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You've probably heard rumblings about river cruises from friends and family … so, what's the deal? Well, the ships are smaller than ocean liners, so you can dock closer to city centers. Plus, you're seeing some of the world's most beautiful scenery, while sailing along famed waterways. Sound intriguing? Read on to learn more about the top river cruise lines and the incredibly scenic sailings they offer.
Best for an Intimate Cruise
The luxury 20-suite Aqua Mekong from Aqua Expeditions sails through Vietnam and Cambodia (have the camera ready for Buddhist shrines and bamboo-stilt villages), while its sister ship, the Aria Amazon, sails the Peruvian Amazon. It doesn't get better than sipping a pisco sour on the deck after a day of exploring the rainforest.
Best for European Sailings
One of the top river cruise lines (Downton Abbey fans will no doubt remember those fab commercials that ran before the show), Viking offers dozens of sailings on the major European rivers, including the Danube (Mozart concerts in Vienna!), the Rhine (fairytale castles in Germany!), and other cruises farther afield.
Best for Luxury
Expect to be pampered on Uniworld river cruises, which might include Amsterdam-to-Antwerp or Milan-to-Rome itineraries. Its grandest ship, the S.S. Maria Theresa (which sails the Danube, Rhine, and Main rivers), boasts 22-carat gold-leaf accents and half-canopied beds in its sumptuous suites — butlers hand-feeding bonbons not included.
Best for Exotic Cruises
Sure, AmaWaterways offers fabulous European river cruises, but its exotic destinations are definitely bucket-list territory. Sail along the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia, aboard the AmaDara ship, while the Zambezi Queen navigates the scenic Chobe River in Botswana, and it includes a full-day safari in Chobe National Park.
Best for Shore Excursions
Mostly known for its ocean cruises, Crystal Cruises started offering river cruises a while back, and they've become quite popular as well. While the ships are luxe and well-appointed, you'll want to sign up for some of the special shore excursions, such as the classical concert on the grounds of 18th-century Belvedere Palace in Vienna.
Best for Cruising in the USA
For a trip closer to home, cruise along the Mississippi River with the American Queen Steamboat Company. The American Duchess, an all-suite paddlewheeler, is where you can live out your inner Rhett and Scarlet fantasies. Stop off in classic river towns, like Natchez, Memphis, New Orleans, and St. Louis, and sample some of the country's best barbecue and Creole food along the way.
Best for Families
It was a no-brainer for Disney to get into family-centric river cruises. In partnership with AmaWaterways, Adventures by Disney offers Danube and Rhine river cruises, with lots of cool shore excursions that the kids will actually dig (chocolate-making workshops, alpine toboggan runs, scavenger hunts), along with on-board extras like movie nights and karaoke.
Best for Themed Cruises
CroisiEurope has many European-themed cruises. Its "Biking Along the Gironde" cruise, which includes scenic riverside bike rides when the boat is docked, winds up in Bordeaux, so you can reward yourself with wine tastings, and shop till you drop during its popular Christmas Markets cruises, which travel along the Rhine River in France and Germany.
Best for Millennials
Geared to millennials, U by Uniworld has two ships, called A and B (B appeared on The Bachelor). These sleek black matte ships sail the Seine, Danube, and Rhine rivers. Public spaces are decked-out with sofas, hammocks, and DJ booths, and shore excursions include street-art tours, mixology lessons, and visits to clubs.
Best for Culinary Cruises
Avalon Waterways offers several culinary-themed cruises. Its Seine River cruise begins and ends in Paris, and it visits Normandy, Giverny, and Rouen. Some of the foodie experiences include special food and wine pairings, pastry demonstrations, lunch at a cheese farm, and a tour and tasting at a calvados distillery.