If you’ve been considering jumping on board with the idea of a river cruise, rest assured you’re in good company. The humble cruise has been experiencing something of a resurgence in popularity over the past few years with the market significantly expanding and offering an increasing array of affordable options to ever-more adventurous travellers.
In fact, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the number of passengers carried by the cruise industry has been growing steadily year-on-year and is predicted to top 24 million by 2018. There’s no doubt about it, cruise is very on-trend right now in the travel world and whether it’s a family cruise, luxury cruise or themed cruise that appeals, you’re bound to find an option that suits you.
However, one of the break-out stars of the cruise world has to be the river cruise, a holiday that has captured the imaginations of a record number of UK travellers recently - 150,300 last year to be exact and a 10,000 passenger increase on the year before.
So, what’s all the fuss about?
A river cruise is the perfect choice for those that prefer to avoid the rolling waves of the ocean and meander slowly along through some of the most spellbinding scenery the world has to offer. Instead of wide expanses of blue sea to look at for long periods of time on your trip, you can expect beautiful countryside and bustling port towns to be in constant view at eye-level.
Another plus-point of the river cruise is that the ships are smaller than ocean liners. This creates an intimate atmosphere for guests and also allows the boat to access smaller waterways and thoroughly explore a region.
There are a number of enchanting river cruises to choose from that wend their serpentine way through Western Europe. Francophiles in particular are spoiled for choice. Choose from routes which follow the Dordogne or Garonne, soaking up fertile farmlands and fine vineyards and ending with a stop in UNESCO-listed Bordeaux; enjoy fine dining as you pass through Lyon and down to the sea with a trip along the Rhône; or soak up the sights of Paris with a cruise on the Seine. Those that prefer life in the slow lane might prefer to journey along France’s longest river - the Loire is a popular spot for barge cruising.
Alternatively, another highlight of this region is Holland’s ‘Venice of the North’. The River Amstel runs straight through the heart of Amsterdam and connects to the River Rhine, offering passengers the chance to disembark and explore the many museums and art galleries the city has to offer.
If quaint medieval towns, imposing castles and majestic cathedrals sound attractive, a cruise through central and eastern Europe might just tick all your boxes. Effortlessly combining fascinating history with rich natural scenery, choose a cruise along the Danube and you could well take in up to 10 countries, including Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Another popular route is the River Elbe, the second-longest river in Germany that runs through the Czech Republic and the achingly beautiful Sandstone Mountains.
A cruise on the Nile, one of the world’s most famous rivers, is an experience you’ll never forget. As you sail along the glittering waters, expect rural scenes of children playing and grazing cattle that have remained unchanged for thousands of years change in the blink of an eye to crowded cities, bustling with the hustle of humanity. Look out for ancient ruins and temples as you meander through the valley, passing through narrow gaps between looming limestone cliffs and floating serenely beneath swooping falcons and herons.
If your heart is set on a North American cruise, you have choice of two options. The first is the Mississippi route, ideal for exploring jewels of the Deep South such as New Orleans and Memphis. The second is the Pacific Northwest where the Columbia and its main tributaries, the Snake and the Willamette, ship passengers through a world rich in Native American culture, past wagon tracks left by pioneers, and through deep gorges and canyons that will take your breath away.
River cruise highlights of this magical part of the world include the Mekong Delta where blood-red sunsets light up the sky and sights such as the ancient temple complex of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat are at your fingertips; the Irrawaddy River that snakes its way through Burma, past the sacred hills of Sagaing with its spiritual shrines and pagodas whilst water buffalo wallow in the shallows; and the Yangtze route which takes in the Three Gorges Dam and epic landscapes of verdant hills shrouded in mist.
Ready to book your river cruise tickets yet? As you prepare for the trip of a lifetime, don’t forget to book the right travel insurance for your journey. Medical Travel Compared offers a comparison tool that helps you locate the best cover for your money. Making planning that holiday that little bit easier.