every port of call
  • Port taxes & fees
  • Ground transfers (with Viking Air purchase)
  • Beer, wine & soft drinks with onboard lunch and dinner
  • 24-hour specialty coffee and tea
  • Onboard and on shore enrichment lectures & destination performances
  • River-view staterooms including stateroom stewards, hotel-style beds, 40" LCD TV's, and heated bathrooms with spacious showers and premium toiletries

Insider Tip: Viking's most popular river voyage – The Rhine Getaway – is the "World's #1 River Cruise" visiting Amsterdam, Cologne, Basel and other European gems. This 7-night journey reveals a rich landscape of castles, cathedrals and culture and is considered the top itinerary for first time river cruisers.

Setting a new standard for luxury river cruising in Europe , Crystal's all-suite, all-butler river ships ensure that each detail of your journey is quietly noted and your every wish is graciously fulfilled.

Crystal Mozart

All staterooms on Crystal river ships are suites – the largest suites of any European river fleet – and each suite features a personal butler, a king-size bed and high-tech in-suite amenities including bedside iPads, interactive TVs, ambient lighting and more.

Why our experts recommend Crystal:

  • All-suite, all-butler accomodations
  • 24-hour room service
  • All gratuities, both shipboard and shoreside
  • Unlimited fine wines, spirits, beer, soft drinks and bottled water
  • Complimentary, unlimited Wi-Fi/internet
  • Onboard entertainment and enrichment
  • Daily yoga and fitness classes
  • Free use of eBikes in select destinations
  • Complimentary airport transfers

Just one voyage with Tauck and you'll see why they are consistently ranked among the very best in all of river cruising. With uncommon access to unique experiences ashore, plus over-the-top service and truly personalized attention, Tauck removes the guesswork of river cruising and offers superior value in every category.

Tauck Emerald in Bernkastel, Switzerland

With 90 years of expertise in both cruising and custom land journeys, Tauck is the unparalleled leader in premium travel experiences for every age and adventure at sea, on shore and every stop in between. Tauck ensures every moment of your ship experience and shore excursion is meaningful.

Why our experts recommend Tauck:

  • One of the most family-friendly river cruise lines
  • At least four Tauck Directors on every river cruise
  • Highest tour director-to-guest ratio in the industry
  • Complimentary shore excursions
  • Unique shoreside experiences and private cultural performances
  • Fine European-style shipboard dining
  • Unlimited complimentary beverages on board
  • Special Solo Traveler savings on all European voyages

Insider Tip: Tauck Bridges are special itineraries designed for families and multi-generational engagement for guests of all ages. These award-winning adventures are among the most popular family-friendly tours in the world.


An AmaWaterways river cruise is about more than the destination – it’s the journey. See the world in luxury and comfort with all-inclusive river cruise vacations navigating the great waterways of Europe , Africa , and Southeast Asia.

AmaWaterways complimentary bike rentals

With some of the highest-rated ships in Europe, each vessel features an incomparable array of amenities and complimentary extras: spacious staterooms with balconies, ship-wide 4G Wi-Fi, beverages with dinner, gourmet dining in multiple venues, nightly entertainment and more.

Why our experts recommend AmaWaterways:

  • High staff-to-guest ratio (1 staff member for every 3 guests) on every ship
  • A menu of shore excursions in every port, including small-group special interest tours
  • Choice of "tour paces" for various activity levels: gentle, regular or active
  • Staterooms featuring two private balconies — a French balcony & full outside balcony
  • Fewer guests (at most 164) onboard every ship
  • Larger staterooms with accommodations up to 350 square feet
  • Complimentary use of bicycles when on shore, plus guided bike tours
  • Evening at The Chef's Table specialty restaurant, at least once per cruise
  • Unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks with meals
  • Daily "Sip & Sail" cocktail hours
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi shipwide
  • Local, traditional nightly entertainment

Insider Tip: Whether it’s traditional Bavarian music, a local quartet or contemporary piano favorites, you will enjoy an eclectic schedule of onboard entertainment every night aboard AmaWaterways.

Aqua expeditions.

Aqua Expeditions offers unparalleled travel experiences, in the utmost comfort, for modern-day adventurers cruising the world’s most exotic rivers and remote ecosystems. You'll connect with riveting cultures, be exposed to vibrant diversity, and be immersed in the local customs, history, and wildlife.

Observation Deck on Aqua Expeditions

On Aqua Expeditions, you'll experience unique, immersive journeys surrounded by exotic wildlife and the rugged, natural beauty of Amazonia or the culturally diverse Mekong Delta, while enjoying these remote locales in luxury and at your leisure.

Why our experts recommend Aqua Expeditions:

  • Modern, state-of-the-art ships designed to be the ultimate river safari vessels
  • Spacious suites fully appointed with luxurious accommodations and amenities
  • Floor to ceiling panoramic windows in every suite, each with gorgeous views
  • 1:1 crew-to-guest ratios providing attentive, world-class service
  • 5-star cuisine led by chefs sourcing their ingredients from local riverside markets
  • Private speed boats and tenders for water-based excursions and land adventures
  • Bicycles provided free of charge to explore independently on shore
  • Interconnecting family suites available on both vessels

Insider Tip: Aqua Expeditions is the only river cruise line that provides expert naturalists to lead you on such excursions, carefully designing trips off-ship based on season, cultural events and even current wildlife habits.

Uniworld's Boutique River Cruise Collection offer luxurious voyages along some of the world's most iconic rivers in Europe, Egypt, India, Africa, China, Russia and Southeast Asia.

Uniworld ships are more like museums

Each Uniworld ship itself is a masterpiece, uniquely appointed and rich in character, not two ships are alike. Providing discerning guests with an unsurpassed and unforgettable river cruise experience, Uniworld elevates all-inclusive river cruising in to an entirely new level.

Why our experts recommend Uniworld:

  • The most all-inclusive river cruise experience in Europe
  • Impeccable service with one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in river cruising
  • A variety of personalized excursions led by English-speaking local experts
  • Tour options ranging from active to more authentic "Do As the Locals Do"
  • All gratuities included both onboard and ashore
  • Elegant riverview staterooms and suites with the finest linens, towels, beds and Asprey bath products
  • In-suite butler service for all European cruises
  • Unlimited beverages including premium spirits and wines
  • Shipwide internet and Wi-Fi access
  • All scheduled airport transfers
  • Complimentary bicycles and Nordic walking sticks for use on shore

Insider Tip: Uniworld's award-winning excursions and curated services include once-in-a-lifetime offerings such as a private art tour or a conversation with an Austrian princess in her 13th century castle.

With CruiseInsider's extensive river cruise expertise and established reputation for savings, service and special extras you can't get anywhere else, you'll rest easy knowing that our experts will always help you find and save on a river cruise experience that's right for you.

Speak to one of our river cruise experts at 1 (877) 734-6858 to start planning your luxury river cruise adventure now!

Share this post

Share on facebook

Protect Your Trip »

The 10 top river cruise lines for 2024.

Sail through Europe, Asia, the U.S. and more on one of these exquisite river cruise lines.

The Top River Cruise Lines

Top River Cruises

(Courtesy of Viking River Cruises)

Not one for the high seas? Explore the world along its rivers instead.

If you'd like to take a cruise but aren't interested in the hustle and bustle of a massive ocean liner, consider a river cruise. River cruises offer the chance to visit lesser-known ports around the world, thanks to the small size and maneuverability of the vessels. These sailings are known to provide exceptional, personalized service, as most welcome fewer than 200 guests at a time. On top of that, you'll spend the majority of your trip exploring a different port each day, as most destinations along the waterways are fairly close together.

Read on to discover the best river cruise lines around the world, with details about where they sail, the number of passengers you can expect onboard, a snapshot of amenities and experiences, and sentiment from recent travelers.

Viking River Cruises

Uniworld boutique river cruises, american cruise lines, amawaterways, avalon waterways, american queen voyages, emerald cruises.

  • Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

CroisiEurope Cruises

Viking Longship Idun on the Main River in front of Johannisburg Palace, Aschaffenburg, Germany.

Number of passengers: 75 to 250 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, U.S.

Viking's 60-plus ships – known as longships – traverse major rivers across Europe, including the Danube , the Rhine, the Douro and more. Other popular routes sail Egypt's Nile River as well as the Mississippi River , and newer options include a series of Great Lakes itineraries.

What to expect: Travelers may be familiar with Viking Ocean Cruises , which operates larger ocean voyages with an emphasis on opulent accommodations and diverse enrichment activities. Viking's river cruises follow a similar road map, with meals, daily walking tours and Wi-Fi access (where applicable) included in the base fare. Other amenities and activities span guest lectures, cooking demonstrations, musical performances, libraries, outdoor decks and more. Select Viking riverboats are also equipped with swimming pools, while cabins feature minibars, premium toiletries, purified water and TVs.

On board, you can expect to find mostly English-speaking passengers. Viking's price point generally attracts older crowds in the 55-plus age group, and travelers must be at least 18 years old to cruise on the line.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers thoroughly enjoyed their experience with Viking, praising the scenic shore excursions, top-notch service and comfortable rooms. Some, however, expressed disappointment with the service as well as the food.

Book a Viking River Cruise on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.

Pool and pool chairs on a Uniworld Boutique River Cruises ship.

(Courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises)

Number of passengers: 32 to 159 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America

Uniworld offers luxurious sailings in historic cities across central Europe, France , Italy , Portugal , India, Egypt and Peru.

What to expect: Its 17 ships aim to create the feel of a boutique hotel with stylish decor, antique artwork and specialty restaurants. The ships hold an average capacity of 120 cruisers, and the company boasts one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the industry: about one crew member for every two travelers.

Stateroom amenities vary by vessel but may include marble bathrooms, Egyptian cotton linens, French balconies, iPod docking stations, Nespresso coffee machines, rainfall showers and more. The line's all-inclusive rates cover meals, alcoholic beverages, select excursions, gratuities, onboard fitness classes and Wi-Fi access, on top of entertainment and enrichment classes. Uniworld prides itself on its top-notch cuisine, which is made with local ingredients sourced from the ports on your itinerary and also includes vegetarian and vegan options.

Uniworld's typical clientele tend to be in their 50s or 60s and reside in North America, the U.K. and Australia . The river cruise line has select itineraries aimed at families, LGBTQ cruisers and solo travelers.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers offered abundant praise for Uniworld's voyages, complimenting the stylish accommodations, attentive staff and fascinating excursions. Though complaints were few and far between, a handful of past travelers felt the experience was not worth the high price point.

Compare Uniworld Boutique River Cruises on GoToSea.

 American Cruise Lines ship on river during sunset.

(Courtesy of American Cruise Lines)

Number of passengers: 90 to 180 Sails to:  U.S.

As the name suggests, American Cruise Lines sails exclusively on the rivers and coastlines of the United States. Popular cruises visit destinations along the Mississippi River, on the Hudson River, throughout New England , and lining the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest. The line also tours Alaska , the Southeast coast including Florida , and the Puget Sound between Washington state and the Canadian border.

