By H. Michael Hervey

Ever since Huckleberry Finn floated down the Mississippi River on a raft circa 1884, people have enjoyed watching the world slowly slide by while on river cruise. Whether the shores offer views of antebellum mansions along Old Man River or grand medieval castles on the Rhine, river cruise popularity has exploded during the past ten years.

That’s especially true for people in the United States and Europe who know a bit of history and appreciate the value of relaxing while on hard-earned vacations.

Mark Twain and Huck Finn would hardly recognize the grandeur of today’s version of a cruise down the Mississippi.  The Snake and Columbia Rivers, for example, also support vacations from a variety of world-class cruise lines in the United States.  In Europe, however, a cruise on the Danube or the Rhine will generate memories that are indelible and awe-inspiring. People can absorb a variety of wonderful American and European cultures without leaving their respective continents.  

This essay outlines some of the very best in river cruising around America and Europe. For seniors, taking a river cruise is one of many venues that offer bucolic views and pampered luxury at affordable prices.  When compared to an ocean cruise on the Queen Mary, a trip up the Hudson in New York or down the Seine in France is an absolute bargain.

These trips offer the ultimate “bang for the buck” when planning a vacation without breaking the piggy bank or buying bottles of motion sickness pills.

AMERICAN RIVER CRUISES

This section outlines some of the best in river cruises around the United States. The three major cruise lines listed below offer grand vacations on most U.S. rivers so check their websites to review key elements of their venues and see which company offers the best prices and schedules. I also list excellent local cruise lines where available.

  • Viking River Cruises: Experienced staff and reasonable prices (VikingRiverCruises.com)
  • American Cruise Lines: Offers a wide variety of venues and great destinations (AmericanCruiseLines.com).
  • American Queen Steamboat Company: Well-respected and comprehensive list of venues (AmericanQueenSteamboatCompany.com)

Alaska Waterways

Nature lovers will enjoy trekking around glaciers, watching salmon vault ice-cold waterfalls, photographing grizzlies (from afar) trying to catch them, and being overwhelmed by the magnificent fjords.  Aside from the grand vistas, these waterways also offer unlimited hiking, kayaking, and excellent exposure to local Inuit tribal culture.

  • Crystal Cruises: Excellent venues and luxury packages (CrystalCruises.com)
  • Alaska Cruises & Vacations: Book cruises on small, intimate ships (AlaskaSmallShipCruises.com)

Columbia and Snake Rivers

The Pacific Northwest boasts of having many important and enjoyable river cruises. These week-long voyages meander past the greater Portland, OR and Clarkston, WA areas and offer celebrated views of Mount Hood, Multnomah Falls, enchanted local wineries, The Dalles, and numerous Native American cultural centers that evoke memories of old-time America.

  • UnCruise Adventures: The best in local knowledge supported by local teams (UnCruise.com)

Upper Mississippi and Ohio Rivers

These majestic venues take you past St. Paul to Saint Louis.  Enjoy the historic areas around La Crosse, WI, gawk at the immense agricultural powerhouse of the Davenport Iowa region, and visit Hannibal MO, Mark Twain’s home.

Autumn is the very best time to experience these splendid waterways as the shores explode in a rich tapestry of gold, burnt-orange, and shades of green and red foliage presented by a countless variety of grand American trees. Your camera’s color processing features will be tested, for sure.

  • Mississippi River Cruises: Offers themed cruises at great prices (MississippiRiverCruises.com)

Lower Mississippi River

These trips sail the memorable waters around Memphis, New Orleans, St. Paul, and many points in between. The revamped and sumptuous Queen of the Mississippi is an expansive paddle boat design that harkens visions of bourbon-sipping riverboat gamblers who often had a beautiful lady with a wide-brim hat on one arm and two aces hidden under his sleeve on the other.

Immerse yourself in the charming music venues of NOLA and Memphis, glide past historic plantations and Civil War sites and let your heart rate subside during this luxurious, relaxing excursion that promises to be simultaneously memorable while recharging your cultural batteries.

  • USA River Cruises: Offers smaller, boutique adventures to various locations around the U.S. (www.usarivercruises.com).

Intracoastal Waterways

Southern hospitality and honey-dripped pleasantries are the order of the day when cruising the small antebellum rivers of the historic South. Drift past Charleston, Beaufort, Savannah, and Jacksonville to witness the beauty of vast palmetto palm forests and ghostly profiles of magical ancient oak trees draped in elegant Spanish Moss.

You can cruise for eight relaxing days down the byways and bayous. There are few things more enticing than having a mint julip on the deck of your boat as it drifts past Jekyll Island and neighboring Amelia Island.

  • Jungle Queen Riverboat Cruises: The best in a day and dinner cruises (Viator.com)
  • Blount Small Ship Adventures: Grand times will be had on these intimate ships (BlountSmallShipAdventures.com)

Great Lakes

For those of you who want to go North and avoid getting eyed by hungry swamp alligators every day, perhaps a cruise on the cool, crisp waters of the Great Lakes is the best alternative.  Since parts of this journey hit our Canadian neighbor, however, you’ll need a Passport on these 11-day trips.

