what to expect on a river cruiseWhile river cruising and ocean cruising share roughly the same premise (sailing on a boat packed with activities, on your way to a destination or three where there’s even more vacation to be had), there are some experiences that are completely unique to river cruising.

Of course, there are the obvious differences like river cruises having fewer people and lasting longer than a traditional ocean cruise, or that they’re more seasonal, but did you know that the cabins are different? Or that weather impacts river cruises more than ocean cruises?

So while you know good food, good drinks, and good people are practically guaranteed, here are some other things you could experience on a river cruise:

Dining on a River Cruise

Because river cruise boats are far smaller than an ocean liner, there’s typically only one kitchen with a small team of chefs. All passengers of a river cruise eat together at semi-fixed mealtimes.

Breakfast and lunch are often buffet-style, with dinner being a sit-down affair with a full waitstaff.

The breakfast buffet always has everyone’s favorite staples, and some cruise lines even feature several cook-to-order stations for omelets, pancakes, and other specialty items.

Lunch is generally three courses, while dinner is usually four. Each night, dinner is thoughtfully prepared with regional specialties reflecting the tastes and flavors of the different cities and countries you’re passing through. There is rarely a dress code for the dining areas and all tables are seat yourself.

If you get hungry between meals, head to a coffee station where you’re likely to find a variety of snacks, muffins, fruit, and more.

River Cruise Cabins

River cruise line cabins are virtually floating hotel rooms. They have everything you need to rest comfortably, including a queen sized bed (which can also be transformed into two twin sized beds), night stands with bedside lamps, a closet and dresser, a bathroom with mirror and vanity, and a small living area consisting of either a couch or a couple of chairs and table. Some even have a mini-fridge!

Most river cruise lines are designed for couples rather than families, so the cabins are mostly designed to sleep two. If you’re considering taking a river cruise as a family trip, be sure to do your research and pick a family-friendly line that has the accommodations your family needs.

Unlike an ocean cruise liner, every room on a river cruise has a window so you won’t have to worry about missing out on any gorgeous scenery you’re passing by. Some cabins even have floor-to-ceiling windows that can be opened to let in fresh air and give the illusion of having a balcony.

River cruise cabins tend to run a little smaller than ocean cruise line balconies at about 160 square feet, which makes sense considering the size difference between the two types of cruise liners. Also, with so much to do on the ship and in port, you likely won’t be spending much time in your room anyway!

How Water Levels Affect River Cruises

This is another case in which seasonality comes into play. If you’re considering taking a European river cruise in the late spring or early summer, you run the risk of high water levels as winter snow has melted and run off into the river, and as the spring rainfall comes into full swing.

Higher water levels may keep your boat from being able to pass under certain bridges, meaning your itinerary and travel plans could potentially be heavily altered.

Conversely, droughts in the late summer and early fall may keep your boat from setting sail at all!

As weather can wildly unpredictable, there’s no guaranteed way to plan around it regardless of where you plan on cruising. The best way to make sure you don’t lose out on your investment is to work with a travel agent who can keep you up-to-date with any announcements or changes to your itinerary and always purchase travel insurance!

Off-Ship Excursions

When you book a river cruise, you’re not only getting the ship experience and your meals, but also the cultural and educational tours you’ll take in port. Most lines include at least one excursion per port in your fares, which cannot be said for ocean cruises.

You can rest assured that your tours will be excellent because of the partnerships between the cruise lines and tour groups; you’re likely to get the best, most experienced guides who have prepared a special itinerary for your group. The excursions vary greatly from port-to-port, cruise line-to-cruise line, and country-to-country, but there’s simply no way you can go wrong!

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

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