What to expect: American Cruise Lines operates 19 relatively new small ships and river vessels (the average ship is about 5 years old), ranging from modern riverboats to small coastal ships to authentic paddlewheelers. Comfortable cabins can accommodate up to three people per room, and all ships offer single staterooms designed exclusively for solo travelers . Each room boasts picture windows, a spacious bathroom and – in some cases – a private balcony. In the ships' public spaces, cruisers can enjoy daily onboard entertainment like jazz and blues performances, as well as presentations by historians and area experts.

The line promises an all-American experience. As such, you can expect to find American staff aboard the American-built ships as well as food that pays homage to the destinations you will visit, from New Orleans -style andouille sausage gumbo to New England-inspired seafood boils. Complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres are served every night prior to dinner; all meals, snacks, and wine and beer are included in the base fare. Shore excursions are not typically included in the rate.

Passengers on American Cruise Lines tend to lean North American and are typically mature retired travelers.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers enjoyed their experience, particularly on the line's themed cruises.

Read:  Cruise Packing List: Essentials for Your Next Cruise

AmaWaterways cruise ship on river near town.

(Courtesy of AmaWaterways)

Number of passengers: 28 to 196 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America  

Consider a river cruise with AmaWaterways, whether you're looking to sail through the heart of Europe or seeking a once-in-a-lifetime adventure touring destinations like Vietnam, Egypt, South Africa or (beginning in 2024) Colombia. A family-owned business founded in 2002, AmaWaterways operates 29 river cruise boats that welcome 150 passengers on average.

The cruise line aims to provide excursion-rich experiences and offers unique themed sailings for passengers with certain interests. Wine-themed voyages are perfect for oenophiles wishing to explore some of Europe's most popular wine regions, while a concierge golf program will transport passengers from one famous golf course to the next. Or, opt for a holiday river cruise to visit magical Christmas markets around Europe. In 2024, AmaWaterways will offer three new Black history-themed itineraries.

What to expect: On board, guests can expect cabins suitable for couples or single travelers, as well as a set amount of connectible rooms designed for multigenerational families. Staterooms are spacious, with perks like bathrobes, slippers and plush bedding. Cabins can feature up to two balconies with AmaWaterways' twin balcony design, which allows for a full, step-out balcony alongside a French balcony with sliding glass doors. In-room Wi-Fi is complimentary, and guests will have access to movies and music on demand.

Outside of their cabins, passengers can enjoy amenities spanning small pools, sun decks, fitness equipment, a hair salon, massage services and more.

AmaWaterways primarily attracts North American travelers in their 50s who enjoy taking part in active shore excursions that involve walking or cycling. Passengers from the U.K. and Australia sail on this river cruise line as well. You can expect to find a mix of couples, families and solo cruisers – including a growing number of millennial travelers – on your vessel, thanks to AmaWaterways' diverse cabin offerings. Adventures by Disney charters AmaWaterways ships for select sailings each year as well.

What travelers say: Recent travelers say AmaWaterways exceeded their expectations, with many noting it was especially enjoyable for families. Still, some were disappointed, particularly with the food.

Find AmaWaterways cruises on GoToSea.

Interior of guest cabin on an Avalon Waterways river cruise ship.

(Courtesy of Avalon Waterways)

Number of passengers: 16 to 166 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America

Avalon Waterways sails 19 riverboats along popular thoroughfares like the Danube, the Rhone, the Seine, the Nile, the Rhine, the Moselle, the Mekong, the Ganges and more. In 2024, it will also sail the Douro River in Portugal.

What to expect: Launched in 2004, Avalon stands out for its spacious vessels – known as Suite Ships – which feature some of the largest rooms in the river cruise industry and beds that face wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows, providing panoramic views. Additional stateroom perks include complimentary breakfast in bed, L'Occitane toiletries, sitting areas, ample storage space and mattress toppers.

Across the ship, passengers can enjoy amenities like a sun deck with lounge chairs, whirlpools and a game area, in addition to numerous restaurants and bars and a 24-hour self-serve coffee station. You will also have your pick of Classic, Active or Discovery shore excursions – ranging from standard tours with a local guide to hiking outings along a hilltop castle – depending on your interests and physical abilities.

Avalon Waterways attracts English-speaking cruisers from a variety of countries, typically in their 50s and 60s. However, children ages 8 and older are welcome on board (though there are no designated kids clubs), and some voyages draw younger or older passengers.

What travelers say: Most recent reviews are positive, with travelers highlighting the friendly, knowledgeable staff and tasty food.

Explore Avalon Waterways cruise deals on GoToSea.

difference between river cruise companies

Tips on Trips and Expert Picks

Travel tips, vacation ideas and more to make your next vacation stellar.

Back of American Queen Voyages river cruise ship on river.

(Courtesy of American Queen Voyages)

Number of passengers: 150 to 400 Sails to:  U.S., Canada

In fall 2021, American Queen Steamboat Company merged with Victory Cruise Lines to form American Queen Voyages. Based in North America, American Queen Voyages sails a few routes in the U.S., including Alaska; the Mississippi River; the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers; and the Columbia and Snake rivers.

This river cruise line operates four authentic paddlewheelers. All-inclusive sailings encompass unlimited onboard Wi-Fi, unlimited beverages (and an open bar), unlimited guided tours, dining throughout your cruise, gratuities and more. On board, travelers will find a main dining room, an entertainment hall, a sun deck, card rooms and lounges. Each cruise serves up tasty local cuisine that varies by itinerary. Staterooms feature plush linens, coffee makers, minifridges, TVs, private balconies (in select accommodations) and more.

The line mainly caters to travelers in their 50s, though you may find the occasional grandparent and college-aged grandchild. The line is especially suitable for passengers who use wheelchairs, thanks to its abundance of accessibility options. History buffs also tend to like the itineraries and enrichment programs on board.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers were impressed with American Queen Voyages' offerings, noting the line's well-kept vessels, pleasant staff and delicious food. Others described some issues with travel disruptions (related to weather and vessel issues) made worse by poor communication.

Read: The Top All-Inclusive Cruises

Dining area on Tauck river cruise ship.

(Courtesy of Tauck)

Number of passengers: 84 to 130 Sails to:  Europe

Travel company Tauck wears multiple hats: It operates small-ship voyages around the world, land tours across seven continents, small group journeys for an average of 24 travelers at a time, family tours and – finally – European river cruises. Six new river itineraries in Europe are on the docket for 2024. Take your pick from nine river vessels to explore popular waterways like the Douro, the Moselle, the Rhine, the Danube and the Rhone.

What to expect: All-inclusive fares cover shore excursions, onboard activities and entertainment, gratuities, beverages and more. Plus, Tauck offers exclusive access to unforgettable experiences like wine tastings at private vineyards and gala dinners in historic castles.

More than 80% of the staterooms feature French balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing for excellent views. Other in-room amenities may include adjustable climate controls, satin linens, pillow-top mattresses, terry cloth robes and more. Outside of your cabin, you'll find perks such as a sun deck, a putting green, enrichment programs like cooking demonstrations, a fitness center and complimentary bikes for onshore exploring.

Tauck caters to affluent, English-speaking cruisers – primarily Americans in the 55-and-older age group – though you may also find families with adult children on board. The line appeals most to travelers who prefer all the details of their trip to be taken care of for them, versus those who like to plan activities independent of the cruise line.

What travelers say: Recent passengers generally speak highly of their Tauck river cruise experiences, pointing to the exceptional level of organization and spacious, luxurious accommodations. Others said they were underwhelmed for the price.

Aerial of Emerald Cruises river cruise ship on river in Urbar, Germany.

(Getty Images)

Number of passengers: 84 to 180 Sails to:  Europe, Asia

Previously known as Emerald Waterways, Emerald Cruises transports travelers across some of the most popular rivers in Europe and Asia, including the Danube, the Rhine, the Douro and the Mekong.

What to expect: The cruise fare covers all meals, beverages with lunch and dinner, daily shore excursions − which include more physically rigorous options called EmeraldACTIVE – Wi-Fi access and gratuities.

Emerald operates nine river vessels, all of which boast luxurious public spaces and accommodations with en suite bathrooms and flat-screen TVs. Common-area amenities span heated indoor pools, sun decks, spa and wellness facilities, and a variety of eateries. Onboard fitness classes are available, as are other forms of entertainment. On shore, cruisers can borrow bicycles to explore historic city centers.

Typical clientele aboard Emerald Cruises' voyages includes American and British passengers around retirement age, though some younger travelers may make an appearance as well. Children 12 and older are permitted on board and on tours, but there are no kids clubs or designated activities for younger cruisers. Special rooms and dinner reservations are available for solo travelers.

What travelers say: Cruisers on recent sailings – especially first-time sailors – enjoyed their experiences on Emerald Cruises. High points included the attentive crew members and the stress-free booking and planning process. However, some felt that customer service and communication were subpar.

Interior of guest cabin on Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours river cruise ship.

Gillies Zaiser | Courtesy of Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

Number of passengers: 68 to 163 Sails to: Europe, Asia

From the Danube to the Mekong, Australian travel company Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours offers lavish, all-inclusive river sailings with an emphasis on customization. The more upscale sister brand of Emerald Cruises, Scenic affords travelers the opportunity to do as much or as little as they want while on board and ashore.

What to expect: Enrichment activities are hand-picked by the line's "Journey Designers," and vessels provide a top-notch level of service thanks to their high crew-to-passenger ratios. In fact, each passenger receives a designated butler who can complete nightly turndowns and make laundry arrangements, among other tasks.

Spacious suites on board are larger than those on most other riverboats (ranging from 160 to 510 square feet). High-tech balcony controls allow lodgers to let in as much air as they'd like with the touch of a button. Cruisers will also enjoy special in-room touches like pillow menus, slippers and robes.

When it comes to dining, Scenic sources local ingredients and culinary inspiration from the ports visited on the itinerary to provide an authentic experience. All meals are included in the base cruise fare, along with beverages, gratuities, Wi-Fi access, shore excursions and electric bicycle usage in select destinations.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers were pleased with their experiences aboard Scenic's vessels, praising the spacious cabins, pampering butler service, and knowledgeable crew members and tour guides. However, some travelers were particularly disappointed with the food.

Side view of CroisiEurope Cruises river cruise ship.

Helwin Goetzinger | Courtesy of CroisiEurope

Number of passengers: 22 to 200 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa

CroisiEurope is a family-run French cruise line that has been in business since 1976. This line has more than 50 ships and barges that sail to countries around the world, including Egypt, Cambodia and Spain . Unusual in river cruising, the line operates two custom-built ships that sail on Lake Kariba in southern Africa. Additionally, CroisiEurope has a division that sells barge cruises throughout France on six different canals, such as Burgundy or Provence.