Sail all five Great Lakes, visit Toronto, Niagara Falls, Detroit, the Victorian-themed Mackinac Island, the Ford Museum, and Presque Isle, to name a few memorable points of interest.

  • Pearl Sea Cruises: Book 7-11 day trips on this well-regarded cruise line (PearlSeaCruises.com).
  • Vantage Adventures: Sail all five Great Lakes in style and luxury(VantageTravel.com).

Hudson River Valley and Erie Canal

Start your New York river cruise by staying a few nights in the Big Apple before jumping on the boat. Your trip begins with majestic views of the city and continues up the Hudson past various art centers, grand old mansions, Poughkeepsie, Albany, and West Point.

The Hudson River Valley displays her most splendid foliage during early Fall. The shores present an absolute riot of exquisite colors flaunted by all the maple, oak, pine, and elm trees that stand at attention when you cruise past. Take pictures and bring a sweater since the cool Hudson breezes add a bit of crisp to the air.

  • New Hudson River Cruises: Aggregates the best local cruise lines (RiverCruises.com).
  • Hudson River Cruises: Great way to spend a fun day on the grand old Hudson (HudsonRiverCruises.com).

EUROPEAN RIVER CRUISES

This section outlines some of the best river cruises around important European regions. You’ll be able to review the key elements of their venues and see which cruise line’s offer the best prices and schedules.

Unlike a large number of river cruise lines available in the United States, Europe has two major lines that dominate the scene. The good news is that these main players offer great venues, excellent service, and plush accommodations. The bad news is that both are rather pricey, especially during Europe’s High Season, (May-August).  I also list a few local cruise lines when applicable.

  • Viking River Cruises: Largest and most experienced company that boasts a big fleet and varied locations. (VikingRiverCruises.com)
  • Crystal River Cruises: Offers lots of great river journeys around the heart of classical Europe. (CrystalRiverCruises.com)

Danube and Rhine Rivers

Most of the early European river cruises plied the waters of the Danube and Rhine because they are co-joined by a grand canal system. These majestic rivers support cruise traffic around 12 nations to include Germany, France, Austria, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary among others.

If you love grand vistas, enchanted castles, and historic venues coming to life right in front of your eyes, then you can’t go wrong booking a cruise on these rivers no matter the cruise line.  

  • Avalon Waterways: Excellent value and a wonderful fleet of new ships. (AvalonWatersWays.com)

La Seine River

The Seine is one of the most famous rivers in all the world. It traverses France and offers great sightseeing opportunities around the Paris Basin, the Dijon and Burgundy regions, and Pont de Normandie. Le Seine empties gently into the English Channel English at Le Harve.

  • Adventures By Disney: The Disney ocean cruise experience offers a good transplant for Europe (AdventuresByDisney.com)
  • Paris City Vision: This expert local line has exceptional day and evening cruises (ParisCityVision .com)

La Loire River

France’s longest river has a number of grand chateaus, medieval castles steeped in history, large gardens, and rolling hills populated by venerable vineyards. Take shore excursions at Nates, Normandy, Saint Malo, and the renowned Chateaux region.

For a change of pace, the Loire’s easy topography lends itself to excellent car travel, too. Many tourists enjoy taking the extra time to linger in small enchanted villages, charming shops, and memorable restaurants along its coast.

  • Loire River Cruises” The best in local French river cruise listings (Viator.com)
  • Croisi Europe River Cruises: Great local knowledge and excellent venues (CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com)

La Moselle River

la moselle river as one of the best european river cruise

Image: CC 4.0 by Rolf Krahl (Rotkraut) via Wikimedia Commons

Starting in the Vosges Mountain Range in France, the Moselle floats 340 miles West through Luxembourg and Germany. This magical waterway takes you past historic towns like Epinal, Metz, Grevenmacher, Konz, and Koblenz to name just a few.  The views are beyond epic and will create indelible memories that last forever.

  • Mosel River Cruises: Curates most of the best prices and venues for these trips (MoselRiverCruises.com)

The Douro River

The majestic old river meanders across the Northern Iberian Peninsula, Spain, Portugal and concludes at the Atlantic Ocean. At 550 miles long, the Douro (which means gold in Portuguese) has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It allows cruisers to see close-up views of old cities like Porto, Valladolid, Peso da Requa, and Vila Nova.

These trips also let you sail under some of the old world’s more famous bridges like Dom Luis, Arrabida, and Maria Pia. Of course, the true value of this river cruise is visiting the little towns that populate the bridge landing areas. The food and souvenir venues are unique and affordable.

  • Douro River Cruises: Most experienced staff with deep local expertise. (DouroRiverCruises.com)
  • Manor Houses of Portugal: Offers excellent day cruises and wine tasting tours (ManorHouses.com)

All Set for A River Cruise?

No matter which river cruise you decide to enjoy, you will never forget these excellent adventures. Take lots of notes and pictures. Cherish and remember all the people you meet. Also, keep your documented itineraries close at hand for easy reference.

You are certain to embrace the concept of taking another cruise soon. Real soon.

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