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River Cruising: your luxurious sailing adventure awaits

River cruising has changed substantially over the last 20-plus years. For many years it connoted small, narrow ships with single berths attached to the walls; rich, overcooked food served in dark, smoky dining rooms and brusque staff who spoke limited English. But, thank goodness, things have changed—a lot.

The ships that glide through European rivers today feature plush hotel-style beds with luxury linens, cabins with outstanding views and amenities, high-speed internet access, and chefs creating meals that rival the best European restaurants. The ships are staffed by friendly, knowledgeable, and English-speaking crews whose primarily goal is to ensure their guests are provided complete comfort and enjoyment. What's not to love about that?

For travelers who want to see European capitals in style, unpack just once, and experience a variety of cultures, historical perspectives, and experiences, river cruising is a perfect fit. Thanks to a multitude of cruise lines offering an unlimited variety of styles, itineraries, and price points, there is pretty much something for everyone.

Whether you prefer a small ship (under 50 people) or a larger one (150+ people), a short itinerary on just one river or a full European transit from Amsterdam to Bucharest; a general cultural tour or one focused on a special subject (history, food and wine, art and more), all are currently being offered. The trick is to find the right one for you.

Since many major cities developed directly next to rivers for reasons of fortification, travel, and commerce, there is much to see and do in nearby ports. And when there is a distance to historical sites, modern luxury coaches with skilled local drivers and expert guides provide wonderful days of discovery.

River ships are more like barges than ships—they are as wide as possible (to still fit through the many European locks they must transit)—and very long. Because they do not need to deal with open water and waves, they are flat and set up much like a hotel. Lower cabins can be partially below the waterline, but feature large picture windows at water level for natural light and varied views. Higher decks feature cabins with large floor-to-ceiling windows that can open or even fold back to create a panoramic, open-air wall. Cabins feature all the amenities of a high-end hotel, with spacious bathrooms, full showers, and deluxe finishes. Ship designs often include bright, airy lounge areas, fabulous dining accommodations, and upper deck outdoor seating with non-stop breathtaking views. Many even have elevators and hot tubs. Like I said, what's not to love!

Some things to remember when choosing a cruise:

  • Choose a cruise line and a ship that reflects your style of travel and activity level. Some programs are structured with a high level of activity options, while others are more relaxed. Some cruise lines offer bicycles and hiking options, and may have vigorous shore excursions, while others offer short coach-based day trips.

  • Understand the challenges of sailing European rivers. Many rivers, especially the Main and Danube, have water levels that fluctuate greatly depending on rainfall. Heavy spring (or summer) rainfall means water levels rise and ships cannot fit under the low bridges they must deal with all along the rivers. Too little rainfall means the rivers may be too shallow to sail. The locks on these rivers may also be affected, making transit impossible. Find out how the cruise company you are interested in handles these challenges and what could affect your particular trip.

  • And you'll want to ask yourself the following:

  • Are you looking to visit the most popular sights or out-of-the-way towns? With literally hundreds of ships on the major European rivers, things can get a bit crowded in some popular destinations, with ships tying up two and three abreast in some areas. The trick is to choose an itinerary, and a time of the season that fits the experience you are looking for.

  • Are you looking for a program geared to Americans, or Europeans or both? Do you want to travel in a small alumni group of a larger international one?

  • What type of program are you seeking? Themed cruises are becoming popular—with itineraries that explore the food and wine of a region, or celebrate a historical or cultural anniversary.

  • River cruising means traveling on a 5-star hotel that floats gently down the river, so you wake to new sights, sounds and adventures each morning. It's an unforgettable way to see the world!

    Visit the links below to read more about the river cruises offered by Orbridge.

    Jewish Heritage by River Ship

    The Rhine by River Ship

    WWI History by River Ship