What to expect: CroisiEurope is known for its wide range of destinations and is one of the only river cruise lines that operates custom-built ships on Germany 's Elbe river, the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers in Spain and Portugal, and Venice 's canals. Onboard accommodations are relatively basic, which keeps the cruise fare to a budget-friendly minimum. The cruise line aims to provide the best value for money in the cruise industry. Cuisine is focused on French food with some local flair in the main dining room, which is included in the cruise fare.

The passenger mix on a CroisiEurope cruise is relatively international, featuring large contingencies from France, Germany, the U.K. and North America. Announcements are typically given in both French and English. The cruise line sees a mix of older couples and groups as well as younger families, depending on the itinerary and time of year.

What travelers say: Several cruisers echoed that some of CroisiEurope's river ships are due for a refurbishment and that internet connectivity leaves a lot to be desired, while others maintain that the experience was superb.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Size: River cruise ships are smaller in size and the number of passengers they can accommodate, with one lounge and one main dining room being a typical setup.
  • Atmosphere: The overall vibe on a river cruise is more relaxed and far less busy than that of an ocean liner.
  • Onboard entertainment: River cruising is notoriously sleepy at night, with a focus instead on local enrichment like cooking demonstrations or liqueur tastings. Due to the busy schedule of port calls and excursions, most passengers are tired after a long day of sightseeing and don't mind a lack of nightlife.
  • Excursions: Most of your time on a river cruise is spent out exploring the destinations, which can sometimes be two stops in a single day. Passengers can choose from a variety of activities in port – including biking, kayaking and hiking – or explore the destination at a leisurely pace.
  • Cuisine: Cuisine tends to be focused on local specialties but is prepared to accommodate predominantly American tastes. Not every river cruise line offers unlimited drinks, but the majority include beer and wine at lunch and dinner, often showcasing regional varieties.
  • Price: River cruising typically comes at a much higher price point than ocean-based itineraries.
  • American Queen

Note that inclusions can vary by cruise line. For example, Viking rates – while not fully all-inclusive – cover beer and wine at meals and one tour per day, while gratuities and other drink packages are left to the discretion of the guest.

Avalon Waterways, on the other hand, offers a number of included tours in every port on select itineraries that range from cultural or culinary-focused to active.

In terms of inclusions and service ratios (the number of crew on board to guests), the following river cruise lines are considered the most luxurious:

You might also be interested in:

  • The Top Cruises on Small Ships
  • The Top Adults-Only Cruises
  • The Best Cruise Insurance Plans
  • The Best Annual Travel Insurance Plans
  • The Best Travel Insurance for Seniors and Retirees

Vacation Ideas for 2023

A train enters Morant's Curve in the Canadian Rockies

Tags: Travel , Cruises

World's Best Places To Visit

  • # 1 South Island, New Zealand
  • # 4 Bora Bora

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.

You May Also Like

Top all-inclusive resorts in costa rica.

Sharael Kolberg Jan. 24, 2024

difference between river cruise companies

How to See the Northern Lights in Alaska

Gwen Pratesi Jan. 23, 2024

difference between river cruise companies

The Best Places for the Northern Lights

Gwen Pratesi and Timothy J. Forster Jan. 19, 2024

difference between river cruise companies

The Best Paris Tours

Claire Lawton and Marisa Méndez Jan. 19, 2024

difference between river cruise companies

Carry-on Luggage Sizes by Airline

Amanda Norcross Jan. 18, 2024

difference between river cruise companies

The Top Alaska Cruise Lines

Gwen Pratesi Jan. 17, 2024

difference between river cruise companies

The Best Vegas Shows

Rachael Hood Jan. 17, 2024

difference between river cruise companies

Top All-Inclusive Family Resorts

Jan. 12, 2024

difference between river cruise companies

The 6 Best Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours

Holly Johnson and Ann Henson Jan. 11, 2024

difference between river cruise companies

The 20 Best Italy Tours

John Rodwan Jan. 11, 2024

difference between river cruise companies

  • Search Please fill out this field.
  • Manage Your Subscription
  • Give a Gift Subscription
  • Sweepstakes
  • World's Best

The 10 Best River Cruise Lines

The best river cruises blend refined onboard accommodations with exciting itineraries along some of the world’s most memorable waterways.

difference between river cruise companies

Note: If you’re looking for our most recent recommendations, check out the 2023 list of our favorite river cruise lines.

After pandemic-related challenges at the beginning of last year, river ships got back to what they do best: exploring inland waterways in Europe, the United States, and select other destinations around the world. Travel + Leisure readers enthusiastically returned, setting out on voyages both classic and new.

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 six categories, including river cruising.

The top three in the river cruise lines were very close in their scores. Viking, the world's largest river cruise company, moved up two spots into the lead position. Tauck, the well-known tour and river-ship operator, retained its No. 2 spot. "The itinerary was thoughtful as well as instructive," wrote one reader who traveled on the Joy . In the No. 3 spot is Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, with praise that included this rave from one voter who sailed on the Maria Theresa : "This was an exceptional cruise. The staff was excellent. I can't say enough about this cruise line and this ship."

Aqua Expeditions, with journeys on the Peruvian Amazon, ranked No. 4, thanks in part to the sophisticated onboard dining. "Its cuisine is rich in local products and designed by one of the most renowned chefs in Peru," noted one reader. Closer to home, No. 5 American Queen Voyages (formerly American Queen Steamboat Company) earned praise — especially from older adults — for its leisurely cruises on the Columbia, the Mississippi, the Ohio, and other U.S. waterways.

Top-ranked Viking does all the major riverways of Europe, with ships also on the Nile and the Mekong, and, new in 2022, on the Mississippi. Readers praised the line's value proposition and shore experiences that go beyond the norm. The "Thinking Man's vacation" is the way one reader who sailed on a Viking ship on the Rhine river put it.

Find the full list of the best river cruise lines — and more on what sets Viking apart — below.

With its fleet of more than 50 contemporary "longships" on rivers such as the Rhine, the Danube, and the Seine, plus additional ships in Europe, Egypt, and Vietnam, T+L's top-ranked river cruise line for 2022 is often praised for its steadiness. "Having traveled on seven Viking longships that are virtually indistinguishable from one another, I believe it's the consistency that makes Viking one of our favorite ways to travel," said one reader. The longships are light-filled floating boutique hotels with a Scandinavian-design aesthetic, indoor and outdoor dining, and herb gardens up on top. Viking's carefully crafted itineraries and "good value" also received praise from readers. "Met wonderful new friends. Absolutely outstanding service and terrific food," said one fan.

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 96.77

More information:

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 96.60

More information:

3. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 96.31

More information:

4. Aqua Expeditions

Score: 93.27

More information:

5. American Queen Voyages (formerly American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines)

Score: 92.82

More information:

6. Grand Circle Cruise Line

Score: 90.64

More information:

7. AmaWaterways

Score: 90.12

More information:

8. Avalon Waterways

Score: 89.88

More information:

9. Vantage Deluxe World Travel

Score: 84.71

More information:

10. American Cruise Lines

Score: 81.17

More information:

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.

AmaWaterways vs. Viking: Which of these popular river cruise lines is right for you?

Donna Heiderstadt

Among the cruise lines navigating the rivers of Europe, Southeast Asia and Egypt are two of the best-known names in the industry: AmaWaterways and Viking .

Each brand is distinguished by its hallmark attractions, such as AmaWaterways' selection of always-complimentary excursions and Viking's consistently sleek Scandinavian-inspired interior design. But is there really that much difference between these major river cruise brands that it matters which one you choose?

The answer is yes. Some of the variations may even surprise you, so read on for a head-to-head comparison of AmaWaterways versus Viking.

For cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter .

AmaWaterways vs. Viking: Meet the river cruise lines

difference between river cruise companies

River cruise lines AmaWaterways and Viking launched within five years of each other. Both are helmed by well-known cruise and travel industry executives and feature fleets of modern river ships. Yet each takes its own unique approach to itineraries, tours and onboard ambience.

AmaWaterways was founded in 2002 by Vienna-born Rudi Schreiner, Germany native Kristin Karst and the late Jimmy Murphy, who was Irish. The line has a fleet of 26 ships, with three new vessels launching in 2024 and 2025.

The brand's hallmark is offering multiple excursions, typically three or four per port, included in the cruise fare. These are usually a city walking tour, perhaps with a wine or culinary focus, or a bus tour to nearby sights. One "Gentle" group is dedicated to guests who need a little extra time getting around, and each port almost always includes a more challenging hike or bike ride for fitness-focused guests. AmaWaterways ships also carry bicycles on board, which are available for independent exploration.

The company is known for custom-designed ships with destination-inspired contemporary decor. Its public spaces feel like those you'd find in a locally owned boutique hotel. A key design innovation by AmaWaterways was the introduction of the "twin balcony," which consists of a French balcony and a full-size step-out balcony. This adds exceptional views and a sense of spaciousness to the cabins that feature them.

The Viking story started a few years before AmaWaterways. Launched in 1997 by Norwegian-born cruise veteran Torstein Hagen and several partners, Viking River Cruises was designed to be destination-focused and culturally immersive. Viking currently has 69 river ships, with two more scheduled to launch in 2024 and 2025.

Related: The 5 best destinations you can visit on a Viking cruise ship

Viking's river cruise fares include one complimentary shore excursion in each port, typically a panoramic bus tour or guided walking tour. Guests may also choose from among a range of other extra-fee tour options, most with a cultural or culinary bent but some a bit more active.

The company grew its river cruise business by attracting mature travelers seeking a convenient way to explore multiple cities and countries in Europe. However, its brand recognition and growth greatly accelerated with the introduction of its first Viking Longship in 2012 and a successful marketing campaign around the launch of the Longships (including sponsorship of "Downton Abbey" on PBS Masterpiece).

Today, Viking's 55 virtually identical Longships, named for Nordic gods and goddesses (from Viking Agir to Viking Vili), represent a certain standard of European river cruising, and all feature light and airy Scandinavian design.

Unlike AmaWaterways, which remains strictly a river cruise company, Viking has expanded into ocean cruising. In 2015, the company introduced the 930-passenger Viking Star and now operates a fleet of nine identical ocean ships. In 2022, it added a pair of 378-guest, Polar-6-Class expedition ships. That means Viking fans can vacation around the world without leaving the brand.

difference between river cruise companies

The ships in AmaWaterways and Viking's river cruise fleets range from intimate (28 guests) to grand (386 guests), with the size differences most notable on rivers such as the Nile, Mekong and Mississippi.

AmaWaterways' 29 ships aren't entirely uniform, even the 20 in its popular European fleet. Those ships are either 360 or 443 feet in length and carry 140 to 196 passengers and 45 to 70 crew members, respectively. The majority (15 ships) carry between 152 and 162 passengers and 51 crew, while four smaller vessels accommodate either 140 or 144 passengers and 45 crew.

