river cruise boatsAre you new to river cruising? If so, you may have noticed in your research that there are a few different names floating around for a few different kinds of boats—namely river cruisers, barges, and paddlewheelers. What’s the difference between all these water vessels? Which has the most to offer?

To help aid in your understanding, we’ve outlined how these boats all differ in size, level of intimacy, and where they’re best suited to travel:

River Cruisers

Size: Large.
These boats are larger than barges and paddlewheelers, yet still sleek in appearance with no more than 4 tiers—a design choice that keeps the ship from getting too crowded and that allows them to easily drift under bridges. They’re generally 100-400 feet in length, and 40-75 feet in width.

Level of Intimacy: Low.
Don’t get us wrong, river cruisers are still FAR more intimate than any ocean cruise you could take, they’re just less intimate than either barges or paddlewheelers.

River cruisers usually have enough cabin space for 100-200 guests, and, of course, have multiple dining areas, several sun decks, and other lounge areas to enjoy.

Best Suited to Travel:
River cruisers are built to navigate your average river. If water levels are too high, they will not be able to cross under bridges. If water levels are too low, they will not be able to move at all. They’re also too large to navigate canals.

While this sounds somewhat limiting, river cruisers are the most commonly used river cruise vessels.

Another Thing to Note:
Many cruise lines have coined names for their river cruisers including Viking River Cruises’ “Longships,” Crystal River Cruises “River Yachts,” and Avalon’s “Suite Ships,” but those are all just different, personalized names for the same thing.


Size: Small
Barges are smaller than river cruisers, with most vessels having been upgraded from their previous use as cargo barges. Because of their original use, barges generally travel very slowly; slow enough, in fact, that you can easily hop off the boat at a lock to stretch your legs by going for a run or bike ride nearby.

Level of Intimacy: High
Barges—often called “Luxury Hotel Barges”—are the most intimate of all river cruise options with the space to host only two dozen people at a time. Because these vessels are so small, people usually book barge cruises with enough family and friends to fill the better part of the guest list.

The luxury of such intimacy does come with a price tag. Fortunately, the elevated cost also includes some of the best food you’ll ever have the pleasure of eating, exquisite drinks, an excursion at every stop, bikes for exploring, and more.

Best Suited to Travel:
Because of their small size, barges can navigate rivers, canals, and bridges with ease!


Size & Level of Intimacy: Moderate
Sized somewhere between a river cruiser and a barge, paddlewheelers can accommodate about 80-100 guests and have all the same amenities—a restaurant, multiple sun decks, lounges, hotel-like staterooms, even luxury linens, and a dance floor!

Best Suited to Travel:
Paddlewheelers are the least common of the three vessels outlined here, but that’s because they serve a very specific purpose: because they’re propelled only by paddlewheels, these boats are best suited to navigate notoriously shallow rivers, of which there are very few.

Their unique power source also makes them particularly energy efficient, if you’re looking for a “green” river cruise experience.

If you’d like to learn more about river cruising, check out our other articles here:

Want more river cruising tips? We can help with that! Just schedule an appointment online or give us a call at (864) 979-0610 and we’ll share our expert insight and answer all your lingering questions.

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