Best and worst river cruise lines - Which? (2023)

Our river cruise ratings reveal a gulf in the quality of the cruise experience, and Covid flexibility between the best and worst companies. If you're thinking of booking one for later in 2022 or beyond, it's essential you do your research.

It’s important to know which river ships have cramped decks and which give you space away from other passengers. And it’s vital that you choose the company offering the best value for money, with no hidden costs.

To help you find the best one for your budget we ask hundreds of customers about their booking and on-board experiences in our annual survey. That way, we can be sure that Which? Recommended Providers (WRPs) are the very best on the water. Our survey doesn’t just uncover the companies offering great cuisine, varied facilities and good value for money, it also highlights the brands with lacklustre cabins, unimaginative excursions and overpriced packages. Based on real experiences, we can reveal what customers really think of each brand.

The pandemic has also shown us just how important it is to book with a cruise company with a fair refund policy, in case something should go wrong. WRPs aren't just those companies rated highly, they have also committed to refunding your money within 14 days if the cruise is cancelled.

WRPs will also offer passengers alternatives if itineraries are changed due to travel restrictions, including UK lockdowns, destination quarantines and countries on the itinerary being added to the UK red list or Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) no-go list. Alternatives may include changing to a different date or destination, a future cruise voucher or a full refund if none of these is acceptable.

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Best river cruise companies

With the average price of a European cruise coming in just shy of £280 per night, river cruising might not look like a budget holiday. But factor in food, drinks and daily excursions, which are all typically included as standard, and the figures start to sound more reasonable.

Take Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, top of our annual river cruise survey. It promises an all-inclusive experience, so you won’t face any on-board surprises. Plus, you’ll get free beer and wine with lunch and dinner, as you do with APT Luxury River Cruises, Emerald Cruises and Viking River Cruises, three of our other WRPs this year.

Of course, you won’t find the range of on-board facilities of the vast ocean liners, but then you won’t be spending whole days at sea either. River cruises get you straight to city centres, so there’s more time for sightseeing and excursions. That said, with nearly all meals taken on board – and usually only one dining option – you’ll want to be sure the food and drink pass muster.

In the table below, we show the results from our latest survey. They were first published in January 2020 and represent pre-pandemic experiences. To determine WRPs for 2022, we applied extra scrutiny to our existing WRPs, ensuring that your money is safe if you book with them and travel regulations change. We've provided links for all the companies with a customer score of 75% or higher.

River cruise providerWRP*Customer servicePassenger-to-space ratioOn-board facilitiesFood and drinkPort excursionsValue for moneyCustomer score
Scenic Luxury Cruises & ToursY

87%
APT Luxury River CruisesY

86%
Emerald CruisesY

86%
Viking River CruisesY

83%
Riviera TravelY

82%
Avalon Waterways

80%
AmaWaterways

79%

River cruise line reviews

Of the 16 providers we've reviewed, just five are good enough to be a WRP: Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, APT Luxury Cruises and Tours, Emerald Cruises, Viking River Cruises and Riviera Travel.

Not only can you rely on them to organise a fantastic cruise, but you can also count on them to promptly return your money if things go wrong and your cruise can't go ahead. Unfortunately, that's more than can be said for many cruise companies.

(Video) Top Three River Cruise Lines Comparison Viking, AmaWaterways & Uniworld

Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours — Which? Recommended Provider

Scenic specialises in luxury river cruises in Europe and Asia. It's not cheap, but there are no nasty surprises because everything's included in the initial price, including gratuities, 24-hour room service, private butlers and a concierge laundry service. As a result, the company still earns four start out of five for value for money.

As a WRP, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours has committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled cruises and offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries change due to travel restrictions.

You have a choice of at least two excursions at every stop. And while on board, you'll be treated to high-quality cabins, excellent food and friendly and helpful staff. Customers told us that 'being looked after from start to finish made the holiday care-free'.

Passengers also raved about the five-star passenger-to-space ratio, so you'll never feel cramped on board

Should I book with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours?Yes. Fantastic staff, food and just about everything else add up to a brilliant cruise, if you're willing to pay.

Browse Scenic's range of river cruises.

