As good as the ocean: the top 10 river cruise companies in America that will give you a great vacation


The best river cruises combine exquisite onboard accommodations with exciting itineraries through some of the world's most memorable waterways, according to TravelLeisure.

As good as the ocean: America's top 10 river cruise lines for a great vacation

Photo: Shutterstock

After pandemic troubles early last year, river boats are back to doing what they do best: exploring inland waterways in Europe, the US and a few others destinations around the world.

Each year, as part of the World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers for their opinions on travel around the world – their opinions on the best hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines and more. Readers have rated individual cruise ships for their cabins and amenities, food, service, itineraries and directions, excursions and activities, and cost. These scores were combined to produce results for cruise lines in six categories, including river cruises.

The top three river cruises were very close in terms of their scores. Viking, the world's largest river cruise company, moved up two spots to the top position. Tauck, a renowned tour operator and riverboat operator, retained second place. “The itinerary was thoughtful and instructive,” wrote one reader who traveled on the Joy. In 3rd place is Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, whose praise included rave reviews from one traveler on the Maria Theresa: “This was an exceptional cruise. The staff were excellent. I cannot express my satisfaction in words.”

Aqua Expeditions, which travels the Peruvian Amazon, finished in 4th place, thanks in part to the delicious food on board. “Her cuisine is rich in local products and developed by one of Peru’s most famous chefs,” one reader noted. No. 5 American Queen Voyages (formerly American Queen Steamboat Company) has earned praise—particularly from senior citizens—for its leisurely cruises of Columbia, Mississippi, Ohio, and other U.S. waterways.

No. the main river routes of Europe, with ships also on the Nile and Mekong, and in 2022 on the Mississippi. Readers praised the line's value proposition and the above-average shore experience. “A thinking man's vacation,” was the expression of one reader who sailed on a Viking ship on the Rhine River.

1. Viking

With a fleet of over 50 modern longships on rivers such as the Rhine, Danube and Seine, as well as additional ships in Europe, Egypt and Vietnam, this river cruise line is often praised for its stability. “After traveling on seven Viking ships that are virtually indistinguishable from one another, I believe it is their stability that makes them one of our favorite ways to travel,” said one reader. Their ships are light-filled floating boutique hotels with a Scandinavian design aesthetic, indoor and outdoor restaurants and herb gardens above. The carefully crafted routes and “good price” of the Viking were also praised by readers. “Met some great new friends. Absolutely outstanding service and amazing food,” said one fan.

WBA Hall of Famer

Score: 96.77

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2. Tauck

Tauck is a super premium river cruise line offering small, secluded cruises across Europe's waterways, according to Cruising. The cruise line, launched in 1992, offers luxury all-inclusive river cruises on rivers such as the Danube, Rhine and Rhone, but also away from tourist ports and off the beaten track. The award-winning cruise line is at the forefront when it comes to European river cruises, offering regular cruises on the Rhine, Danube and Seine, as well as lesser-known waterways like the Meuse, as well as exciting themed cruises &#8211 ; wine walks in the Rhone Valley and the route from Budapest to Frankfurt.

Tauck is best suited to intrepid explorers. Due to the high price, most travelers are elderly or retired, couples and small groups of friends often meet on board. The cruise line often offers family itineraries, inviting families with children and multi-generational groups to enjoy a river cruise. Enthusiasts will also love this cruise line thanks to its themed cruises, and it's also great for passengers who want an all-inclusive experience – with food, drinks, shore excursions, Wi-Fi, tips, and use of bikes to ride ashore.

WBA Hall of Fame recipient.

Score: 96.60

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3. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Located in Los Angeles, California. The company operates a fleet of 21 river cruise liners plying the rivers of Europe, Russia, Egypt, South America and China. Uniworld also has operating offices located in the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and China. The company is part of The Travel Corporation group, which also includes businesses such as Trafalgar Tours and Contiki Tours.

WBA Hall of Fame recipient.

