Cruising is one of the most popular modes of travel and can be a cost effective way of visiting multiple destinations in one trip.
2019 saw a record high of nearly 30 million ocean cruise passengers worldwide but then the coronavirus pandemic hit and the global cruise industry suffered as emergency measures were employed to limit the spread of the virus and that year the figure dropped to 5.8 million passengers.
Hopefully, cruising will come back and be safer than ever in the future. There is already strong demand and a surge in bookings for 2022 and 2023 from people who have had ocean cruise trips cancelled or delayed, but more and more people are now considering going on a river cruise.
River cruising was already gaining in popularity since before the pandemic, and has recently become the in-vogue travel trend. Although it doesn’t offer the same experience as a deluxe ocean going cruise ship, over one-third of all river ships have been built within the past 10 years so guests can now choose from contemporary and luxurious vessels from which they can explore some of the world’s most historic towns and cities as they journey along waterways in style and comfort.
The best time of year to take a river cruise in Europe is between March and December, although September is perhaps a good option with cooler weather and fewer crowds than during the summer high-season. Don’t forget Europe’s fabled festive Christmas Markets, with river cruises typically taking place from the end of November up until Christmas Day.
The Danube and the Rhine are amongst the most popular river cruises. The 870-mile stretch of the Rhine is very diverse in its scenery and a Rhine river cruise typically runs from Amsterdam to Basel via Cologne, Koblenz, the Rhine Gorge, Rudesheim, Mannheim and Strasbourg. If cathedrals and castles are on your list of places to visit, a Rhine cruise will offer those in abundance as you stop off at historic cities and medieval towns.
The Danube is the second-longest river in Europe, flowing for a staggering 2,860km through ten countries, from the Black Forest of Germany to the Black Sea of Romania. Most Danube river cruises travel along one section of the river on a round-trip itinerary, often including the spectacular cities of Vienna, Budapest, Munich and Prague, and mooring at various points of interest en route.
Looking to southern Europe, the river Douro is one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula flowing from its source in north-central Spain through Portugal running about 560 miles to its outlet at Porto on the Atlantic Ocean. Wind your way past verdant hillsides and ripe vineyards and maybe you will get the change to go ashore for some wine or port tasting. Opt for one of the companies that takes you to historic Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and visit the oldest university in Spain.
The three most popular river cruise regions in Asia are the Yangtze in China, the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia, and the Irrawaddy in Myanmar. The Mekong River covers a distance of nearly 5,000 km from its source on the Tibetan Plateau in China to the Mekong Delta, flowing through six countries: China, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam. If you’ve always wanted to visit the ruined temples of Angkor Wat, taking a river cruise is an easy way to immerse yourself in the ancient history and culture of Cambodia.
Which river comes foremost to mind when thinking about Africa? The same one that obviously conjures up images of a famous Belgian detective investigating murders amongst a group of travellers as they cruise along the Nile. Most cruises travel between Luxor and Aswan and include stops with guided tours of temples and museums.
Russia has become more accessible than ever and you can explore the country by taking a journey along the Volga River from the Imperial capital and cultural city of St Petersburg to Moscow, the heart of which lies in Red Square which contains St. Basil’s Cathedral. River cruises start in early May and finish by the end of October, with high season being June (known as White Nights because of the near-endless daylight), July and August.
Discover the colour and diversity of India’s fascinating historical heritage with a river cruise along the sacred Ganges, the thirty-fourth longest river in the world at 2, 620km, flowing down through the Himalayas to form the Gangetic Plain of North India eventually discharging into the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh.
River cruises offer an alternative to ocean cruising with one of the benefits being that the smaller vessels are allowed to navigate through small waterways and dock in the heart of cities and towns, very near or right at the destination of the day, with no sea days like on a big ocean cruise ship. A smaller ship lends itself to an overall quieter and more relaxed atmosphere and you will have more of a chance to get to know your fellow passengers. If you are lucky you will be travelling on a hand-crafted, luxury, vessel with bespoke details beyond your wildest dreams. Lastly, there will always be something interesting to see on either side of the river.
Maybe you will find that river cruising floats your boat!