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Cruisin'

Set sail into the new year with a riverboat vacation.

Making its debut in 2019, the American Song is the flagship in a new line of contemporary riverboats from American Cruise Lines and will provide many amenities sure to please even the most discerning travelers today.

Making its debut in 2019, the American Song is the flagship in a new line of contemporary riverboats from American Cruise Lines and will provide many amenities sure to please even the most discerning travelers today.

You may be lured by the more intimate setting; the ability to see quaint villages, big cities, and picturesque landscapes from a different perspective; or the themed experiences offered by many cruise lines, but whatever the reason, you are not alone if you are considering a riverboat cruise in the near future.

River cruising is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry in both the United States and Europe, and for that reason, the main lines are constantly upping their game to attract new patrons. However, be prepared if you are accustomed to ocean cruising because it is a vastly different experience.

First and foremost is the size of the vessel. Riverboats have size limitations to be able to pass through locks and fit under bridges. This means there are fewer people aboard, usually less than 200; there also will be fewer ship activity areas, and cabins may be on the smaller side. Travel expert Wendy Perrin advises travelers to forego a cabin with an outside balcony for one with a “French balcony” if available. This feature allows you to open a glass door for fresh air, sweeping views, and the feel of a balcony without sacrificing space in the cabin. 

Entertainment might consist of live piano music rather than a full variety show or casino, and there are ample opportunities for learning about the scheduled ports of call, which is really the main focus of the trip. Several lines offer on-board lectures and demonstrations that educate and enhance the itinerary. 

Multiple dining options and private dining are generally not available on a riverboat. Most lines have one main dining room with either assigned or open seating to encourage socializing at dinner, and breakfast and lunch are buffet style with open seating. Most cruise companies try to marry the cuisine with the itinerary so that patrons can experience the region with both their eyes and their palates.

And although every cruise line is different, most river cruises promote a more casual dress code, so you won’t be schlepping a tuxedo and gown on the trip, which makes packing a whole lot easier. 

Keep in mind that your cruise is likely a one-way trip—you’ll be leaving out of one port and finishing in another—so your airfare may be a bit more costly. On the flip side, you can tack on days at the beginning and/or the end of a seven-day cruise to take in the sights of the embarking and disembarking locales. 

Choosing the cruise that’s right for you really depends on your budget and itinerary, and you may also want to look at the style of the ships within the line. The popular Viking River Cruises fleet consists of longships, designed to provide ample comfort aboard but sleek enough to dock close in to destinations, saving you precious time for exploring. The Viking longships travel down the Rhine, Danube, and Elbe rivers to name a few.

In the United States, passengers can choose a traditional paddlewheel boat, small coastal cruiser, or American Cruise Lines newest addition, a modern-style riverboat called the American Song. According to the cruise line, the American Song is the first of its kind in U.S. history and will introduce new innovations to American waterways, including soaring glass-enclosed lounges to capture the views, a new suite design with a whopping 900 square feet of space and wraparound balcony, and still an intimate capacity of just 184 passengers. The American Song travels down the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon and Washington, and the similarly styled American Harmony cruises the lower Mississippi river. 

Still not sure which cruise to choose for your first experience? Here are some suggested itineraries that will surely float your boat:

Columbia River

Take in spectacular Oregon scenery, including snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife, and American history, including landmarks from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, plus enjoy regional wines as part of your experience. 

Mississippi River

Although the mighty Mississippi flows for more than 2,300 miles from beginning to end, most of the river cruise offerings travel between St. Paul, Minnesota, and St. Louis, Missouri, and capture the essence of the Deep South, including the distinct architecture, history, and cuisine.

Rhine River Valley

Fairytale castles, fortresses, cliffs, and legends abound on this picturesque and entertaining tour through Germany. Choose from multiple cruise lines to get the ports of call you desire.

Mosel River

With tasting opportunities at nearly every stop, wine lovers will embrace this journey through Germany’s grape-producing region, and the views and history are also at the forefront. 

Danube River

Possibly the most sought after because of the variety of ports of call, a trip down the Danube will offer shorter and longer sailings than the typical seven-day voyage. Shop the cruise lines to find the best fit for your interests and budget.

IF YOU GO:

American Cruise Lines: www.americancruiselines.com

Viking River Cruises: www.vikingrivercruises.com

Uniworld River Cruises: www.uniworld.com