Rating: 96.31

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4. Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expeditions has become the recognized leader in luxury small boats cruising the world's greatest rivers. In 2007, founder Francesco Galli Zugaro fulfilled his dream of launching the first luxury cruise line on the Amazon River in Peru with the launch of the 12-suite Aqua Amazon in 2008.

The architecturally designed, custom built vessel offers travelers the comfort and sophistication of 5-star service, boutique hotel accommodation, gourmet cuisine and privately guided shore excursions. Building on the success of Aqua Amazon, Aqua Expeditions launched Aria Amazon in 2011 with 16 numbers. Departing from Iquitos, Peru, Aqua Amazon and Aria Amazon take guests to the Amazon rainforest and the enchanting wildlife of Pacaya Samiría National Reserve with exotic bird species and adorable pink dolphins.

Rating: 93.27

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5. American Queen Voyages (formerly American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines)

Founded 10 years ago, the company will have eight ships by 2023.

“Entire continent now open to deeper discoveries. From the mighty American rivers to the Great Lakes and the ocean, as well as expedition trips through the wilds of Alaska. Places where traditions come alive and discoveries penetrate deep”, – says the cruise line about their work.

Rating: 92.82

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6. Grand Circle Cruise Line

Grand Circle Cruise Line is a division of Grand Circle Travel, founded in 1958 as a tour operator for the elderly. In addition, another subsidiary – Overseas Adventure Travel intersects with the cruise line for adventure cruise programs.

The firm concentrates on European river cruising with its fleet of small boats, as well as both own and chartered vessels, cruising Northern and Southern (Mediterranean) Europe, as well as Egypt, Panama and Antarctica.

Their specialization is not only cruises for the elderly, but also for solo travelers. They offer solo travelers single accommodation for little or no extra charge.

Rating: 90.12

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7. AmaWaterways

This is a river cruise company based in Calabasas, California that offers cruises in Europe, South Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and Egypt. Her price range is considered “mid-range” among river cruises.

As of 2022, she had a fleet of 26 ships.

AmaWaterways was founded in 2002 by Rudy Schreiner, Jimmy Murphy and Christine Karst. Schreiner was one of the pioneers of the river cruise industry after the opening of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal in 1992. Schriner was still the company's president and co-owner as of 2018.

To attract families with younger children, AmaWaterways partnered with Adventures by Disney to create Disney-themed cruises that include, among others, Christmas markets in cities on the rivers Danube and Rhine.

The company also offers promotions for individual travelers. On four ships (AmaDolce, AmaLyra, AmaCello and AmaDante) single cabins are available at no extra cost

Rating: 90.12

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8. Avalon Waterways

This is a river cruise company owned by the Globus family of brands and offers cruises in Europe, China, Southeast Asia, South America, India and the Galapagos Islands. In August 2009, the company became a member of the International Association of Cruise lines (CLIA).

Avalon Waterways started operations in 2004 with just one vessel called the Avalon Artistry. The following year, the company added Avalon Poetry to its fleet.

The company operates ships on the Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Rhone, Seine and Saone in Europe; on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, as well as the Yangtze River (in China), the Ganges (in India) and the Amazon River (in Peru).

Avalon Waterways has received awards as a river cruise operator, including named “Best European River Line” in 2019.

Avalon offers a range of special interest cruises, including food, beer and Christmas themed itineraries.

Rating: 89.88

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9. Vantage Deluxe World Travel

Vantage Deluxe World Travel offers European river cruises and adventures in over 80 countries on all seven continents. The company offers individual and group trips to various destinations around the world. It also handles catering, itineraries and booking flights and hotels.

Rating: 84.71

Additional Information: vantagetravel. com

10. American Cruise Lines

This is a small boat cruise line headquartered in Guildford, Connecticut, USA. The line operates thirteen small US-flagged cruise ships along the East and West coasts (including Alaska) and the Mississippi-Ohio and Columbia-Snake river systems in the United States.

Estimate: 81.17

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