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

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  

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

I said, “Let’s go on one of those Mediterranean cruises 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 a cruise 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, , 4-course diners, swimming pool, all-you-can-eat buffets, and daily excursions, I knew the kids would have a great time, which meant that Blake and I would NOT be dealing with unhappy kids.

I was right; we all had a great time. 

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


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 cruise.”

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 a 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 a 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, whereas 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 making lifelong friends.
  • 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, then a riverboat 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 historical facts, touring historical sites, cathedrals and museums, then they should be fine. Otherwise, can you handle the blowback 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 there 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 riverboat 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, and you want more luxury and 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 a little older, but for now, I think I’ll stick with the ocean cruises because I think that they are more family-friendly.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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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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