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River Cruising Offers a Singular Experience

By Linda Tancs

Excluding river cruisers and expedition ships, there are over 40 cruise ships sailing the high seas, yet river cruising is growing at a rate three to four times faster than ocean cruising.  There’s good reason for that.  After all, only on the river can you get up close and personal with the world’s great cities like Paris, Vienna, Budapest and St. Petersburg and their accompanying panoramic views, fairy tale palaces and cobblestoned streets.  River cruising provides you with direct and immediate access to the heart of every destination on the itinerary without excessive waiting time due to the smaller number of passengers on board.  And with approval ratings at or above 95 percent, you may rest assured that your river cruising experience will meet or exceed your expectations.  Let’s explore the highlights of some leading river cruise companies.

Viking River Cruises is known for their Longships, ushering in a new era in river cruising, featuring an open-air lounge at the bow and energy-efficient hybrid engines.  All shore excursions are included.  Join the guided walks and in-depth excursions planned for you at each destination, or set out on your own path.  Your journeys include the tulips and windmills of Amsterdam, a grand tour from Amsterdam to Budapest, the jewels of China and the waterways of the czars.

Movie nights are a big draw on Avalon Waterways, offering popular films themed to each destination.  Boasting the youngest fleet in river cruising, innovation is nothing new to Avalon, a division of the highly reputed Globus family of brands.  Along with three new suite ships in Europe, Avalon offers unforgettable journeys down the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia as well as Egypt’s Nile and Lake Nasser.  Their limited-edition theme cruises offer a unique opportunity to experience a destination from perspectives such as art, music, culinary pursuits and Jewish heritage.  Top selling cruises include the Rhine, Paris and the beaches of Normandy, and the Danube.

Family-owned AMA Waterways promises a premium experience with state-of-the-art ships, luxurious staterooms, gourmet meals and enriching tours.  AMACerto, their largest and most imaginative ship, was inspired by classic luxury yachts and sports a swim-up bar, a glass elevator, and multiple indoor and outdoor dining options.  Their excursions feature a “late risers” option for those who prefer to get a slower start on the day and a “gentle walker” program for those requiring a more leisurely pace.  Some exciting new developments include “Culinary Delights—Bites and Sights,” a guided walking tour addressing Europe from a culinary perspective and the addition of an African safari/cruise combination aboard the Zambezi Queen.

The longest operating river cruise company is Uniworld, the only river cruise line recognized by Zagat for “Top Cabins.”  The exceptional cuisine is also Zagat rated.  A particularly attractive innovation is the addition of multigenerational cruises to Burgundy and Provence as well as Paris and Normandy, with family-friendly dates and pricing.  Uniworld is owned by Travel Corporation (which owns other brands as well like Trafalgar, Brendan, Red Carnation and Insight) and is the only American Express Platinum Preferred river cruise operator.  Be prepared for pampering on this boutique line.

The abundance of international river cruising packages sometimes obscures the fact that the mighty rivers of the United States offer equally compelling tourism opportunities!  For instance, American Cruise Lines specializes in a unique style of small ship cruising along the inland waterways and rivers of the United States.  Fascinating itineraries include the Pacific Northwest, Maine, New England’s islands, the Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay, the historic South, Alaska and the Mississippi.  Similarly, American Queen Steamboat Co. (formerly known as the Great American Steamboat Company) offers cruises along the Upper- and Lower Mississippi as well as the Ohio and Tennessee rivers.  You can also choose from a wealth of themed-cruises, including southern culture, Elvis, and a good old-fashioned hootenanny!

What better way to explore national and international culture than with a casual, relaxed and intimate river cruise!

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