APT Luxury River Cruises — Which? Recommended Provider

APT offers luxury river cruises in Europe and Asia. But in addition to these, APT also has an 'essential' cruising price tier for those wanting to see the sites for a little less expense.

As a WRP, APT Luxury River Cruises has committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled cruises and offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries change due to travel restrictions.

Even on its cheapest cruises, all meals, drinks with meals, tips and most excursions are included in the price. As one passenger said: 'There are no unforeseen extra charges, so once you have paid for your holiday you can forget about money.'

All ships feature sun decks with either hot tub or pool - some with swim-up bars - plus a wellness centre. And many customers raved about the well-organised tours with 'expert and enthusiastic guides'.

Should I book with APT Luxury River Cruises?Yes. It's a WRP, highly rated for its customer service and food and drink. Plus, its 'essential' range of cruises delivers quality at a more affordable price.

Browse APT's range of river cruises.

(Video) 6 Best European River Cruise Lines. Which One Is Right For You?

Emerald Cruises review — Which? Recommended Provider

If you like the sound of Scenic's river cruises but are put-off by the cost, you'll want to consider it's more cost-conscious sister, Emerald Cruises. All its ships have been built within the last 10 years, so it's no wonder they were highly rated for spaciousness and facilities.

As a WRP, Emerald Cruises has committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled cruises and offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries change due to travel restrictions.

Customers were particularly impressed by the food on drink. Formal dinner is served in up to four on-board restaurants and includes local delicacies from each port. And passengers praised the 'very high-quality food'.

Its on board-facilities also come highly rated, with novelties such as a heated pool that converts into a cosy cinema at night.

Should I book with Emerald Cruises?Yes. If you like modern, state-of-the-art ships, Emerald is a good choice. It's the sister brand to top-rated Scenic, but more than £100 cheaper per night in our price comparison.

BrowseEmerald's range of river cruises.

Viking River Cruises review — Which? Recommended Provider

Viking River Cruises may be the largest river cruise line in the world, but don't assume that means large ships packed full of people. In fact, the opposite is true, with the self-styled 'small-ship experts' earning full marks for its on-board passenger-to-space ratio.

As a WRP, it has committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled cruises and offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries change due to travel restrictions.

Viking scores well for its cabins. Its Longships have the largest suites on European rivers, each with two full rooms. Even the smaller staterooms feature river views and verandas. And many of its ships are new or recently refurbished.

Viking received a four-star value for money rating. That may be because there are no hidden fees. Excursions, port changes, wi-fi and drinks with meals are included.

Should I book with Viking River Cruises?Yes. It's an excellent brand, which consistently offers great service.

Browse Viking's range of river cruises.

(Video) River Cruising Wasn't What I Expected. Here’s Why

Riviera Travel review — Which? Recommended Provider

Riviera Travel is not only one of the best river cruise lines around, it's also one of the cheaper brands in our survey. You can expect the return flights, daily excursions and meals you would find with pricier all-inclusive rivals, although drinks and tips do cost extra.

As a WRP, it has committed to promptly refunding customers for cancelled cruises and offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries change due to travel restrictions.

The on-board facilities aren't quite in the same league as some pricier rivals, so you'll have to trade the heated pool for a small 'splash pool' or the cinema for a giant chessboard.

But it did receive five stars for its passenger-to-space ratio and customer service. So it should live up to its tagline of 'affordable luxury'.

Should I book with Riviera Travel?Yes. It's a dependable and wallet-friendly brand. Customers are impressed by the service they receive and book to travel again and again.

Browse Riviera's range of river cruises.

What makes a Which? Recommended Provider?

WRPs are the cream of the crop and the accolade is only given to river cruise lines with the highest customer scores.

That’s not all. We know that pricing transparency is important, so we only offer it to the companies that provide clear information about gratuities, excursions and drinks at the booking stage. After all, it's hard for customers to compare prices if they can't find these details before parting with their cash. If the companies fall down in more than one area, they’re not eligible to be WRPs, whatever score they receive in the survey.