The outlier is 196-guest AmaMagna, which is the line's flagship vessel on the Danube. At 443 feet long and 72 feet wide, it is almost double the width of the average river ship without significantly increasing the passenger count. This has created an abundance of space that AmaWaterways has used to enhance the cruise experience. Cabins and suites are larger than on its other ships at 205 to 710 square feet versus 160 to 350 square feet. AmaMagna also offers passengers a choice of four dining venues rather than two, as well as five onboard bars, unique for a river ship.

On Portugal's Douro River, AmaWaterways has two ships, AmaDouro and AmaVida. Each accommodates 102 passengers and 38 crew. A third vessel, AmaSintra, will launch in early 2025.

In Egypt, AmaWaterways currently operates AmaDahlia, which carries 72 passengers and 62 crew. When a second ship, AmaLilia, launches in 2024, it will accommodate 82 passengers and 65 crew.

On the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, AmaDara is the cruise line's sole vessel. This ship, featuring French colonial decor and beautifully carved wood furniture, accommodates 124 passengers and 52 crew.

AmaWaterways also operates one vessel on the Chobe River in Botswana, and like AmaMagna , it's an outlier — but for the opposite reason. At just 150 feet in length, Zambezi Queen was designed in 2019 specifically for wildlife viewing and accommodates just 28 passengers and 22 crew.

In 2024, AmaWaterways will add South America to its portfolio when it begins cruising the Magdalena River in Colombia. AmaMagdalena will carry 60 passengers and 30 crew.

Related: Best river cruise lines around the world

As for Viking, the company's fleet of 55 identical Longships is ubiquitous along Central Europe's major rivers. At 443 feet in length, each accommodates 190 passengers and 53 crew members.

On Portugal's Douro River, Viking operates four smaller ships. They carry 106 passengers and 33 crew members. On the Elbe River in Germany, the cruise line has two ships, Viking Astrild and Viking Beyla, each carrying 98 passengers and 33 crew.

On the Seine River in France, Viking's four identical ships, all built in 2020, accommodate 168 passengers and 46 crew.

Viking's fleet on the Nile River in Egypt currently numbers four ships, with two more in the pipeline. The two newest — Viking Osiris and Viking Aton — were launched in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Each accommodates 82 passengers and 48 crew members. The similarly sized Viking Hathor and Viking Sobek are set to join them in 2024 and 2025. Two smaller ships, Viking Ra (2017) and MS Antares (2007), carry just 52 and 62 passengers, respectively, with crew staffs of 55 and 75.

In Asia, Viking operates just one ship. Viking Saigon, which debuted in 2022 and accommodates 80 passengers.

Viking's largest river ship is actually cruising stateside. Viking Mississippi, which debuted in 2022 and is 450 feet in length, accommodates 386 guests and 147 crew.

If you do the math, you'll see that while both AmaWaterways and Viking's main European river ships are 443 feet in length, Viking's ships carry 30 additional guests. That means Viking ships will be a tad more crowded and cabins slightly smaller (135 to 205 square feet versus 160 to 235 square feet) to accommodate. (However, suites on Viking vessels are generally a bit roomier.)

AmaWaterways also has a slightly better crew-to-guest ratio on its core European river fleet: 51 crew members for 156-162 guests versus Viking's 53 crew members for 190 guests. Both cruise lines offer excellent service, however, and any discrepancy will most likely be felt when a Viking ship is sailing at capacity, and the ship's sole dining room is full at mealtimes.

Who is on board AmaWaterways and Viking?

difference between river cruise companies

Several factors play a role in the passenger mix aboard these competing river cruise lines. For one, Viking's ships are adults only (passengers must be at least 18), while AmaWaterways welcomes multigenerational families. That's not to say that you'll find kids running amok on the latter's ships, but you might share your river cruise with parents and teens or grandparents and younger children during summer and spring break.

The most obvious difference to the casual observer, however, will be the age and fitness level of each line's core clientele.

Viking is highly popular with Americans — especially older Americans age 65 and above who like the cruise line's consistency and emphasis on easy sightseeing by bus. More active passengers might find themselves frustrated by the pace of guided walking tours, but they can always book excursions coded as "moderate" or "demanding" rather than "easy" to lessen the odds of being slowed by fellow passengers who aren't as speedy.

AmaWaterways is also popular with U.S. travelers but attracts a slightly more international demographic that's also perhaps a bit younger — and fitter. Why? Not only does the cruise line offer active hiking or biking excursions in most ports, but its ships also have a Wellness Host on board leading morning and afternoon yoga, meditation and fitness classes. Guests who book AmaMagna can even play pickleball on a full-size court.

AmaWaterways also partners with bike touring company Backroads to host groups of cyclists on board, typically 30 to 40 at a time, for lengthier and more challenging bike rides than on its normal itineraries.

Wine lovers are another core group for AmaWaterways, which in 2024 will host more than 70 wine-themed cruises highlighting different wineries (mostly U.S.-based but also some European wineries on Rhone itineraries) that have been invited to bring their wine club members on board for tastings, lectures and special excursions. Some groups buy out the entire ship, but the average is 70 to 80 passengers, or about half the ship's capacity. That means you could be sailing with a large group that's keenly focused on wine.

Cabins and suites

difference between river cruise companies

Because 19 of AmaWaterways' core European ships fall into two size categories, accommodating 144 to 162 passengers, cabin and suite design is consistent across most of the fleet. Each of the generously sized rooms features a flat-screen TV and a bathroom with a roomy shower.

Fixed window cabins on the lowest deck are 160 square feet, French balcony cabins are 155 to 170 square feet, twin balcony cabins (with both a French balcony and step-out veranda) are 210 to 235 square feet, and suites are 300 to 350 square feet. The company's two Douro River ships, AmaDouro and AmaVida, feature similarly sized cabins and suites.

While the general theme uniting the accommodations across AmaWaterways' European fleet is contemporary design with destination-inspired touches, suite decor is unique from ship to ship. In general, cabin decor has become lighter and brighter with each new (or newly refurbished) ship, with interesting textures and patterns replacing more traditional fabrics.

In 2017, AmaWaterways also launched the first river ship (AmaKristina) with connecting rooms, designed for multigenerational families or groups of friends traveling together. Six additional ships (AmaLea, AmaMagna, AmaMora, AmaLucia, AmaSiena and AmaDahlia) now also have this feature.

Related: Best river cruises in Europe

Viking Longships are each a carbon copy of the others, so passengers know exactly what they are getting when they book. Cabins are more compact than those on AmaWaterways' ships but have an airy ambience featuring light woods, neutral fabrics and a well-designed bathroom with a heated floor.

Standard cabins are 150 square feet and have a small window just above the water line. French Balcony cabins are a snug 135 square feet, but feature wall-to-wall sliding glass doors. Veranda cabins are 205 square feet, while veranda suites are 275 square feet. The two Explorer Suites are 445 square feet, including a 270-degree wrap-around veranda.

For slightly larger accommodations, river cruisers should look to AmaMagna, as its double-width design allows for roomier accommodations. Its two top balcony categories offer a generous 474 and 710 square feet of space, similar to the square footage of suites on many ocean ships.

Dining options on AmaWaterways vs. Viking

difference between river cruise companies

There's no question that you will eat well on a river cruise. Both AmaWaterways and Viking have culinary programs designed to appeal to a wide variety of food preferences, including vegetarian. You can expect to enjoy classic preparations as well as destination-focused dining highlighting regional cuisines.

AmaWaterways, which is the only river cruise line that's a member of the prestigious culinary organization La Chaine des Rotisseurs, offers a la carte dining from menus that change daily for both lunch and dinner, as well as full-service breakfast from menus rather than a buffet. Options range from eggs Benedict or omelets to smoked trout or avocado toast.

Guests who prefer a lighter, more informal breakfast or lunch can skip the Main Restaurant and opt to enjoy a small selection of options served in a central buffet in the Lounge.

Sit-down lunch menus in the Main Restaurant feature a selection of appetizers served family-style and main course options that include at least one local preparation, such as goulash in Budapest or wiener schnitzel in Vienna. Dinner menus are more extensive and include three or four appetizers/soups and three or four mains (with well-conceived meat or fish options and delicious vegetarian dishes). There are two hard-to-resist dessert choices, along with seasonal fruits and a selection of cheeses.

All AmaWaterways ships also feature the Chef's Table, an intimate space (it seats 28) located at the back of the ship and offering panoramic views. Passengers can reserve a shared table here to enjoy a beautifully prepared multicourse meal at no additional cost.

In addition, AmaMagna offers two more restaurant options: Jimmy's for casual, family-style dining and Al Fresco for vegetable-forward menu options served in an outdoor setting.

AmaWaterways serves an excellent selection of complimentary wines (most from local vineyards along your river cruise route) and beers with both lunch and dinner, as well as a selection of complimentary mixed drinks, wines and beers during the nightly predinner Sip & Sail cocktail hour. Sparkling wine is also available during breakfast.

Viking's dining experience is also designed to offer plenty of options. At breakfast and lunch in the Main Restaurant, passengers can select items from the buffet — which typically includes freshly made pastries, cheeses, smoked salmon, oatmeal, fruit and eggs — and/or order off of the day's menu (buttermilk pancakes, eggs Benedict and more).

Lunch is similar, with buffet selections available as well as a menu with daily selections (soup, salad and two main options) plus always-available dishes (such as salad Nicoise and burgers). The lunch menu does not always have a locally inspired dish, but Viking guests can enjoy their midday meal while surveying local surroundings by opting to dine alfresco on the Aquavit Terrace. This aft space is popular on days when the weather is good and offers much of the same menu as the Main Restaurant.

It's at dinner that Viking's chefs inject more local flavors into the menu, with a suggested three-course Regional Specialties Tasting Menu (chicken paprikash as the main in Hungary, for instance). These offerings are complemented by a daily selection of two starters, two mains (always with a vegetarian selection) and one dessert. In addition, guests can choose from a Classics menu with always-available favorites.

Viking also serves unlimited complimentary wine and beer with both lunch and dinner, but the selection is a bit limited. Passengers wanting more options can purchase a Silver Spirits drinks package to enjoy a wider choice, including the sommelier's selection of wines, which are often excellent local varietals. The package also includes cocktails and other beverages, which can be enjoyed at any time.

Viking does not host a complimentary evening cocktail hour, but on certain days it does offer free wine tastings on the Aquavit Terrace.

What's on board

difference between river cruise companies

Most of the real estate aboard river cruise ships is taken up by guest accommodations, the main restaurant and the lounge, leaving little room for any fancy attractions beyond a small gift shop.

But AmaWaterways has managed to add a perk: a heated pool or hot tub on the Sun Deck of most of its ships. However, passengers who require an elevator can only access the two main decks, not the Sun Deck or the lowest deck.

In addition to their cache of bicycles, AmaWaterways ships also offer a wellness program, led by an onboard Wellness Host. Classes on the Sun Deck or in the Lounge consist of morning yoga, meditation or core strengthening and afternoon stretching or active walks. Every ship also has a small fitness center and a massage room. AmaMagna also has a full-size pickleball court.

