10 of the Best River Cruises to Book Right Now

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Feb 28, 2018


The world’s greatest waterways deserve only the best river cruises.


Cruise line Tauck

The ship Emerald

Year launched 2006 (refurbished in 2017)

Vital stats 98 passengers, 40 crew

The journey 14-day French Escapade from Monte-Carlo to Paris

Ports of call Arles, Avignon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vienne, Mâcon, Chalon-sur-Saône, Tournus and Lyon

Wining and dining Two restaurants, one bar 

Wellness Massage room, fitness centre, hot tub, guided biking 

The Rhône and Saône rivers meander through some of France’s most celebrated wine regions, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the greatest domaines of Burgundy. But this popular journey aboard the newly renovated Emerald offers much else besides: summer arts and cultural festivals in cities such as Arles and Lyon, evocative Roman ruins, echoes of Van Gogh and Saint-Exupéry, and the exceptional produce of Provence. United States-based Tauck stands out from the cruising crowd for its excellent service, limited passenger numbers and all-inclusive fares (hence the enthusiastic crowds at the bar). Equally appealing are Tauck-exclusive guest experiences such as lunches in lavish châteaux and a daytrip deep into the wilds of the Camargue wetlands. 


Cruise line Crystal

The ship Crystal Bach

Year launched 2017

Vital stats 106 passengers, 68 crew 

The journey 14-day Jewels of the Rhine from Amsterdam to Frankfurt

Ports of call Antwerp, Cologne, Cochem, Koblenz, Kehl and Basel

Wining and dining Two restaurants, one 24-hour self-service café

Wellness Spa, small gym, yoga and fitness classes

At least 20 companies cruise among the World Heritage-listed castles and fortresses of the Rhine Valley but the arrival of upscale cruiser Crystal Bach last year took the experience to new heights of indulgence. Onboard life involves refined dining on local delicacies, such as Dutch sturgeon caviar and Rhine River crayfish, and the all-suite accommodation is crowned by the two-bedroom Crystal Suite. On land, some of Europe’s most charming cities await: Cologne with its incredible cathedral and Roman ruins, Strasbourg for hearty food and fragrant wines, and the assorted delights of Amsterdam. Exceptional shore excursions include helicopter flights over the Swiss Alps and Michelin-starred dinners, while private tours with a car and guide are always an option.


Cruise line Viking River Cruises

The ship Viking Ingvar

Year launched 1988 (refurbished in 2013)

Vital stats 204 passengers, 115 crew

The journey 13-day Waterways of the Tsars from St Petersburg to Moscow

Ports of call Mandrogy, Kizhi, Kuzino, Yaroslavl and Uglich

Wining and dining One restaurant, two bars

Wellness No gym or spa

The monumental splendour of Moscow and St Petersburg are the stars of this show. The itinerary lingers for four days in these cities so you can explore in detail – by stepping inside the Kremlin to see the Tsar Cannon, say, or enjoying an all-day visit to the Hermitage with exclusive access to the vaults where most of the museum’s three million artworks and artefacts are stored. Between cities, Viking Ingvar follows the Volga and crosses two of Europe’s largest lakes, stopping to visit the 14th-century monastery in Kuzino, Kizhi Island’s open-air museum of architecture and history, and a traditional banya (bathhouse) for a sauna and a good birch whipping. Viking, which pioneered Russian river cruising 20 years ago, offers uncommon access to the country, including home visits to take tea with locals.


Cruise line Avalon Waterways

The ship Avalon Luminary

Year launched 2010

Vital stats 138 passengers, 39 crew

The journey Nine-day Active Discovery on the Danube from Budapest to Linz

Ports of call Visegrád, Vienna, Krems an der Donau, Grein and Mauthausen

Wining and dining Three restaurants, one bar 

Wellness Fitness centre, whirlpool 

Launched in 2016, Avalon’s Active Discovery itineraries offer new ways to see old Europe. Besides obvious activities such as waltzing in Vienna, there are guided bike and canoe tours along the Danube and hiking in Hungary’s Danube-Ipoly National Park. The idea is to experience destinations as the locals would, by jogging on Vienna’s Ringstrasse, taking a cooking class or sampling beer and cheese at a Trappist monastery. Comforts on the ship include some of the larger cabins in European river cruising, barbecue meals and a hot tub on the Sky Deck. 


Cruise line Adventure Resorts & Cruises

The ship Mahabaahu

Year launched 2012 

Vital stats 46 passengers, 35 crew

The journey Eight days from Guwahati to Jorhat, India

Ports of call Silghat, Kaziranga National Park and Majuli island

Wining and dining One restaurant, two bars

Wellness Fitness equipment, pool, yoga, massage room, hot tub, steam room, sauna

The wild Brahmaputra is both the setting and the star of this week-long expedition-style cruise. The 23-cabin Mahabaahu was purpose-built to navigate the river’s capricious currents and shifting sands on this fascinating itinerary through the lesser-known Indian state of Assam. Passengers meet tribal minorities, visit temples and ruins, have lunch on a family tea plantation and – the undisputed highlight – spend two days exploring the rare wildlife of Kaziranga National Park by elephant and tender (if you’re exceedingly lucky, you may even catch sight of a tiger on the riverbank). Naturalists accompany the cruise to provide lectures and insights, while staff keep you entertained with sunset cocktails, sandbank barbecues and dawn yoga sessions.