Similarly, a company can only be considered for a WRP if it has committed to promptly refunding customers for any cruises it is forced to cancel. All of our WRPs have also committed to offering alternatives, including a refund, if itineraries are changed due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

And because Which? is independent, you can be sure that our recommendations are influenced only by our survey results. We're not influenced by third parties and we don't accept freebies from product manufacturers, retailers or providers.

River cruise refunds and cancellations

All river cruises booked in the UK and lasting more than 24 hours are protected by the Package Travel Regulations. So, if your provider cancels your cruise, whether that's due to coronavirus or for any other reason, you're entitled to a full cash refund within 14 days.

However, not all river cruise operators have been meeting their legal obligations on refunds, so if you're thinking of booking a river cruise, it pays to do your research. Thankfully, all our WRP river cruise providers are refunding promptly and also put on exceptional cruises, so that's where you should start.

(Video) Best BUDGET River Cruise Lines for savvy travelers

But the Package Travel Regulations don't protect you if you decide to cancel the cruise, so only book if you're sure you'll want to travel when the time comes. And always take out travel insurance as soon as making any travel booking.

FAQs

What is the nicest river cruise line? ›

The top 10 winners in the category Best River Cruise Line are as follows:
  • Avalon Waterways.
  • Viking River Cruises.
  • Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.
  • UnCruise Adventures.
  • AmaWaterways.
  • American Cruise Lines.
  • Riviera River Cruises.
  • Tauck.

What is the highest rated European river cruise? ›

1. Viking. With its fleet of more than 50 contemporary "longships" on rivers such as the Rhine, the Danube, and the Seine, plus additional ships in Europe, Egypt, and Vietnam, T+L's top-ranked river cruise line for 2022 is often praised for its steadiness.

Is a balcony worth it on a river cruise? ›

A balcony is a big plus at a resort and on a huge ocean ship, but on river boats it can actually be a drawback: River ships have a width limit (so that they can fit through locks), which means that cabins can only be so wide, which in turn means that a balcony takes away from your interior room space.

What is the number 1 cruise line? ›

1. Large Ship Line: Norwegian Cruise Line.

Is Viking cruises a Russian company? ›

The company was established by Torstein Hagen in St. Petersburg, Russia as Viking River Cruises in 1997.

Is Viking cruises financially sound? ›

Viking has good liquidity including our estimate of cash balances of about $810 million at the end of 2020. Subsequent additions to those cash balances include the planned note issuance, aforementioned equity infusion, and about $165 million of proceeds from the sale of the Viking Sun to a joint venture in China.

What is the best month to take a European river cruise? ›

The European River cruising season runs from March through December, though the best time to take a river cruise in Europe is during the late spring (April-May) or early fall (September-October).

Which river in Europe is a popular cruise destination? ›

Upper Danube Route Map from AmaWaterways

The Upper Danube is the other great route on Europe rivers (it is the single most popular river cruise route in all Europe—it has about 30% of all river cruise passengers that take a Europe river cruise every year)—and typically goes from Nuremberg or Passau to Budapest.

Which river cruise has the most castles? ›

The best way to see the most number of castles in Germany is on a Rhine River cruise, most of which will also spend time on other rivers including the Main and Moselle and their tributaries.

What level is the best on a cruise ship? ›

Best Cruise Ship Cabins for Motion Sensitivity

Avoid cabins near the front (bow) or back (stern) and on decks higher than the middle deck of the ship. So, on a ship with fourteen passenger decks, your best options are below deck seven.

What can you not do on a river cruise? ›

13 Things Not to Do on a River Cruise
  • Don't Think You're Going to Have a Lot of Downtime. ...
  • Don't Try to Pack too Much In. ...
  • Don't Feel the Need to Schedule Extra Excursions. ...
  • Don't Skip Trying the Food and Drink in Local Ports. ...
  • Don't Ignore When The Ship Sails -- And From Where.

What is the best balcony room on a cruise ship? ›

Rear-facing balcony cabins are among the best balcony cabins on any ship. Often, their balconies are bigger than balconies on side-facing cabins and they also feel quiet. There are far fewer balcony cabins at the back of a ship than on the sides of a ship, so you don't hear a lot of noise from your neighbors.