Entertainment-wise, guests can expect nightly music by a piano player/DJ as well as guest performances by locals that range from folkloric song and dance to contemporary music.

Shipwide Wi-Fi is complimentary, but there is no internet center.

Viking's Longships don't feature pools or any wellness/fitness activities beyond a walking track and small putting green, but they do have a library with a good selection of books and an internet corner with laptops guests can use (shipwide Wi-Fi is free as well) and a small gift shop.

Related: Booking your first river cruise? Here's what you need to know.

The Sun Deck features a shaded sitting area, as well as solar panels and an herb garden that allows chefs anytime access to fresh ingredients. Elevators on Viking ships also offer access to the middle decks but not the Sun Deck.

Viking's entertainment is similar to most river cruise lineups and features a musician or DJ as well as local performers with a folkloric, classical or contemporary style.

AmaWaterways and Viking itineraries

difference between river cruise companies

River cruise itineraries, especially in Europe, don't vary that much from line to line. The cruise season is mainly from late March to mid-December. Certain rivers are more popular — namely the Danube, Rhine and Rhone — and most cruise lines, including AmaWaterways and Viking, visit the same key ports.

AmaWaterways offers 33 different itineraries in Europe on the Danube, Rhine, Rhone, Seine, Garonne and Dordogne, Douro, Main and Moselle rivers, as well as the waterways of Belgium and Holland. Cruises last five to 14 nights.

As of 2024, the company is offering February and March sailings aboard AmaMagna ("Magna on the Danube") on the Danube and AmaLucia ("Captivating Rhine") on the Rhine. Yes, the weather will be a bit nippy, but there will be fewer crowds, and the cruise fares will be hundreds of dollars lower than in warmer months.

The river cruise line does not only sail in Europe. In Egypt, the company features one Nile River cruise itinerary, "Secrets of Egypt & the Nile." It includes a three-night hotel stay in Cairo and a seven-night cruise.

It also offers two seven-night itineraries on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia.

AmaWaterway's seven itinerary options in Africa all combine a three- or four-night cruise on the Chobe River in Botswana with land stays in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe or Tanzania for a total of 10 to 17 nights.

In late 2024, AmaWaterways will become the first upscale river cruise company to sail the Magdalena River in Colombia. Its two new seven-night itineraries include the "Magic of Colombia" itinerary from Barranquilla to Cartagena and the "Wonders of Colombia" cruise from Cartagena to Barranquilla.

Related: River cruise packing list: What to pack when traveling by riverboat

Viking offers 29 different itineraries in Europe on the Danube, Rhine, Rhone, Seine, Garonne & Dordogne, Douro and Elbe rivers, as well as the waterways of Belgium and Holland. While most sailings, lasting seven to 16 nights, are from early March to mid-December, Viking has added a 10-night "Treasures of the Rhine" itinerary between Amsterdam and Basel for 2024, with dates in January and February.

Viking also offers river cruises beyond Europe. In Egypt, Viking offers one itinerary, the 10-night "Pharaohs & Pyramids," featuring four nights in Cairo and a seven-night Nile cruise. Its itinerary through Vietnam and Cambodia is the 14-night "Magnificent Mekong" from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, which includes an eight-day river cruise and hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City.

Finally, the new Viking Mississippi cruises five itineraries in America's Heartland. These range from seven-night roundtrips from New Orleans to 21-night journeys that cover the mighty Mississippi's entire 2,350-mile length from New Orleans to St. Paul, Minnesota.

Bottom line

While both AmaWaterways and Viking do have a lot in common — similar itineraries and pricing, excellent cuisine and a generally casual dress code — their differences will matter to certain travelers, especially those who prioritize active wellness or multiple included tour options ... or perhaps even both.

Choose AmaWaterways if you want a slightly more inclusive cruise fare, a good selection of regional wines and a passenger mix that's a bit younger and more international. Choose Viking if you appreciate airy, modern design and enjoy traditional guided tours focused on history, culture and cuisine.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

  • The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
  • A beginners guide to picking a cruise line
  • The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
  • The ultimate guide to what to pack for a cruise
  • A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
  • 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
  • 15 ways cruisers waste money
  • The ultimate guide to choosing a cruise ship cabin
  • Main content

These are the best river cruise lines, sorted by price from low to high.

Avalon waterways, viking river cruise, amawaterways, american queen steamboat company, crystal cruises, adventures by disney river cruise, aqua expeditions, faq: river cruises, river cruises offer a slower-paced vacation and dock in quaint towns — here are my favorite sailings around the world.

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

  • River cruising is an efficient way to travel — visit a variety of destinations and only unpack once.
  • River cruises are available all over the world in Europe, Egypt, Peru, and South East Asia.
  • These are the best river cruise lines for comfort, destinations, and irresistible perks and tours.

Insider Today

One of the best vacations I've ever taken was a river cruise. It was a fascinating trip down the Danube River in Europe with Disney Cruises, focused on Christmas markets. After experiencing the river cruise lifestyle, I was sold.

I've always been a fan of traditional cruise line journeys, but a river cruise is much more intimate and in many cases, luxurious. These sleek ships generally host less than 200 passengers and go where giant cruise liners cannot, such as the Danube, Rhine, Rhône, Mekong, Mississippi, and Nile Rivers. 

A river cruise is kind of like a floating hotel, except you'll visit a variety of places but only have to unpack once. They also tend to have more inclusions than a traditional cruise. In addition to food and drink — with carefully curated cuisine reflective of the areas being visited — many river cruises include land excursions, which is a huge advantage that adds tremendous value.

difference between river cruise companies

Book a cruise on Avalon Waterways

Most of the Avalon's cabins are Panorama Suites, which offer a wide view of the rivers on which you are traveling. Book their "Open-Air Balcony" and enjoy wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows that open for fresh air. The beds in the Panorama Suites are also cleverly placed against the opposite wall so guests may view the scenery from bed.

As for the bed itself, guests can choose their own mattress and pillow firmness from Avalon's Comfort Collection. The entry-level cabin is the Avalon Deluxe Stateroom. It lacks the grandeur of the suites, and is small at about 172 square feet, and has small windows peaking above the waterline.

While many cruise lines have a strict dining schedule, these ships offer several different onboard restaurants. The Panorama Dining Room serves daily four-course à la carte dinners along with complimentary wine, beer, and soft drinks, or guests can choose the more casual Panorama Bistro or Sky Grill.

Avalon offers many onboard presentations, including the celebrity-driven  Storyteller Series, which is set to include the likes of Candace Bushnell ("Sex and the City"), Gillian Flynn ("Gone Girl"), Cheryl Strayed ("Wild"), and Diana Gabaldon (Outlander"). 

Notable excursions included in the price:

  • On the Rhône sailing, go spelunking in Viviers to underground caves as part of a wine tasting adventure. 
  • On the Danube sailing, see the Wachau Valley from a canoe and visit a hidden beach
  • Learn to paint like Van Gogh at the Ateliers Art Institute in Amsterdam. 

COVID-19 procedures are available  here .

difference between river cruise companies

Book a cruise on Viking River Cruise

Viking is the largest river cruise operator with over 50 Longships in their fleet. The design is sleek and minimal and there are usually five tiers of cabins.

Standard staterooms, which are the least expensive, hover at the water level, and come in at about 150 square feet. At the top end are large well-appointed suites with two full-sized rooms and great views, measuring about 445 square feet. 

Indulge in regional cuisine on Viking ships flavored with herbs grown in an on-board garden, though familiar classics are always available. The dishes are paired with a selection of wines from the area that is being explored.

Guest lectures and performers also come aboard to highlight the destination, from Viennese opera to Portuguese fado, and local craft and culinary demonstrations are sprinkled throughout voyages as well, such as lace-making and Austrian apple strudel.

  • While on the Danube, take a dip in legendary thermal baths in Budapest, Hungry.
  • On the Mekong, go on a guided tour of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
  • When cruising the Nile, ride a camel as you visit the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt.

All guests must have received their COVID-19 vaccine prior to sailing .  COVID-19 procedures are available  here . 

difference between river cruise companies

Book a cruise on AmaWaterways

AmaWaterways, with over 25 ships, is known for having a smaller amount of passengers on board. The average is about 156 guests, which is far less than most cruise lines.

Many of the staterooms have balconies that offer panoramic views and fresh air. Their twin-balcony staterooms feature both a French balcony and an outside balcony. While the suites are about 350 square feet, the standard stateroom is about 170 square feet with fixed windows at the waterline.

The cuisine served onboard AmaWaterways ships is inspired by regional dishes and made with locally sourced ingredients. Throughout the voyages, they feature special drinking and dining events for guests along with entertainment themed to the country you're visiting such as a string quartet or folk dancing.

While there are plenty of places to curl up with a book or play a game in the public spaces, a bevy of activities will lure you onshore. AmaWaterways has a diverse selection of excursions, from low key to active experiences.

In 2023, they will launch Seven River Journeys which will cover seven rivers and 14 countries over the course of 45 nights (starting at $24,999 per person, double occupancy).

  • While in Germany, visit the oldest brewery in Nuremberg for a bratwurst and beer.
  • Bike along the Danube River between Dürnstein and Melk in Austria's Wachau Valley.
  • Sail through France and visit the picturesque Old Town in Strasbourg.

AmaWaterways requires COVID-19 vaccinations for all their guests. COVID-19 procedures are available  here . 

difference between river cruise companies

Book a cruise on Scenic

Scenic operates custom-made vessels and a variety of cabins types. Standard suites are sparse, small (just 160 square feet) and lack balconies. A good mid-tier option is the   Royal Balcony suite, which comes with a great view and perks like daily fruit skewers, canapes, and petit fours. All upgraded suites come with butler service, nightly turndown, and a laundry concierge.

Guests dine on four-course dinners, complemented by regional wines. There is also destination-themed entertainment; for example, while sailing through Austria a musician is likely to play musical pieces from "The Sound of Music."

Scenic offers various excursions, from visiting World Heritage Sites to a round of golf. Their National Geographic sailings are particularly of note and include a variety of educational, expert-led travel excursions and talks.

  • In Portugal, visit the Burmester Cellars for a fine dining experience along with a traditional Fado musical accompaniment.     
  • While in Russia, visit the Palace of Prince Vladimir for an exclusive concert and ballet performance inside the last Imperial palace to be built in St Petersburg.
  • Automobile lovers have the chance to visit BMW World to see luxury German-made cars.

COVID-19 procedures are available  here . 

difference between river cruise companies

Book a cruise on UniWorld

Uniworld stands out immediately for its impressively designed interiors; each ship is themed to the areas that ships sail through. For example, on the S.S. BonVoyage in France, the Le Salon Champagne was inspired by Yves Saint Laurent's home, Villa Majorelle.

The cabins and public areas are also beautifully appointed with art, antiques, hand-painted murals, and luxury linens. Book a signature suite and indulge in larger marble bathrooms, a fully-stocked bar, and fresh cookies and fruit delivered daily.