Cruise line Sanctuary Retreats

The ship Sanctuary Ananda

Year launched 2014 

Vital stats 42 passengers, 45 crew

The journey Eight-day round trip from Bagan, Myanmar

Ports of call Mandalay, Sin Kyun and Pakokku

Wining and dining One restaurant, one alfresco dining area, one bar

Wellness L’Occitane spa, gym, pool, yoga and meditation 

Luxury outfit Abercrombie & Kent operates the 21-suite Sanctuary Ananda, a floating hotel with teak and tribal textiles that brings the bygone style of steamers back to Myanmar’s rivers. Explore the ethereal templed plains of Bagan by horse and buggy or hot air balloon before delving into the daily lives of the Burmese at village markets and monasteries and among the gilded pagodas of Mandalay. Life on board is serene and illuminating, with classes in thanaka make-up and longyi etiquette, diverse local cuisine and ample time to take in the passing scenery from your private balcony. The 75-square-metre Owner’s Suite, with its separate living area and large verandah, is one of Asia’s finest river-cruise cabins.


Cruise line Delfin

The ship Delfin I

Year launched 2007 (refurbished in 2009)

Vital stats 8 passengers, 13 crew

The journey Four- and five-day round trip from Iquitos, Peru 

Ports of call Moorings mostly in Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve

Wining and dining One dining room, one lounge bar

Wellness Plunge pools in the Deluxe Suites

More river safari than cruise, this journey on the intimate Delfin I takes you into the heart of the Amazon on skiff excursions that uncover exotic creatures and unimagined human lives. Expect shamans and sloths, bombastic birdlife and humble villagers. Delfin guides, many of them native ribereños (river people), interpret local lifestyles and track down pinktoe tarantulas, howler monkeys and river dolphins. After braving poison dart frogs and anacondas, you can reflect on your good fortune over Pisco Sours and Peruvian cuisine spiked with Amazonian ingredients. Cabins are spacious and lovely; each of the four has a broad balcony and two have plunge pools. You can also take a (supervised) dip in the Amazon – mind the piranhas.


Cruise line Zambezi Queen Collection

The ship Zambezi Queen

Year launched 2009

Vital stats 30 passengers, 25 crew (plus guides)

The journey Three- or four-day round trip from Kasane, Botswana

Ports of call Chenku and Leguva

Wining and dining One dining room, one lounge bar

Wellness Plunge pool

Near the borders of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Zambezi Queen traces a gentle route 25 kilometres along the Chobe River, a tributary of the Zambezi. The drawcards are the birdlife, fishing charters and village visits. There’s an optional 4WD game drive in Chobe National Park, home to an estimated 120,000 elephants, as well as lions and leopards. The dry winter months of May to August promise the best riverbank wildlife viewing, while the fishing (catch and release only) is great all year round. Small boats transport you to the action. The ship’s generator shuts off nightly at 10pm, after which it’s just you and the sounds of the African wilderness. Magic.

St Johns  

Cruise line American Cruise Lines

The ship American Star

Year launched 2007

Vital stats 100 passengers, 33 crew

The journey Eight-day Great Rivers of Florida round trip from Jacksonville

Ports of call Palatka, Green Cove Springs, St Augustine and Amelia Island

Wining and dining One dining room, one bar

Wellness Exercise equipment 

Florida’s longest river winds through a region of wetlands and lakes brimming with wildlife and colonial charm. From Jacksonville, the state’s largest city, this American-built and -crewed cruiser heads to Lake George on the border of Ocala National Forest, a habitat of alligators and bald eagles. Visit Blue Spring State Park for close encounters with endangered West Indian manatees and explore the marshlands of Georgia’s Cumberland Island wilderness. Expert guides lead tours through historic towns – including St Augustine, the United States’ oldest surviving European settlement, founded in 1565 – by foot, carriage and tram. On board, American Star has some of the largest staterooms of any cruise ship, most with balconies to maximise the views. 


Cruise line UnCruise Adventures 

The ship Legacy

Year launched 1983 (refurbished in 2013)

Vital stats 86 passengers, 34-35 crew

The journey Eight-day Rivers of Wine round trip from Portland, Oregon

Ports of call Hood River, The Dalles, Richland and Palouse Falls 

Wining and dining One dining room, three bars

Wellness Two massage rooms, two hot tubs, sauna, watercraft (kayaks, paddleboards, inflatable skiffs), fitness equipment, yoga

From the cantilevered Bridge of the Gods to the Native American burial site of the Blalock Islands, this is a route rich in history and natural beauty. It’s also an itinerary with a killer wine list, thanks to the vineyards of Washington and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. You’re accompanied by a sommelier and guest wine expert on this Columbia River cruise that includes visits to cellar doors in Red Mountain wine country and the Willamette Valley. The Legacy is a replica coastal steamer with 21st-century comforts such as hot tubs and massage rooms. Dinners feature local produce and wine-paired plates, while Legacy’s three open bars satisfy even the thirstiest cruisers. 

Top image: Crystal/Crystal Bach

SEE ALSO: The 10 Best Mediterranean Cruises