Having sailed on several ocean cruises, I became curious about river cruises. Several people I met while traveling raved about them. I finally booked a river cruise from Prague to Budapest (along the Danube) in November 2011, and I loved the experience.
I've been on three river cruises, and in a few days I'll be embarking on my fourth. For those of you who may be considering a river cruise and have questions about them, here are some observations that may be helpful.
A river cruise is very different from a typical ocean cruise. The ships are small, around 140 passengers depending on the cruise line. There is usually a main lounge, where the passengers meet and mingle, and it serves as a relaxation spot in the evening. On some nights the boat might host a local group of entertainers, usually from the region where the riverboat is sailing, and they might perform folkloric dances and music. On other nights, there might be a pianist playing background music while the passengers drink and chat.
There is a top deck with lounge chairs, and some boats have a small pool. The deck is a great place to enjoy the views of the landscape.
Most boats have a small gym and spa, but they are quite small. There is a reception desk, of course, and a small gift shop.
The restaurant serves meals at fixed times, but the seating is open, first come first served. Most tables are set for four, six, or eight people. Breakfast consists of a buffet, but omelettes and special dishes like Eggs Benedict can be ordered from your waiter. Lunch is usually a buffet, but main course are prepared and served at the table. Dinner is strictly from the menu, which changes daily, and there are always alternate courses to choose from. Depending on the cruise line, beer, wine, and soft drinks may be included. Alcoholic drinks are usually extra.
A river cruise itinerary is intensive. The boat sails during the evening, and in the morning it will be docked in a new town, usually right in the middle of the town. Excursions are mostly included, and separate groups are set up to accommodate passengers who prefer a more leisurely tour. Some lines have bicycles (free) that you can take on your own to explore the area. There is usually one or two days when the boat sails along the more scenic parts of the river during the day, and those are very enjoyable.
Cabins are small, but comfortable, and the staff is outstanding (my experience).
If you are interested, the following link will take you to a slideshow of my first river cruise in 2011:
Any specific questions?
I love river cruises because the experience with fellow passengers is much richer--you really see people over and over and have time to connect and find commonalities and new friendships. You land in the heart of a town--many small and quaint. You never get sea sick. The food is exceptional (Uniworld, Tauck, AmaWaterways) and the service is top-notch. The wines are local and they are included with lunch and dinner and free-flowing. Beer as well. The land excursions are also all included and are of three different levels of activity--slow paced, normal pace and energetic. There are bikes to take ashore and if you like you can ride along side the ship as it travels from one port to the next (daytime, only). The cabins are well appointed--great beds, Internet in each room and many have small pools/large hot tubs on upper decks. No children, another plus. I highly recommend them!!