In addition to traditional ships, there are also sleek black U by Uniworld boats, which offer a modern take on river cruising with a younger demographic in mind. They often feature DJs, silent discos, mixology classes, yoga, and rooftop camping (tents are supplied). These cruises offer 25% off the fare for travelers 4 to 17 years old when traveling with an adult (suites excluded).  

Like most cruises, the food served is reflective of your destination's local cuisine and there is also a light menu and options for vegetarians, vegans, and kids.

In fact, there are many kid-friend amenities, such as cooking classes, a young travelers' lounge, and a game room complete with PlayStation, games, movies, and local treats. 

  • In Italy, go on an after-hours visit to St. Mark's Basilica in Venice and tour the 9th-century church without crowds. 
  • On select sailings in France, visit the secret apartments in Versailles Palace.
  • During the Nile adventure, take a traditional Egyptian boat ride and have afternoon tea at the Old Cataract Hotel Aswan in Aswan. 

Uniworld requires proof of COVID-19 vaccinations for all their guests, except those under the age of 12, who must have a negative test result within 72 hours of embarkation. COVID-19 procedures are available here . 

difference between river cruise companies

Book a cruise on American Queen Steamboat Company

As the name implies, the American Queen Steamboat Company uses old-school-style riverboats for their journey. These state-of-the-art, authentic paddle wheelers can accommodate from 150 to 400 guests, depending on the ship.

Choose from a wide variety of accommodations from well-appointed suites to small no-frills single staterooms that are a mere 80 square feet. Some sailings have Loft Suites, which are two stories with floor-to-ceiling windows and have two full bathrooms, a dining area, a lounge with a Queen sofa-bed, a balcony, and an upstairs bedroom.

As expected, the ships serve American cuisines with options for fresh lobster or USDA Prime Beef. Unique to riverboats is the two-level theater, the Grand Saloon, found on the American Queen. Although children are allowed, the line does not offer extra amenities or perks for kids. 

Notable Excursions (note, these excursions are not included and involve an extra fee):

  • In Memphis, opt for The Elvis Experience with a tour of Graceland.
  • For those with an interest in history, try The Life and Legacy of Abraham Lincoln tour.
  • For adventure, go on a Cajun Swamp Tour.

COVID-19 vaccinations are required for all guests and crew.  COVID-19 procedures are available here . 

difference between river cruise companies

Book a cruise on Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises river cruise line features all-suite ships. The cabins are large with King-sized beds, which is a rarity in river cruising. Many also have balconies and walk-in closets, and all are above the waterline.

The entry-level cabin, the Petit Suite, is about 188 square feet is larger than most standard rooms, while the Deluxe Suite has French balconies, and opulent Explorer Suites boast large windows. All are butler-serviced river ships with a high, almost one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio. Solo travelers will appreciate that there are dedicated Solo Traveler Suites with no surcharge for a non-double occupancy booking, which is unheard of with cruising.

Dining is Michelin-inspired and farm-to-table fare. Activities include educational lectures from visiting professors, and well as local entertainment, and even Broadway-level performances. The ship's "Design Your Time" concierge service will help personalize your onboard and onshore experiences. 

  • Visit Salzburg, Austria, the town featured in "The Sound of Music."
  • Go to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg for a private organ concert.
  • In the Netherlands, explore the windmill village of Zaanse Schans with its houses from the 18th and 19th centuries.

COVID-19 vaccinations are required for all guests and crew.  COVID-19 procedures are available  here . 

difference between river cruise companies

Book a cruise on Tauck

Tauck recently renovated many of their ships, most of which carry just 84 or 98 guests, while a few larger boats accommodate a max of 130 guests.

The Tauck Suites are large, at over 300 square feet and have a large bed as well as a fold-out sofa. Most cabins have floor-to-ceiling windows to save space in the cabin, and the most affordable is Category 1, which is about 150 square feet and has small windows and a little bathroom with a shower.

Meals come with complimentary beverages, including house wine, beer, and premium spirits. Those are also offered all day, not just at mealtimes, which is a nice addition.

Tauck prides itself on offering off-the-beaten-track experiences in each destination, including multigenerational family tours that are curated to include itineraries for both kids and adults. There are also Christmas market sailings that include tree-trimming, caroling, and a Christmas dinner feast.

  • In France, enjoy a private visit to the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
  • Sign up for a private Imperial Evening at a palace in Vienna with dinner and classical performances.
  • Experience the "Wild West" of France in la Camargue with farm-fresh meals, local music, and a horse show.

COVID-19 procedures are available here .

difference between river cruise companies

Book a cruise on Adventures by Disney River Cruise

Adventures by Disney, the guided, family vacation arm of the Walt Disney Company, offers unique journeys sprinkled with signature Disney magic. Each day, you'll receive an enamel pin reflecting the day's adventure such as Mickey dressed as Mozart or Donald cooking goulash.

There is a wide variety of cabin categories from a 350 square foot suite that sleeps four with a balcony to Category D, the most affordable cabin, which is about 170 square feet, sleeps two, and features small windows. Families will appreciate adjoining cabins, which are a rarity for a river cruise line. Adventures by Disney recommends that children be 8 and up, but they only need to be 4 and up to sail.

The Adventures by Disney river cruises are designed for families, and their itineraries, both onboard and onshore, have something for every age group. Kids love the Junior Adventurer dinners or Disney movie nights, and there is also a Just Teens program with dinners and separate tour groups at various destinations.

But if you think this a Disney river cruise would be all about the kids, you're wrong. Grownups may enjoy adult-only dinners and wine tastings, and there is actually a nice variety of adult-exclusive sailings (generally when school is in session), which offer more sophisticated offerings.

  • Visit Schloss Hof in Bratislava for chocolate tasting and learn to waltz in the grand ballroom.
  • Take a thrilling alpine toboggan run in Germany's Black Forest.
  • Learn to make goulash and feast on it in the Hungarian countryside while listening to a live performance by Hungarian folk musicians.

COVID-19 testing and/or vaccination is required before travel. During the trip, Guests will be required to complete a self-assessment daily. COVID-19 procedures are available  here .

difference between river cruise companies

Book a cruise on Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expeditions is all about luxury with a modern take. They offer a 1:1 crew-to-guest ratio, so guests relish in lavish, five-star treatment and the boats have only about 15 to 20 cabins, meaning, no more than 30 to 40 guests per sailing. In effect, it feels kind of like a chartered yacht.

The suites, which are about 300 square feet, have floor-to-ceiling windows, King-sized beds, and a lounge area with a daybed. There is a price difference between the first deck and the second deck, with the former being more affordable. Some rooms have balconies.

Since Aqua Expeditions ships are so much smaller than the average river cruise liner, they can visit more remote destinations and the excursions reflect that, from watching Amazonian pink dolphins to receiving a blessing from a Buddhist monk while traveling the Mekong.

  • Visit the Amazon Rainforest with Aqua Expeditions' naturalist guides.
  • Come face-to-face with the gentle manta rays of Komodo National Park in Indonesia.
  • Go kayaking in the Mekong's waterways.

How does a river cruise work?

A river cruise is an all-inclusive journey where you unpack once but visit many destinations. They are smaller than traditional cruise ships and boast more tailored offerings, such as carefully curated cuisine that is reflective of the areas being visited. On all these journeys — from the Ganges to the Rhône — dining is a big part of the adventure.

River cruise ships dock near city centers, enabling visitors to explore on their own or take advantage of the array of excursions organized by the cruise line, from going on a strenuous hike to touring a castle, or sipping wine at a vineyard. There are a fair amount of UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the itineraries, which are almost always awe-inspiring.

These excursions are all included in the price of the cruise and are considered part of the river experience, although they aren't included for the sole domestic option on our list, the American Queen Steamboat Company.

Are river cruises all-inclusive?

Most river cruises are all-inclusive with all meals, beverages, and almost all excursions included in the rate.

However, Crystal Cruises has some excursions that incur an added cost, and all of the American Queen Steamboat Company excursions are additional (although they do offer hop-on hop-off bus tours).  

Are river cruise cabins small?

Yes. Due to the size of the boats, the cabins are small, ranging from 80 square feet to about 300 square feet. But since there is so much to do, odds are that the cabin will be only used for sleeping and downtime. 

When is the best time to take a river cruise?

It depends on what you are looking for in your vacation. For example, European river cruises run from   March through December. The summer months will be far warmer, while the December cruises are cold but come with the added bonus of experiencing Christmas festivities. 

Can solo travelers take a river cruise? 

Because most people travel in pairs or a family on a cruise, rates are based on double occupancy. Solo travelers are still welcome but may have to pay a   supplement fee for booking as a single-occupancy rather than a double.

What are the best river cruises for families with kids?

Adventures by Disney is the best option for families since they curate their onboard and onshore activities with kids and teens in mind. Uniworld is also a good choice with an array of added perks for kids of all ages.

Otherwise, most welcome children but don't offer extra programming for them, and Viking doesn't allow children at all.

Will I get seasick on a river cruise?

Odds are you will not get motion sickness on a river cruise since large waves or currents do not hit the ships. The water, especially on European cruises, is very calm.

difference between river cruise companies

Global River Cruising

Call free on: 0800 471 4754

Monday to Saturday: 9am to 7pm

All flight inclusive packages are ATOL protected

Let’s find your dream river cruise.

Choose a river.

  • All-Inclusive River Cruise
  • Amadeus River Cruises
  • AmaWaterways
  • Avalon Waterways
  • Christmas river cruise
  • Croisi Europe
  • Cultural Insights
  • Danube River cruise
  • Douro River Cruising
  • Emerald Waterways
  • European river cruise
  • Latest News
  • Mekong River
  • New Year River Cruise
  • No Fly River Cruises
  • Po River Cruise
  • Rhine river cruise
  • River cruise information
  • River Cruise Pricing
  • River Cruise Q & A
  • River Cruise Ships
  • Riviera Travel
  • Single River Cruise Traveler
  • Special Offers
  • Springtime River Cruises
  • Star Clippers
  • Titan Travel
  • Tulip River Cruise
  • U by Uniworld
  • Uncategorized
  • Uniworld River Cruises

Our Top 6 River Cruise Companies & Why You Should Choose Them

Best River Cruise Companies

Over the past few years, river cruising has become more popular among holiday makers, young and old, due to the cruise companies showcasing a more diverse offering, enhancing their already very luxurious ships and providing a very tailored customer service.

Without a doubt, river cruising still is the most convenient way to explore not only one but several countries in one holiday. And we all know how time constraint we all are…All river cruise holidays take care of your transportation at the start and end of your holiday as well as provide you with interesting tours while exploring the various destinations that you’ll get to see on your river cruise route. Something that is not mentioned enough, your fellow passengers are great company who tend to be very like-minded and enjoy a slower pace of life, too.

If you asked us how to describe a river cruise in one sentence, we would say: It’s a luxury hotel on the river from which you can explore some of the most beautiful parts of the world.

difference between river cruise companies

Now that you’ve decided that a river cruise is just what you need, there is still the task of choosing the right cruise for you. Here are a few pointers that should make that decision of finding the perfect cruise for you easier:

Decide on the rivers that offer you features such as cultural or natural sights that you’re interested in the most.

