A decade ago, river cruising vacations weren’t even on the radar. Today they’re high on the wish list of nearly 60 percent of North American travelers, according to an industry survey. Why the shift? A fleet of sleek new ships, a growing list of itineraries – and attention-grabbing ads shown during Downtown Abbey – have brought inland sailing front of mind. Travelers who previously traveled only by land are now turning to the waterways, says A-list cruise agent Scott Kertes of Long Island’s Hartford Holidays. “The newest river cruise ships are well appointed with new amenities and levels of food and service that have come way, way up.”
In 2015, major river cruise companies are adding even more routes on a worldwide flotilla of more than 200 vessels. Most carry guests to the medieval villages of Germany’s Rhine, the Danube’s Imperial cities of Vienna and Budapest and the wine-producing regions of France. and Portugal. A handful navigate through the rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon, while ever-more ships are returning to the Egypt’s Nile. The newest river journeys explore the Far East, taking guests to untrammeled villages and ornate temples of Burma’s Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers, Indochina’s Mekong and India’s Ganges.
Wherever they travel, river voyagers sail on boutique vessels sized for narrow rivers and locks; most carry a maximum of 190 passengers, and some accommodate as few as 36.
Though prices are higher than on many ocean cruises, amenities such as city tours, onboard wifi, tips and wine and beer with meals are included in most river fares. And while multi-service spas and elaborate show lounges don’t fit onboard, most river-going ships moor within walking distance of towns. Expert local guides leave travelers raving about the experience, says Morgan Scully of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Va. – and coming back for more.
To find out more about river cruising, see my story in this month’s issue of Travel + Leisure magazine.