River cruising tips: Ten reasons this is the easiest way to travel

Thinking of taking your first river cruise? Then you couldn't have picked a better moment, with more river-cruise ships sailing more itineraries on more rivers than ever before, and new ones being added all the time. Still, cruise novices can be a little nervous about what this style of holiday entails, and whether it will suit them.

If you're wondering whether river cruising really is for you, here are 10 reasons why we think it might float your boat.

It's travel made easy

OK, you have to get yourself to your departure point and onto the ship but, apart from that, you don't need to worry about the nitty-gritty of travel. River-cruise ships cover all the traveller's basics: a decent hotel room, good food produced in a controlled environment, and effortless transport from A to B. Plus you only need to unpack once, and guides show you around.

You can access hard-to-reach places

It's wrong to imagine that river cruises only float through easily travelled Europe. Many river cruises bring you to places virtually impossible to explore as an individual, such as the Amazon River in Brazil or Chobe River in Botswana, or to places where travel just isn't easy, such as rural Cambodia and Vietnam, vast stretches of countryside between Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia, or remote destinations along the Brahmaputra River in northeast India.

It's a time saver

River-cruise itineraries have been honed by travel experts through years of collective experience. Ships take you to destination highlights, and often travel at night or over meal times, saving you on considerable transfer times. Many spend all day in port and often anchor right in the middle of downtown, allowing you to walk from ship to sights – though there are a few exceptions, such as St Petersburg or Vienna.

Your budget is controlled

Depending on how early you book, the time of year, and the cabin type, you can expect a river cruise to cost between $200 and $500 a person per night. Unlike ocean cruises, almost everything is included, such as meals, shore excursions, Wi-Fi and perhaps even airport transfers, tipping and open bar. You can cruise without spending another penny, and you might find the cost hard to match if doing it yourself – and a whole lot more of a headache.

You get great views

The open spaces on the top decks of river-cruise ships are the ideal grandstand to watch passing scenery. There's no such thing as the empty horizon you get at sea and, since you aren't driving, you can soak up the views. Some destinations can't be seen any better way. Drive along the Rhine Gorges, for example, and you look across to the opposite bank, but sail through and you get a 360-degree panorama of castles and vineyards.

You have privileged access

Shore excursions take you to places, or supply you with experiences, that you just won't get as an individual traveller. See St Marks' Basilica in Venice after hours without the crowds, for example; talk to a conservation expert at the terracotta warriors in Xi'an; or blend your own Cognac at a cellar door in France. Choose a themed cruise and you can focus on the likes of beer making, classical music or golf.

It's an active holiday

Your view of river cruises is out-dated if you think they're sedate floats for the elderly and inactive. Most provide the chance for hours of walking every day, especially for passengers taking advantage of after-tours time to explore on their own. Many ships now carry bicycles and Nordic walking sticks. Some have small gyms, and many have active shore excursions that might take passengers hiking in the Black Forest or kayaking in the south of France.


The ships are a pleasure

Increased competition and better, more luxurious ship design are creating evermore pleasant on-board spaces. True, cabins are smaller than the average hotel room, but some have sitting spaces or balconies, plus luxuries such as coffee machines, rain-showers and pillow menus. Public lounges and deck areas are surprisingly spacious. A cramped, dingy ship is rare these days, and many companies operate new vessels that make the on-board experience highly enjoyable.

You won't be bored …

The world's rivers are incredibly diverse and supply a fine mix of scenery, cultural and historical sights, urban pleasures and village visits. Shore excursions are varied. Visit a palace or museum one day, meet kids at a village school the next, hike to hilltop views the day after. And note you're under no obligation to do the timetabled activities: get out and explore on your own too. Finally, many cruises run on-board history lectures, cooking demonstrations and cultural shows to keep you entertained.

… but you can relax

You can be on the go from early morning until sail-away time if you want, but you don't have to be. With everything taken care of, some passengers prefer to relax with a book or a cold drink on the open deck, treat themselves to a massage at the ship's spa, or take that little afternoon nap you never have at home. And although you could do the same at a resort, you won't wake up next morning in a different destination, which is the magic of river cruising.

See also: The world's ten prettiest river ports

See also: Eight things I learnt on my first river cruise