Decide early on what you’d like to do and see when on a river cruise.

Decide on a budget.

Decide on the season.

What’s left now? You still have to decide with what river cruise company you’d like to travel.

To make this a bit easier, we’ve outlined the best river cruise companies below:

difference between river cruise companies

1. Uniworld

Uniworld also known as Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection was established in 1976 and has its headquarters in Los Angeles, California. Uniworld core strength is their customer service and their tailored approach to the design and interior of their ships. This is highlighted by their small boutique hotel approach when it comes to their vessels as each ship is different. This is quite unique in the river cruise world.

Uniworld embodies the American way of customer service. Their attention to detail is second to none. This starts with their well-trained staff and finishes with their fine dining experience and exclusive excursions.

2. AmaWaterways

In comparison to the other river cruise companies, AmaWaterways is still the new kid on the block. Established in 2002, the company has won over the industry and more importantly holiday makers in a storm.

AmaWaterways is run by three well experienced travel entrepreneurs who decided to change it up a bit by focusing more on creating a warm welcoming environment but also on exceeding customers expectations. But how have they done it? First of all, in comparison to other river cruise companies, there are fewer guests on the ships. Secondly, cabins are slightly bigger and offer one or sometimes even two balconies which was a first in the river cruise sector. And last but not least, their focus on outstanding cuisine has had a huge impact on their global success story. It also helps that wine is included with lunch and dinner.

difference between river cruise companies

Unlike the previous four cruise companies, Scenic has its origin in Australia and not America. They are one of the biggest river cruise companies in Australia. You should therefore not be surprised to meet quite a few holidaymakers from Down Under when booking a river cruise with Scenic.

It is also one of the main reasons why Scenic offers one of the largest suites in comparison to other companies as their long-haul customers wouldn’t and shouldn’t accept anything less. The rooms are technologically well equipped and are very modern.

Scenic encourages a freer flow approach with free choice excursions that you can do at your own pace…aussie style.

4. APT Luxury River Cruise

APT Luxury River Cruise is also an Australian company founded in the late 1960’s. The APT stands for Australian Pacific Cruising. The company first offer bus tours but in 2005 decided to invest in the building of luxury river boats in Europe.

ATP Luxury River Cruises are known for their full-size French balconies and the all-weather twin balcony. They’ve also started to make a name for themselves when it comes to river cruising in Russia.

Due to their close relationship with AmaWaterways, guests can expect the same service and luxurious interior as they have experienced on an AmaWaterways river cruise.

difference between river cruise companies

5. Crystal River Cruise

When booking a river cruise with Crystal River Cruise you know that you will get a once in a lifetime experience. It’s the cruise company that has won the top honours in the Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards for a record 25 years; and voted “World’s Best” by the readers of Travel + Leisure for 20 years.

They started out as a ocean cruise company which meant that they could use their expertise of running award-winning ocean ships to set up a new style of river cruises. The main difference is their staff to guest ratio which is 1 : 1.6. All of their personal are trained by Crystal Cruises and therefore match the standards of their ocean cruisers.

It’s worth knowing that Crystal River Cruise are fully embracing the slower pace of travelling by creating itineraries that are slightly longer than their competitors so that you have time to unwind, relax and enjoy the various ports and cities that you’d like to explore.

In 2025, Tauck will be celebrating their 100th anniversary and is therefore the most experienced river cruise company worldwide. It’s still a family run business and has seen many generations of the Tauck family getting involved. Their whole ethos of how its run and will be run can be seen throughout your river cruise experience with them. It’s all about respect, integrity and innovation.

Many of the Tauck customers have been travelling with Tauck before. One of the main reasons is that Tauck gets you into places that others can’t. It does help to have been around for over 90 years. So, when you see ‘Uncommon Access’ in your itinerary, it means that you really get access to privately owned places, venues, collections and so forth that others won’t be able to offer you.

difference between river cruise companies

If you have any questions regarding the river cruise companies, rivers they operate on and their itineraries, please do get in touch with Global River Cruising. We’re can save you time by answering all of your questions and take out the hassle of vacation planning.

We’ll also be able to recommend to you when is the best time to go, where to go and what to do. And most of all, we can help you with the unexpected.

Related posts:

'  data-srcset=

Related Posts

Recent posts.

  • Navigating the Magic of Christmas and New Year River Cruises
  • The Top Reasons to Choose a River Cruise in 2024
  • Introducing New Super Ships From Uniworld For 2024 & 2025
  • Navigating Your River Cruise Journey
  • Rhine or Danube River Cruise – Which to Choose?
  • Simeon Introduces The Most Luxurious Ships On The Mekong
  • Discover The Most Popular Christmas Market in Europe
  • Discovering the Ideal Seasons for European River Cruises
  • Rediscover the Magic of Cruising: Why European River Cruises Are the Perfect Getaway
  • Discover the Enchanting Heart of Europe with Rhine River Cruises
  • January 2024
  • November 2023
  • October 2023
  • September 2023
  • November 2022
  • February 2021
  • January 2020
  • October 2019
  • September 2019
  • August 2019
  • February 2019
  • January 2019
  • December 2018
  • November 2017
  • September 2017
  • August 2017
  • February 2017
  • January 2017

'  data-srcset=

About Christine Foulds

I’m originally from Germany and traveling has always been a part of my family’s DNA. Over the past 20 years, I’ve lived and worked in 5 different countries (USA, Austria, Russia, Peru and the UK) and learnt to speak 3 foreign languages (Russian and Spanish are getting a bit rusty though). I thoroughly enjoy working with travel enthusiasts who like to explore and visit new parts of the world as much as I do.

Ask a Question

Custom leave a comment cancel reply.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Your Telephone Number (required)

When should we call?

Area of interest (required)

You are submitting an enquiry about

We're Here to Help

Whether you'd like to check availabilty or need some questions answered, do get in touch.

Call us FREE on 0800 471 4754

Don't forget to let us have your telephone number and email so we can get back to you.

AFAR Logo - Main

The New River Cruise Ships and Sailings We’re Most Excited About This Year

The world’s newest river cruise ships are delivering passengers to beautiful destinations in europe, asia, and south america in style. and they’re leaving less of a footprint, too..

  • Copy Link copied

A rendering of the sun deck with a hot tub and white lounge chairs on the forthcoming "Amadeus Nova" river cruise ship

The forthcoming Amadeus Nova is bringing sustainable luxury to the Danube.

Courtesy of Amadeus River Cruises

A new year is a good time to set new goals, and for river cruise lines that has meant putting a stronger focus on developing more eco-friendly ships and products for the year ahead.

River cruise companies are joining a growing industry-wide effort to reduce carbon emissions by implementing new sustainability practices. As demand for greener trips grows, companies are aiming to keep pace.

From ships equipped with cleaner, more energy-efficient engines to new vegan menus and sailings that explore destinations rich in biodiversity, here are five new river cruise ships, itineraries, and programs that are putting sustainability front and center in 2024.

“Amadeus Nova,” a model for more sustainable European river cruising

Aerial view of Germany's Wachau Valley, with calm, curving Danube River and green hills

Among the destinations the Amadeus Nova will explore will be Germany’s Wachau Valley.

Courtesy of Thomas Peham/Unsplash

In April, the Illinois-based river cruise line with Austrian roots, Amadeus River Cruises , will launch the new Amadeus Nova , which will introduce new energy-efficient technology aimed at lowering the line’s carbon footprint on Europe’s inland waterways. The 158-passenger vessel will feature hybrid diesel-electric drive, a powerful battery, and upgraded engines with filters and catalysts aimed at reducing emissions and eliminating pollutants. Solar panels will provide the electricity onboard, while heat recovery systems and insulated glass will enhance energy efficiency. All of these features will also translate into a quieter sailing experience for guests with less vibration felt overall due to an upgraded propeller system.

In addition to the green innovations, Amadaus Nova will also feature the line’s trademark amenities onboard, including a spa and fitness center, a heated pool on the sun deck, and the signature Café Vienna, a Viennese-inspired coffeehouse featuring a variety of hot beverages and pastries.

The Amadeus Nova will sail on the Danube River beginning in April, offering five itineraries ranging from 8- to 11-day cruises, with fares starting at $1,926 per person. Highlights will include stops in the Wachau Valley, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, and Bucharest.

Antara launches catamarans in India’s Bhitarkanika National Park

A broad, flat waterway between green banks of Bhitarkanika National Park

Explore the verdant wilderness of Bhitarkanika National Park from the vantage point of an intimate catamaran.

Photo by Shutterstock

What better way to launch a new river cruise destination in one of India’s most ecologically rich national parks than with a new fleet of intimate ships, thoughtfully designed to leave as little impact as possible on its natural surroundings?

Enter the new catamarans from Antara River Cruises , a pair of first-of-their-kind vessels for the luxury Indian river cruise company and a stark departure from its typical, larger 56-passenger river boats that sail on the Ganges River, often between Varanasi and Kolkata. Antara’s catamarans are sleek in design and small in size, with only two identical suites onboard, which can accommodate up to four people; they feature queen beds and private bathrooms, along with a lounge, dining area, and sun deck.

As with the rest of Antara’s fleet, the catamarans prioritize sustainability. They are custom built to run on a hybrid solar electric and fuel-powered system and are equipped with biochemical toilets and water purifiers onboard. The ships sail deep into the network of the Brahmani, Baitarani, and Mahanadi rivers in the Bhitarkanika National Park in eastern India, home to saltwater crocodiles, more than 320 species of birds, and India’s largest mangrove system.

There are two itineraries available on the two vessels: the three-night “Cruising in Bhitarkanika” voyage and the four-night “Amazon of the East” journey; both sail roundtrip from Gupti in Odisha. Departures kicked off this month with fares starting at $1,080 per person for both itineraries.

AmaWaterway’s “AmaMagdalena” explores the biodiversity of Colombia’s Magdalena River

Sunset over the colonial coastal city of Cartegena, Colombia, including historic church with cupola, with modern skyscrapers in distance

The Magdalena River cruises all either begin or end in the colonial coastal city of Cartegena.

Luxury cruisers will have a new river to explore when AmaWaterways debuts the first of two ships on Colombia’s Magdalena River. Sailings on the 60-passenger AmaMagdalena , which launches in November 2024, will immerse travelers in the diverse populations, cultures, and music along the river that explorers sailed to pave the way for trade and communications between the Andes and the Caribbean. Today, the river basin is home to about 80 percent of Colombia’s population, which has a blend of people with Indigenous, European, and African ancestry.