Which cruise ship is best for adults? ›

100% Adult Only Cruise Lines
  • Viking Ocean Cruises. ...
  • Virgin Voyages. ...
  • U by Uniworld. ...
  • Carnival Cruises Serenity Adult-Only Retreat. ...
  • Silversea All-Inclusive Ultra-Luxury Cruises. ...
  • Seabourn Luxury Cruises. ...
  • Windstar Small Ship Cruises. ...
  • Oceania Cruises.
6 Apr 2022

What's the cheapest cruise line? ›

10 Most Affordable Cruises For 2022, Ranked By Cost
  1. 1 Celebrity Cruises - Celebrity Solstice.
  2. 2 Norwegian Cruise Line - Norwegian Jade. ...
  3. 3 Norwegian Cruise Line - Norwegian Sky. ...
  4. 4 Royal Caribbean - Oasis of the Seas. ...
  5. 5 Royal Caribbean - Mariner of the Seas. ...
  6. 6 Norwegian Cruise Line - Norwegian Spirit. ...
29 Sept 2022

What is the most luxurious ocean liner? ›

Silver Spirit, Silversea

One of the most luxurious cruise ships in the world, the 608-passenger Silver Spirit is the one to choose if you love the idea of butler service, all-inclusive drinks and fine dining. Every cabin is a sumptuous suite and most have a private veranda. Don't miss Silver Note, an intimate jazz bar.

Has Viking Cancelled any 2022 cruises? ›

Viking Cruises cancels 2022 Kiev and Black Sea sailings.

Does Norwegian Own Viking? ›

Torstein Hagen (born 1943) is a Norwegian billionaire businessman, and the founder and chairman of Viking Cruises.

How much do Viking employees make? ›

The average Viking Cruises salary ranges from approximately $30,364 per year for Bartender to $178,045 per year for Senior Manager. Average Viking Cruises hourly pay ranges from approximately $14.50 per hour for Sales Consultant to $25.89 per hour for Customer Service Representative.

Has Viking Cancelled any river cruises in Europe? ›

Viking Cruises Cancels 2022 Kiev And Black Sea Sailings

Viking Cruises has cancelled all 2022 departures on its Kiev, Black Sea & Bucharest itinerary in response to Russias invasion of Ukraine.

How many passengers are on Viking River Cruises? ›

Viking sails 53 Longships throughout Europe, and will have four ships sailing the Nile river. Passengers: From 82 – 190 depending on the itinerary. Personality/Decor: Longships are Scandinavian Modern in design.

Is Viking having financial problems? ›

Viking has just over $3.3 billion in total debt. Its existing unsecured notes due 2025 traded last week at 68.5 cents on the dollar for a yield of 15.5%, according to MarketAxess.

What month is best for Danube River cruise? ›

The Danube River is a charming destination to visit at almost any time of the year, though most travel experts agree the that best times to take a Danube cruise are Spring (April and May) and Fall (September and October).

Is it safe to take a river cruise in Europe? ›

Although security procedures on river cruise ships aren't as formal as you might see on the much larger ocean vessels, all cruise lines have security procedures in place to protect passengers. In Europe, some ports, such as Amsterdam, are adding security as well.

Why are river cruises cheaper in August? ›

June and July mark the peak season for European river cruises including the Rhine and Danube and the waterways in France and Portugal and Italy. Unlike most holidays taken in Europe, August is not the peak price time as this largely adults market much prefer the weather to be cooler and airports less crowded.

Which river is more scenic Rhine or Danube? ›

While the Danube is a little more scenic than the Rhine, particularly along Austria's Wachau Valley, both rivers have relatively flat bike paths that stretch for miles. Wine lovers will also enjoy both itineraries.

What is Uniworld River Cruises known for? ›

  • Outstanding Service No request is too large, no detail is too small.
  • The Most All-Inclusive Elevating all-inclusive luxury river cruising to an entirely new level.
  • Culinary Excellence Enjoy exquisite regionally inspired cuisine.
  • Wellness Well-being for mind, body & spirit.

