The river cruise market has exploded over the last decade or so. New companies, new boats and certainly new routes have been added around the world. While a majority of the most popular cruises take place on some of Europe’s most iconic rivers, taking an overnight river cruise in Asia, South America or the United States is also possible. If you’re contemplating a river cruise, here are five river cruise lines you should know about.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
You may not be familiar with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, but you should be. Uniworld has received prestigious awards, included being voted the number one river cruise by Travel + Leisure readers. Older ships have undergone major refurbishment to become “super ships,” complete with lush suites and a bevy of onboard amenities. T+L readers love the experience of being in a “5-star floating hotel” and praise the carefully selected excursions available in each destination.
Uniworld offers a large number of itineraries, including some unexpected destinations like Russia, India, Egypt and China. Uniworld also offers themed cruises and even has a ship designed for millennial travelers looking for a younger, more hip river cruise experience.
Viking River Cruises
If you’re new to river cruising, Viking River Cruises takes the top spot for first-time cruisers as well as best itineraries in Cruise Critic’s 2018 Editor's Awards. This is due in part to its large fleet and lots of included amenities, like wine or beer with meals, a shore excursion at every port, free Wi-Fi, alternative terrace dining and more.
Viking River Cruises was founded in 1997 and has approximately 70 ships in its fleet, offering a large selection of itineraries in Europe, Asia and even Egypt.
AmaWaterways is a popular river cruise line for active travelers. Look for complimentary bikes onboard, and each port will have excursions involving hikes and bike rides. Between ports, you’ll find plenty of ways to stay fit as well, including yoga classes. Their newest ship, AmaMagna, is twice the size of other European river ships and includes larger suites and a full-size fitness center and water sports platform.
The founder of AmaWaterways had his sights set on river cruising long before forming the company in 2002. When Europe’s Rhine-Main-Danube Canal was finished in 1992, it sparked his vision for long-distance river cruising. Co-Founder and President Rudi Schreiner put his plan in motion and helped start North American operations for a number of today’s well-known river cruise companies before forming his own luxury river cruise line.
American Queen Steamboat Company
Long-distance river cruising is also an option in the United States, thanks to cruise lines like American Queen Steamboat Company. Its American Queen is the largest steamboat ever built and showcases the opulent lifestyle during the American Victorian era. Don’t worry, though — you aren’t sacrificing any modern amenities here.
Cruises with American Queen Steamboat Company often include a deluxe hotel stay prior to your cruise, fine dining and plenty of onboard enrichment and entertainment. Choose from itineraries on the Upper or Lower Mississippi Rivers, Tennessee Rivers or even the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Pacific Northwest.
Aqua Expeditions is a smaller, specialty line offering a limited number of luxury river and yacht cruises. River cruises are available along the Mekong or Amazon Rivers. Aqua Expedition’s focus is on expedition cruising in culturally and ecologically significant destinations. Expect small-group excursions with a strong focus on conservation and sustainability. There are currently three river cruise vessels in their fleet, with a fourth setting sail on the Amazon in 2020. Aqua Expeditions has won numerous awards, including a Gold Award in the 2015 Asia Hotel Design Awards for Architecture/New Build for the Aqua Mekong.
Look for several themed itineraries as well, including a founder-hosted expedition with CEO Francesco Galli Zugaro or chef-hosted options on both the Mekong and Amazon rivers. If you’re a solo traveler, Aqua Expeditions has a lower single supplement rate of 25 percent and may run deals waiving the supplement rate on certain itineraries throughout the year.