Major cruise lines have been getting plenty of bad press lately, but there is one sector of the cruising world that remains largely unscathed — river cruises. In fact, river cruises have become a booming trend for travelers looking for a different kind of holiday, and there are plenty of destinations, styles, trip lengths, and, of course, cuisines to choose from. But more than that, these trips provide a new perspective from which to see the world and they take advantage of beautiful waterways in cities and countrysides that most people really only walk along.
Take Paris’ Seine, for example. It’s very romantic to bring a picnic to its banks, and walking along it almost inspires breaking into song and dance à la Gene Kelly, but sailing along it gives a whole new, and very close up, view of the City of Light. All this isn’t even to mention how relaxing, low key, and indulgent the best river cruises really are. Cruising is infinitely better when there is little to no fear of choppy waters or, you know, running aground. So we rounded up the cruises that not only sail along some of the world’s most beautiful rivers, but that really focus on all the local food and drink along the way. Here are the five most mouthwatering river cruises to book right now.
There is no lack of reasons to fall completely in love with Portugal. It has beautiful vistas, it’s not nearly as crowded as neighboring Spain, and it offers unforgettable local flavors, from classic pasteis de nata to wines from the Douro Valley. Now, combine all of that into a leisurely 10-day river cruise along the Douro River, starting with a half-day tour of Lisbon (including the charming, winding streets of the Bairro Alto) and a night spent exploring the city’s best eats. Then, once the river cruise begins, it’s all baroque cathedrals, monasteries, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites as the boat makes its way up along the river. The trip includes stops at fishing villages, port wine making facilities (that of course include tastings), and even nights of dinner and dancing on board. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Duarte Antunes)
Another great thing about river cruises is how accessible (and easy to plan) they make more exotic holidays. AmaWaterways, a constantly top-rated river cruise line, hosts three trips in Africa and one grand tour of Russia that focus on natural environments and local cuisines. Spend just more than two weeks exploring southern Africa on trips like the African Sunsets or Stars of Africa, which hit Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Of course, scoping out animals and natural wonders is top priority, but these tours also include stops at wine estates and local restaurants, traditional hosted dinners, and picnics on the beach.
AmaWaterway’s tour of Russia is a 13-day trip along the Volga-Baltic waterways. The itinerary features city tours and trips to local circuses, monasteries, and historic sites, but it’s things like lunch as you sail past the Kremlin, visits to centuries-old farming villages, and samplings of local delicacies along the way that entice us most.
Not only is Tauck listed among the world’s best river cruise lines, but Condé Nast Traveler recently listed the company among the "World’s Best Culinary Tour Specialists." So it should come as no surprise that the itinerary for their Taste of France river cruise has us salivating at our desks. This is a tasting tour of France that starts with all the gourmet pleasures of Paris and ends with indulgent meals in the Rhône Valley and Lyon. The cruise stops along the way at food markets in Avignon and for lunch at a 16th-century farm-turned-hotel in Viviers. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/elizabet.s)
Sailing along the Mekong River showcases the fascinating, colorful, and historic worlds of Vietnam and Cambodia. Pandaw is a river cruise line that specializes in that region of the world (with tours in Burma, Borneo, and the Mekong River) and really puts travelers face-to-face with traditional sights, smells, and tastes. Their Mekong River cruise runs between Saigon and Siem Reap with a day spent in Phnom Penh, exploring the sights of Angkor Wat, and a stop at the temple of Wat Hanchey. The food lovers among us will appreciate stops for meals in small villages, a tour of a cat fish farm, passing through a floating market, and onboard meals prepared by local cooks.
Uniworld hosts a huge number of river cruises around the world all year-round, but one of the most enticing is their Castles on the Rhine cruise, both for the stunning visual history and the incredible food finds along the way. It starts in Basel before moving along to the Alsatian Wine Road (with visits to wineries and tastings), and it then sails past medieval towns and UNESCO sites before docking in small towns to let travelers sample local fare and wines from taverns and cafés. Travelers will also get to indulge in a chocolate cake baking demonstration and tasting, as well as wine-paired dinners onboard.