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

tags: cruise, europe

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.


Photo of Annie André: www.AnnieAndre.com

Annie André

About the author 

I’m A Bilingual North American With Thai And French Canadian Roots Who's Been Living In The South Of France For Over 10 Years. I Love Writing Weird, Wonderful, Interesting, Forgotten, And Fascinating Articles For Intellectually Curious People Amazed By France, French Culture, And World Travel.

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  1. Hi Annie
    We had a cruise through the French canals but a bit different from yours and saw some of thes river cruise boats up and personal on the river Rhine. We took our boat from cal’s is through to the med it took us 6 weeks and we did 280 locks . I would recommend an inland river cruise to anyone.

    Great post lee

    1. Hi Lee,
      6 weeks and 280 LOCKS?? that is out of this world. I would love to do that. My biggest complaint about my cruise was that it was too short and we stayed in each port for to short of a time. Maybe our next one will be for six weeks too. I wish.

  2. That’s a really helpful set of questions to ask yourself about whether river cruising is for you. Glad you had a great time with the kids on the ocean cruise. There are some brilliant facilities on board and it gives you opportunities to cram lots of new experiences into a short trip.

    1. You’re so right Bernie in that you can cram lots of new experiences into a short trip. The only thing I did not like about the ocean cruise was that we did not spend enough time in each port. we only had a few hours and wasn’t long enough to really get to see the culture and the sites properly. Just as well, with three kids in tow.

  3. Hi Annie,
    wow! this is really great, Having a relaxing day with a beautiful environment will get my stress away and in addition with this is most
    statistics says that we will spend almost our entire adult life working. It is normal for workers like us to feel tired or bored with our daily schedules. That is why it is essential to relax and revitalize every now and then, otherwise stress could start dragging your body down the drain. thank you and Have a Great one!

    1. That’s so true what you say about the importance of relaxing to revitalize every now and then. A cruise is a perfect way to do that too.

  4. I haven’t done any cruises before so I don’t know much about them. Although I think I’ve only heard of ocean cruises so this all brand new to me. River cruises sounds similar with casinos, swimming pools and entertainment, but from what you’ve said it seems like there are more opportunities to get off the boat and in more out of the way places too.

    I would probably do it just to give it a shot. You said you had a great time even though you thought you would hate it. That’s the way I look at them. I think that I would hate them, but in reality I might have a great time. Who knows unless I try, right?

    1. hI STEVE, i havn’t been on a river cruise and don’t think i wil go on one until the kids are gone from the nest. Apparently it’s more geared for people over 60 and not for families.

      I don’t think river cruises have casinos and swimming pools though. Its more laid back.

  5. I have never been on a cruise but I keep hearing good things about them. A river cruise sounds like it might be kind of fun, although I have to think long and hard about whether I would take the kids on one or not.

    1. Na, don’t think too hard Jack. Don’t bring the kids to a river cruise. I did a lot of research for cruises and the general consensus was NO GO. I’m glad we went for the ocean cruise. It had something for everyone. The kids were happy so i was happy.

  6. I would love to take another European river cruise – went on one a few years back and really enjoyed myself!!!

    1. that sounds awesome Jessica. I have to admit, i am very curious but i dont dare take one unless i can leave the kids behind. I can see my husband and i taking one alone. I have heard that there are even gourmet river cruises. That’s what I would love to do whre the focus is on food of the region.. mmmm

  7. I can’t believe that the Mediterranean cruise was the first one you’d been on Annie. Such the world traveler I would have thought you’d been on a bunch. I love the large cruises because there is so much to do, I’ve been on three myself.

    Not the river cruise actually sounds pretty cool too. I can see why you guys decided not to take it if it’s not meant for the kids. You definitely want them involved but I like the older age group myself. Okay, only if they’re go getters and don’t want to sit in the chair all day just watching the scenery go by.

    What a cool thing to experience and I’m glad you shared this with us Annie, thanks.


    P.S. I love your photo moving back and forth. That’s too cool… You’re so creative.

    1. I know Adrienne, it’s crazy but it was just too expensive for us to take a cruise with the whole gang. And before kids, It just never occurred to me. Here in europe the cruises are cheaper because we right here and don’t have to do a tranatlantic crossing.

      I woldn’t mind doing a river cruise if it had a theme of maybe food and fine dining but it will have to wait because we only have so much money to spend a year on certain types of trips..
      the swinging photo is a plugin. Cool huh!!!!

  8. Hi Annie

    I’ve not heard of a river cruise no. It sounds interesting for when my wife and I are a little older and want a holiday with a slower pace.

    I’ve not considered an ocean cruise either. I think I would find it quite hard not to be able to get off the boat when I wanted to!

    Still, it sounds like you had similar misgivings and had a great time. Maybe something to consider when the kids are a little older.

    1. Hi Tim,

      I defenitly recommend the mediteranean cruise. We had so so much fun. Every night there was a grande show and then diner. In the day time, we docked and went off the boat to see different places like sicily and rome.
      My two teens absolutely loved it and so did my daughter. It was not at all stressful either which was fantastic.
      If i ever do a river cruise i might do it on a theme boat or look for one that is specifically for families. My kids love culture but come on lets face. kids want to be kids…
      anyways, thanks for stopping by.

  9. That is indeed pretty cool. When I was still in college I had a chance to work on a cruise liner as an animator. We had lots of work to do but the experience and the number of countries we have visited covered all the negative aspects.. Cruise voyage Rocks!!!!!!!

    1. Thats so cool Marta. i always wanted to work on a cruise lner as an animator. and i agree. cruise voyage does Rock!!!

  10. Awesome Annie!

    You surely are a lucky one to have gone on a river cruise, and you need to thank Blake for having thought about all of you and arranging it all up. :)

    Honestly speaking, I’ve just about read about such cruises in books or seen them in movies, though always dream about going on one – someday! However, I guess I would like to go alone with my hubby, but I guess with the kids it must’ve been all the more fun – as is so evident from the lovely pictures here. They must have had a whale of a time I’m sure.

    Thanks for sharing all the information if any of us want to go on one. Have a nice weekend too. :)

  11. Hi Harleena, actually we decided not to take the river cruise with the kids. It seemed to low key with the kids. But the ocean cruise we took last year was amazing.. I would take another one of those for sure. Maybe one day when i’m older and the kids are all gone, i’ll take a river cruise..

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