The concept of cruise vacations elicits passionate debate and a wide range of opinions. People either love or hate the cruise. Detractors compare them to amusement parks; mere fabrications of a vacation and far from authentic. Others swear by the cruise, appreciate the all-inclusive nature of the experience and ability to kick back and do virtually zilch for the duration of the trip.
A good compromise between a traditional Caribbean-type cruise on a massive ocean liner with every possible amenity and way, way too much food and a country expedition that requires another vacation once you return home, is a river excursion. River cruises offer a level of intimacy, not to mention scenery, simply unavailable at sea or on the ocean. They provide a quasi-eco-tourism angle to a trip, albeit from a comfortable, watery distance and the ports of call are far more diverse and rich in terms of culture and history.
From Asia to Europe, Africa to South America, here are 10 of the Best River Cruises in the World.
The history of the Mississippi River in many aspects, mirrors the history of America. From Hernando de Soto’s first brush with the river in 1541 to the French explorers Joliet and Marquette and their navigation of the river with Sioux guides over a century later, the Mississippi has always been a focal point in the development of the country. The river was a vital cog in the slave trade – as a means of transport and escape – and before the advent of trains and motor vehicles, steamboat commerce on the Mississippi was one of the main engines of the U.S. economy. The river has also had a star turn in American literature, most notably in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
A Mississippi River cruise is one of the best ways to enjoy the romance and lore of America’s Old South. Most excursions pass through such notable and historic stops as New Orleans, where one can sample authentic Cajun cuisine and jazz, St. Louis and Nashville, otherwise known as Music City.
China conjures much trepidation among potential travelers. With a massive population and recent development of mainstream tourism, the country is complex, big and scary for many. These impressions fade upon first visit however, especially on a ride down the mythical Yangtze. A cruise on the third-longest river in the world offers a vast array of sights and attractions at stress levels far below Beijing or Shanghai street traffic. To amble down the Yangtze is to trace the development of China and indeed, a crucial piece of human civilization.
From ancient treasures that include the Great Wall and Imperial palaces and temples, as well as modern wonders like the controversial Three Gorges Dam and major city stops such as Wuhan, Wuhu and Nanjing, the river has a myriad of choices on tap.
Discover great Shanghai hotel deals and explore the city before you set out on the Yangtze.
The second-longest river in Europe is perhaps the most romanticized waterway in the world. Long a favourite subject in literature, music and folklore, the Danube snakes through some of the most beautiful natural scenery on the continent. Some of the most ancient townships and settlements in Europe dot the river’s shores, as it meanders through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania and the Ukraine. For medieval architecture, vineyards and pristine valley landscapes, a cruise along the Danube has to be to best method to discover Europe.
The highlights are too numerous to mention. From historic Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and Belgrade, to the Iron Gates, a gorge between Serbia and Romania, as well as countless Basilicas, Cathedrals and monastic structures, the Danube River is a phenomenal experience.
The hallmark of the Douro River is charm. Intimate, cozy and leisurely, a cruise along the Douro is a fabulous way to enjoy Portugal’s beauty. A major river within the Iberian Peninsula, the most accessible areas of the Douro lie within the borders of Portugal. The river system boasts a unique mini-climate where olive, almond, wheat and grape cultivation is plentiful, as are sheep farms. Though towns are sparse along the Douro, the river is has a picturesque, idyllic quality, even if it cannot compete in terms of size and abundance of historic sites with other European rivers.
The city of Porto is the best reason to cruise on the Douro. A real gem, Porto has none of the pretension of Lisbon but all of the charm and more. The city is of course, world famous for the production of Port wine and a Douro cruise will normally feature extensive tours of some of the best houses. A foray into the historic city is an absolute must as well.
With so much to see in Central Europe, a ride down the Oder River affords a complete experience that combines some of the best of Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. If hidden gems are what you live for, explore the Oder. With a trade history that harkens back over a thousand years, there is a surfeit of little towns to explore and document. Part of one of the least understood areas of Europe, the Oder landscape is a wonder to discover.
The Old World settlements along the shores in Poland and Germany in particular are simply remarkable and not available in traditional, mainstream tourism. In addition to cultural landmarks and national parks, a cruise on the Oder is sheer delight. From Hanseatic towns in northern Germany to pristine Szcsecin and old Wroclaw in Poland, as well as the Bay of Pomerania and Baltic Sea region, the Oder hits all the right spots in Central Europe.
Get the best bang for your buck in exquisite and affordable Poland.
Our look at awesome river cruises rolls along with a stellar top 5 …