Colombia is also rich with biodiversity—home to more than 1,900 species of birds and 150 types of mammals—and AmaWaterways aims to prioritize sustainability in its ship design in order to leave as little impact on its natural surroundings as possible. The AmaMagdalena will feature 30 staterooms, all with the balconies, a main restaurant, fitness center, three spa treatment rooms, and a sun deck with whirlpool. AmaWaterways will be the first major river cruise line to launch in Colombia. But it probably won’t be the last. Abercrombie & Kent, which purchased the luxury Crystal Cruises brand, said it is also looking to put a ship or two on the river.

A eight-day sailing between Baranquilla and Cartagena includes a stop in Palenque, the first free city in Colombia, bird-watching in Magangue, and a visit to Nueva Venecia, a village of stilt houses, with fares starting at $3,599 per person.

“Avalon Alegria” brings greener sailings to Portugal’s Douro River Valley

A rendering of a beige stateroom, with floor-to-ceiling glass door on the "Avalon Alegria"

The Avalon Alegria will offer priceless Douro River Valley views from staterooms with beds facing floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors.

Courtesy of Avalon Waterways

For the first time, river cruise line Avalon Waterways will begin sailing in Portugal’s Douro River Valley in April 2024, launching a new ship there along with two itineraries. The Avalon Alegria will be able to accommodate 102 guests across 14 deluxe staterooms and 37 Panorama Suites, all with beds that face the floor-to-ceiling windows/doors and provide scenic views of the rolling hills and vineyards passing by.

Expect to find the familiar elements of Avalon’s Suite Ships onboard Alegria , from its relaxed luxury design to its sustainable features. The Suite Ships are built with technology to reduce energy consumption and emissions; they are also paper-free, using digital communications through its AvalonGo app with guests onboard for shore excursions, cruise updates, and menu items. The line uses locally sourced produce and other ingredients to further reduce its carbon footprint while sailing and to support local farming communities.

Itineraries available on the Avalon Alegria include the 8-day “Vida Portugal: Vineyards & Villages Along the Douro ,” which sails roundtrip from Porto, visiting everything from the birthplace of Mateus Rosé in Amarante to the artisanal markets of Pinhão. An 11-day version of this itinerary begins with a three-night extension in Lisbon, before boarding the 7-night cruise in Porto.

Fares for the 8-day “Vida Portugal” itinerary begin at $3,299, while fares for the 11-day version start at $4,248.

Vegan-friendly options with AmaWaterways

A white plate filled will colorful vegetables, figs, and pomegranate seeds, viewed from overhead, next to fork and knife

With more travelers looking for plant-based options, AmaWaterways is making vegan and vegetarian meals more widely available across its fleet.

Courtesy of Louis Hansel/Unsplash

River cruise line AmaWaterways , known for its upscale ships and excellent service, is expanding the vegan options onboard all of its ships in 2024 with a larger roster of plant-based menu items in response to increased demand.

Highlights of the new plant-based offerings begin with the appetizers, including an oven-roasted eggplant bruschetta with herbs or a garlic chickpeas bruschetta with balsamic vinegar; savory main courses like a slow-braised vegetable stew featuring portobello mushrooms, carrots, and cauliflower or grilled cauliflower and sweet potato paired with lemon salsa verde, cherry tomatoes, beans, and broccoli. For dessert, a nut-crusted pumpkin mousse infused with dates promises to provide a sweet finish to this sustainable culinary journey.

Jeri Clausing contributed to this story.

Family Beach Fire.jpg


  1. Compare River Cruise Lines: Which Company Fits Where?

    difference between river cruise companies

  2. Rooting out the differences between river cruises and ocean cruises

    difference between river cruise companies

  3. Comparing the River Cruise Lines

    difference between river cruise companies

  4. Best European River Cruise Lines Comparisons 2022-2023

    difference between river cruise companies

  5. Infographic: What are the differences between cruise lines?

    difference between river cruise companies

  6. River Cruise vs. Ocean Cruise [Which is Right For You?]

    difference between river cruise companies


  1. How to Compare River Cruise Lines

    You can't compare river cruise ships quite like you'd compare ocean ships because river ships are all virtually the same size: long and squat. Height is limited to bridge clearance, length by the size of locks. The ships are small, their four decks carrying fewer than 200 passengers.

  2. Comparing the River Cruise Lines

    Viking Exploring the world in comfort, Viking boasts the largest river cruise fleet on earth and is also one of the most well-regarded and most-awarded, offering destination-focused itineraries on the rivers of Europe, Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Egypt. Viking's most popular river voyage is their "Rhine Getaway."

  3. Comparisons

    How is one river cruise company different from another? What's the difference between the Rhine and the Danube? What are the differences in the staterooms on various ships? What does a river cruise cost? What's included? We address these questions with our comparisons.

  4. Compare River Cruise Lines: Which Company Fits Where?

    If the all-inclusive river cruise lines are like Seabourn and Silversea, the premium river cruise lines are more like Holland America Line and Celebrity Cruises. You can read more about each cruise company by clicking the links. All-Inclusive River Cruise Companies Crystal River Cruises Scenic Tauck Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

  5. The 10 Top River Cruise Lines for 2024

    If you'd like to take a cruise but aren't interested in the hustle and bustle of a massive ocean liner, consider a river cruise. River cruises offer the chance to visit lesser-known ports...

  6. AmaWaterways vs. Viking River Cruises

    How Do the Two Lines Compare for Shore Excursions? Danube - Durnstein Bicycle Tour (photo: AmaWaterways) Viking River Cruises and AmaWaterways include at least one shore excursion in every port...

  7. The 10 Best River Cruise Lines

    1. Viking Courtesy of Viking With its fleet of more than 50 contemporary "longships" on rivers such as the Rhine, the Danube, and the Seine, plus additional ships in Europe, Egypt, and Vietnam,...

  8. Best river cruise lines around the world

    Katz Castle in Germany in the Middle Rhine River Valley with a Viking Longship in view. VIKING. The world's largest river cruise line, Viking has a fleet that in Europe includes dozens of cutting-edge, 190-passenger "longships" with light-filled atriums, an appealing contemporary Scandinavian decor, and cabins with step-out balconies. An outdoor restaurant on the bow means you never miss a ...

  9. River Cruise Reviews, Viking River Cruises, Uniworld River Cruises

    AmaWaterways Defining Feature: Modern, contemporary ships combining elegant style and service, and a focus on health and wellness. Destinations: Europe, Portugal, Africa, Cambodia & Vietnam, Myanmar Christened in 2017, AmaKristina is a sister ship to the AmaViola & AmaStella.

  10. Gate 1 Travel vs. Viking River Cruises

    With both lines, U.S. travelers have the choice of booking cruise-only or fly-cruise itineraries. Both lines require a nonrefundable deposit, generally $300 per person for Gate 1 and $500 for ...

  11. Who is #1 in 2023--Comparing River Cruise Companies

    Among home-based travel professions, we book more travel than about 76% of our peers, and that number is only for total sales—almost 95% of our business in 2022 was from booking river cruises. In 2022, our article Europe River Cruise Comparisons 2022-2023 was opened on the web 19,237 times. Our Best European River Cruise Route Guide has been ...

  12. AmaWaterways vs. Viking: Which of these popular river cruise lines is

    AmaWaterways vs. Viking: Meet the river cruise lines The Danube River on the Serbian and Romanian border. AMAWATERWAYS River cruise lines AmaWaterways and Viking launched within five years of each other. Both are helmed by well-known cruise and travel industry executives and feature fleets of modern river ships.

  13. Best River Cruises: Viking, Avalon, Tauck, UniWorld

    Avalon Waterways/ Book a cruise on Avalon Waterways Typical starting price: $724 for 3 nights (per person based on double occupancy — $241 per night, all-inclusive) Where they sail: Danube,...

  14. How To Choose A River Cruise

    If your can budget more than $400 a day, then take a look at Crystal, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld. All are the most inclusive of among the river cruise companies, including the all-important (to some) prepaid gratuities. You should be prepared to spend between $400 and $600 per day.

  15. Navigating the River Cruising Landscape: Comparing Companies, Benefits

    Embarking on a river cruise is a delightful way to explore the world's most captivating destinations. However, with a multitude of river cruising companies to choose from, it's important to understand the differences between them to find the perfect match for your travel preferences. In this blog po

  16. 11 Things to Know About River vs. Ocean Cruises

    1. River Ships are Smaller than Ocean Vessels Rhone River cruise (Photo by David Swanson) Ocean ships have passenger counts in the thousands, while riverboats carry 200 passengers or fewer...

  17. River Cruise Price Comparisons

    On its June 25, 2020 departure, for example, AmaWaterways' seven-night Colors of Provence itinerary will cost you $585 per person per day for a 170-square-foot fixed window stateroom. Upgrading to a French balcony will cost you about $689 per person per day. See our Rhone River Cruise Prices 2020.

  18. Emerald Cruises vs. Viking River Cruises

    Find out the difference between Viking's Longships and Emerald's "Star-Ships" in our Emerald Cruises vs. Viking River Cruises guide. ... Much like virtually all river cruise companies, Viking and ...

  19. American. vs. European River Cruises

    Differences Between European and American River Cruises. One of the biggest perks for North Americans choosing a U.S. river cruise over a Danube or Rhine River cruise is the relative ease of ...

  20. Our Top 6 River Cruise Companies & Why You Should Choose Them

    This starts with their well-trained staff and finishes with their fine dining experience and exclusive excursions. 2. AmaWaterways. In comparison to the other river cruise companies, AmaWaterways is still the new kid on the block. Established in 2002, the company has won over the industry and more importantly holiday makers in a storm.

  21. Europe River Cruise Company Comparisons 2022-2023

    Overview All river cruises are very good values & special trips. There is no official rankings of the best European river cruise lines & many have won awards from various travel organizations. These are my personal ratings & should be considered as such.

  22. 10 Best River Cruise Companies (with Reviews)

    Choose from the best river cruise companies with thousands of reviews from travelers like you. Find your perfect river cruise holiday and get ready to embark on the organized adventure of a lifetime.

  23. 10 Major Differences Between River Cruises and Ocean Cruises

    Viking Longship Njord has 95 staterooms. And while ocean passenger liners can measure more than 1,000 feet long and 15 decks, a river cruiser will come in significantly shorter and have usually just three to four decks. River Cruises Have a Different Atmosphere Umbrella drinks, Hawaiian shirts, and conga lines?

  24. The Best New River Cruise Ships and Sailings of 2024

    Enter the new catamarans from Antara River Cruises, a pair of first-of-their-kind vessels for the luxury Indian river cruise company and a stark departure from its typical, larger 56-passenger river boats that sail on the Ganges River, often between Varanasi and Kolkata. Antara's catamarans are sleek in design and small in size, with only two ...

  25. The 8 Best European River Cruises 2024

    Best European River Cruise Overall: Viking Cruises, Viking Egdir. Best High-End European River Cruise: Uniworld, S.S. La Venezia. Best European River Cruise For Families: A-Rosa, A-Rosa Sena. Best ...


    NOW LIVE: Don't miss out the fun from the Sinulog sa Sugbo Philippines 2024 with CDN Digital as we bring you the latest updates of the grand day here in...