River cruisers and barges are evolving in such ways that it’s hard to imagine that anyone could be ill-suited for them. And with more than a hundred vessels in operation, the on-board ambience spans such a range that there are ships to suit most travel preferences and lifestyles.
Some vessels emphasize elegance; others emphasize a relaxed on-board (read: casual) lifestyle. Travelers can find river cruisers that rival Europe’s finest boutique hotels at one end of the spectrum while at the other, it’s possible to cruise Europe’s rivers much like an independent traveler who opts for basic accommodations and dining.
Still, river cruising is not for everyone. Non-smokers, in particular, beware. On some vessels smoking is allowed in public areas. And while smoking may be restricted to a particular area, such as to one section of the lounge, sensitive travelers still may be offended. Be sure to ask whether smoking is permitted on the ship — and if so, where. If smoking is permitted in the lounge, the social hub on many ships, you may want to consider looking at other river cruise companies or consider other forms of vacation.
Families traveling with infants or with small children may find river cruising to be less than ideal when compared to other forms of cruise travel. While ocean-going ships often have baby-sitting services and children’s programs, river cruisers typically do not. That said, barges are popular options for families, as the smaller vessels typically carry family-sized loads — from six to 24 passengers.
The physically challenged will want to look for vessels with easy access from ship to shore and elevators; not all river vessels feature them.
If you’re the type who dreads the thought of dining with others each evening, then river cruising may not be for you. Few, if any, river vessels offer room service, and even fewer offer alternative dining venues as on the big ships.
That said, some ships now feature tables for two. Also, you can choose to use the vessel only as a floating hotel, skipping the dinners on board and dining ashore instead.
Those who want to thoroughly absorb the cultural milieu of European cities may find river vessels restricting. After all, the vessels do have schedules to keep. If you’re occasionally spontaneous and could envision yourself wanting to stay a few unplanned extra nights in a city, you may find your ship sailing without you.
If you’re accustomed to ocean cruising and require all of the big-ship trappings, then you may find river cruising a bit boring. River cruisers are smaller and feature fewer facilities. Entertainment is on a much smaller scale, if it exists at all, on river cruisers. Shows may consist of nothing more than crew talent performances.
Single travelers often will pay higher fares if they choose to occupy a double cabin alone, unlike at hotels.
For the majority of people, however, river cruising will provide an exceptionally satisfying experience.
For Active Travelers
While barging is aimed primarily at small groups of like-minded people (often friends or families), increasingly river cruisers are seeking to appeal a wide range of interests. Some river vessels offer theme cruises, such as gardening, golf and history. Other river cruisers carry bicycles on board so that active travelers may cycle once ashore.