What is a tulip cruise? ›

A tulip cruise is the ultimate way to see the beautiful Dutch waterways. Let the kaleidoscope of colorful flower beds inspire you and be sure to visit the world famous Keukenhof Gardens, which comes alive each spring with more than 7 million flowers.

What is the most scenic part of the Rhine River? ›

The most beautiful section of the Rhine Valley is the Upper-Middle Rhine Valley, between Koblenz and Bingen. This section of the Rhine valley is often called the Rhine Gorge or the Romantic Rhine Valley, and is known as one of Europe's most picturesque landscapes, and it's not hard to see why!

Why are there so many castles along the Rhine River? ›

Castles on the Rhine were mainly built between the 12th and 14th Centuries as defence strongholds and toll houses – and over 40 punctuate the landscape on just one 65km stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley. However, it was the later Romanticism period that influenced many 19th-Century makeovers.

Can you see Neuschwanstein castle on a river cruise? ›

This cruise includes ten guided tours and runs through five European countries. The trip kicks off at spectacular Marienplatz in Munich. You'll visit the extravagant Neuschwanstein castle on your way to Salzburg, where you can immerse yourself in the world of Mozart and the von Trapps.

How much is laundry service on Viking river cruise? ›

Paid laundry services are available on all Viking River Cruises' ships. The fees for European river cruises range in price from $1 per item to $6 per item. In Asia these services range from $2 per item to $5 per item; however, the list of what can be laundered or pressed is more limited on river cruises in Asia.

What is a tulip cruise? ›

A tulip cruise is the ultimate way to see the beautiful Dutch waterways. Let the kaleidoscope of colorful flower beds inspire you and be sure to visit the world famous Keukenhof Gardens, which comes alive each spring with more than 7 million flowers.

Are there any river cruises in the United States? ›

The most popular river cruises are on the Mississippi, Columbia and Snake, and Hudson rivers. Coastal cruises include Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, Alaska, New England, and the Southeast.

Who owns Viking River Cruises? ›

Torstein Hagen (born 1943) is a Norwegian billionaire businessman, and the founder and chairman of Viking Cruises.

Can I wear jeans to dinner on a Viking river cruise? ›

But jeans are in opposition to most dress codes, so I would recommend not even trying. Although a few river cruise lines will ask gentlemen to wear a jacket for special events such as a Captain's Dinner, in most cases you can leave the sports coats, suits and ties at home.

Is the minibar free on Viking cruises? ›

Onboard Viking the mini bar is included. How often it is replenished depends on your cabin grade. The standard balcony cabin is only filled at the start of your cruise but the other categories are filled whenever they are empty.

What is not included in Viking River Cruises? ›

Instead, we focus on delivering meaningful experiences to you.
  • No casinos.
  • No children under 18.
  • No umbrella drinks.
  • No photography sales.
  • No art auctions.
  • No charge for beer & wine with lunch & dinner.
  • No charge for alternative restaurants.
  • No charge for Wi-Fi.

Are American river cruises worth it? ›

Most river cruises are not a good choice for families or for people who enjoy extensive on-board entertainment. The daily costs for these trips generally are higher than for ocean-going cruises, although that is not always the case.

How much is a US river cruise? ›

Voyages range in length from four nights to two weeks, and you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $10,000 per person depending on the length and destination of your river cruise. Most staterooms on American Cruise Lines ships have a balcony with unobstructed views.

How much do Mississippi River cruises cost? ›

How much does a Mississippi River cruise cost? Mississippi River cruises cost between $1,300 and $5,000 per person, but the average price of a Mississippi River cruise is about $2,400 per person for a 9-day itinerary.

Has Viking Cancelled any 2022 cruises? ›

Viking Cruises cancels 2022 Kiev and Black Sea sailings.

What is the newest Viking River cruise ship? ›

The Viking Osiris Naming Ceremony

On August 22, 2022, on the banks of the Nile River, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon named Viking's newest ship, the Viking Osiris.

How much do Viking employees make? ›

The average Viking Cruises salary ranges from approximately $30,364 per year for Bartender to $178,045 per year for Senior Manager. Average Viking Cruises hourly pay ranges from approximately $14.50 per hour for Sales Consultant to $25.89 per hour for Customer Service Representative.

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