If all you’ve experienced are ocean cruises aboard massive ships, a small-boat cruise down a river will likely be a pleasant surprise. River cruises are known for being more laidback and offering longer, more leisurely shore excursions, resulting in a more intimate experience. River cruises can also access places a larger ocean liner can’t go and typically avoid overcrowded ports, thereby creating a more personalized experience.
It’s for these reasons that riverboat tours are becoming a more popular way to discover a new country. From the quirky charms of Eastern Europe to the untamed Amazon Jungle, check out our top 5 river cruises for 2019:
Portugal’s River of Gold, Viking River Cruises
If Portugal has been on your bucket list for a while, consider Viking River Cruises and its 10-day River of Gold Tour, offering a slow-paced cruise that hits all the highlights. The tour begins in Lisbon, where two leisurely days are spent admiring the capital city’s architecture and learning about the multi-cultural history in the city’s Alfama District. Then it’s overland to Porto for exploration of the historic city center and a visit to a Port wine-making facility. The cruise gets underway on day five along the Douro River. In the second half of the trip, you’ll visit the extraordinary Mateus Palace in Regua and wind through the dramatic rock formations before arriving in Barca D’Alva to tour one of its ancient parishes. Cross over to Salamanca, Spain, and feast your eyes on the bustling cosmopolitan that seamlessly blends its Old World architecture with heavy-handed modern touches. After this, it’s time to head back into Portugal and hit the village vineyards of Pinhao on your way back to Porto.
The Legendary Danube 2019, Avalon Waterways
This 10-day tour crosses four countries and visits over 10 destinations all while cruising Europe’s iconic Danube River in a luxuriously equipped vessel. The adventure starts in Prague where you’ll enjoy a guided city walk interspersed with views of the city’s famously charming architecture, market shopping and traditional Czech cuisine. Next, you’ll cruise through Germany where Nuremberg and Regensburg’s gothic cathedrals and medieval architecture await. Naturally, you won’t leave Germany without a hosted beer tasting night onboard. You’ll then cross into Austria and make three stops in Passau, Melk and Vienna. Enjoy countryside treks, stunning frescoes, bohemian towns and a classic Royal Waltz. The final stop is Budapest, Hungary, a lively city famed for its thermal baths, scenic rolling hills and happening nightlife.
Highlights of the Mississippi, American Cruise Lines
The mighty Mississippi is one of the longest rivers in the U.S. and there’s no better way to discover its historic shores than via an authentic paddle wheeler riverboat. The Highlights of the Mississippi is a short but sweet journey that starts and ends in New Orleans. An attraction in itself, the Big Easy should be explored prior to boarding the 185-passenger boat. This cruise line fully understands that and includes in the package a one-night hotel stay in New Orleans. This allows you to discover the city at your leisure the day before your cruise. Then, the cruise begins. From New Orleans, you’ll cruise to Houmas House in Louisiana for a guided tour around the sprawling plantation’s gardens and 16 exquisite rooms. The riverboat then snakes its way up to Baton Rouge, the state’s capital, where tours of the Old State Capital and a World War II destroyer take place. The last stop before turning back to New Orleans is Oak Valley. Strolling around the Oak Valley Plantation is like stepping back in time. The 19-century southern antebellum mansion boasts a variety of stand-out features, but the show-stealer is definitely the .25 mile walkway canopied by 300-year-old oak trees.
The Peruvian Amazon, Aqua Expeditions
This company offers a 3, 4, or 7-night tour through the Peruvian Amazon aboard the recently revamped Aria Amazon. With floor-to-ceiling glass windows, an indoor and outdoor lounge and an observation deck, this ship was designed to ensure passengers don’t miss a thing. Set off from Iquitos, Peru, via air-conditioned transport to your first stop in Nauta. The adventure starts here with a skiff tour of the Amazon before boarding the cruise boat. The following days are spent discovering the backwaters of the Amazon via small, skiff-guided tours in search of wildlife — specifically the area’s famous pink dolphins. You’ll also trek deep into the dense Amazonian jungle and have the opportunity to engage in some spectacular stargazing. On the final day of the tour, trekking or kayaking trips are offered in addition to visiting a remote Amazonian village. The journey wraps back at the starting point in Iquitos.
Riches of the Mekong (Vietnam & Cambodia), Ama Waterways
This 7-day cruise presents an authentic cruise through rural Cambodia and southern Vietnam. The tour begins with overland transfer from Siem Reap to the Kampong Cham Province. Discover authentic villages composed of hundreds of wooden homes stilted over the Mekong and respectfully observe the traditional lifestyle adhered to by its residents. Cruising onward toward Oknhatey (better known as Silk Island), you’ll have the chance to witness the traditional craft of silk weaving. During days three and fourm you'll find yourself in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, where you’ll visit the Killing Fields, watch a Buddhist Blessing Ceremony and experience a tuk tuk tour of the city. Day five is spent almost entirely on the Mekong as you make the border cross into Vietnam, where you’ll visit mat weaving workshops and several local markets. The cruise concludes in Ho Chi Minh. It’s recommended you spend a few days visiting this city’s fascinating museums and the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels.