What Is A European River Cruise and Is It Right For You?

Thinking of taking a cruise & can’t decided: ocean cruise or a river cruise? Not sure what is a European river cruise? Read this moms personal opinion

European River Cruise: is it right for you?

Have you ever heard of a “River Cruise?

What about a “European River Cruise”?

Neither had I until recently.   

If you are thinking about taking a river cruise or you are not sure if it’s right for you, you should read this. Especially if you have kids!

First let me say that I have not taken a river cruise and I don’t know if I will take one any time soon.

More on that later.

The Ocean Cruise I Thought I Would Hate!

For my birthday in 2012, my husband Blake asked me what I wanted to do.

I said “lets go on a one of those Mediterranean cruise aboard those HUGE multi-deck ocean liners.”

To my surprise he said “YES”.

It was my first cruise and to be honest, I was convinced I would  hate it. So why did I choose to go on a cruise in the first place if I thought I would hate it? Simple, for the kids and our sanity.

As a parent, sometimes we make sacrifices for the greater good.

Between the nightly on-board live entertainment, swimming pool slides and all you can eat buffets, I knew the kids would have a great time which meant that Blake and I would NOT be dealing with whiny unhappy kids.
Besides, we were living in the Mediterranean and everyone raved about taking a cruise.

Let me tell you, I was wrong about hating the cruise! We all had a blast!

 I LOVED our Mediterranean ocean cruise

In rome: one of our 5 stops on our Mediterranean cruise

Our Mediterranean ocean cruise was literally like being on a floating luxury hotel with nightly entertainment, music, dancing, 4 course diners, a casino, a gym, swimming pools, activities for kids and more.

I liked it so much, I thought maybe we should take another one this year.

I thought If I liked an ocean cruise, I might like a river cruise too!

So I started doing a little research and came across something I had never heard of. “A River Cruises”. More specifically, since we are in Europe, “A European river cruises.”

Photo of river-Barones: River cruises usually stay by land at all times. So you get a great scenic view.

I quickly discovered that although I like the idea of a river cruise, it might not be for everyone especially if you have kids..  

Before I tell you why, let me first explain what is a river cruise.

What is a European River Cruise?

A European river cruise is voyage aboard a boat inland along rivers and waterways which makes frequent stops at multiple ports, allowing you to experience local life more intimately.

Is A River Cruise Right For Me?

The answer is it depends.

Below, I’ll list out the major differences I found between the more popular ocean cruise and river cruise.

What’s the difference between an Ocean Cruise and River Cruise?

Here’s what you get on a river cruise!

  • More excursions: You’re constantly near water which means you have more opportunities for shore excursions.
  • Spectacular and relaxing scenery: During river cruises, you are usually sailing by land so while sailing you can get a view of the scenery as you sail by.
  • Travel off the beaten path where cruise ships cannot go: Because river ships are small in size, they can go to out of the way places and cities where a big ocean cruise ship cannot.
  • Small town access: Again because of the small size of river ships, you can visit small towns that would be inaccessible to visit via a big ocean ship. Remember, many cities were built around rivers so there are plenty of docks in the centre of cities and towns to stop at.
  • More intimate: Cruise ships typically have around 2,300 passengers where  river cruises typically have between 75 to 200 passengers. This small number of passengers makes it more conducive to meeting and getting to know other people and maybe make lifelong friends even.
  • Duration: River cruises typically last between 5 to 15 days but it’s not uncommon to take one that lasts for 3 weeks or more.
  • Average passenger is older: The average age is going to be well above 50 and even 60 years old.
  • Fewer or no families with kids: Because river cruises typically cater to an older crowd, there will be little to nothing for families. All the entertainment, excursions and even food will be mainly aimed at pleasing adults.
  • Lower Key Entertainment: Don’t expect fancy or exciting shows like you get on ocean cruises. Often, the shows are by local people from the region you are visiting. Sometimes there are no shows or just a piano player.
  • No casino on board.
  • All inclusive: Many river cruises include guided tours at each port of call unlike ocean cruises where a guided tour can cost extra and can be quite expensive too.
  • Alcohol included: you are more likely to have alcohol and beverages included in the price of your ticket whereas on an ocean cruise you pay extra.
  • Themed Cruises: Some river cruises offer themes dedicated to one topic. For instance, a France river cruise might focus on paintings or Jewish heritage.

If you do decide to take a river cruise!

france river cruise

What To Look For or Ask?

Does your boat speak English?

  • If you are doing a European river cruise or a river cruise starting in another country,  check to see what the primary language on board will be.
  • Internet Access

Will your boat have free or paid Internet access? Many offer it free as part of the package but you should check.

Should you take the family and kids on a European River Cruise?

As I mentioned before, there will be little to nothing for families in terms of entertainment, excursions and even food. I’ve been told that kids might find river cruises boring. Other reasons why it might not be a good idea to take a river cruise if you have kids are listed below.

-Not enough beds in one room for a family:  Most river cruise ships have double occupancy only. You might have a hard time finding a ship that has a room for 3 or more people. Not so good if you have little ones or want to stay in the same room.

-No children friendly food: If your kids are picky or prefer to eat nuggets and pizza than a river boat cruise probably won’t work since the food is mainly geared towards adults.

-Can your kids handle cultural things: If your kids like to do 3 hour walking tours with lots of historic facts, touring historical site, cathedrals and museums than they should be fine. Otherwise, can you handle the blow back  from tired unhappy kids?

Even my kids who are world travellers can’t handle more than a few days at this slow pace before they go stir crazy to do something where they can jump, scream, splash or just be a kid.

-Is their a high chair on board?

-You might get scowls: Are your kids loud and do they like to run around annoying people?

Many older people choose river cruises because of the fact that there are few to no children running around. If you’re kids are the annoying loud type then expect sneers.

Minimum age: There may be a minimum age for the river boat tour.


-In short, European river cruises or any river cruise for that matter would be great if you wanted a low key trip AND you are interested in learning about the area you are cruising in.

-If are looking for more entertainment like the ocean cruise I took, you want more luxury and more amenities for the family then you should stick to ocean liners.

Will I take a river cruise?

As for me, I don’t think I’ll be going on a river cruise for a while. Maybe once the kids are little older but for now, I think I’ll stick with the ocean cruises. It’s just more family friendly.

Question: Had you heard of a river cruise before? would you take one? Leave your comments below. And please share this on Facebook. it helps drive traffic to this site.


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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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