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If You Have Googled River Cruising and Are Confused - This Article is for You

Updated: May 26, 2023

If you have already done a Google search on river cruising then you probably were a little overwhelmed with the options. Yes, we likely all know who Viking River Cruises are but who are Ama, Avalon, Emerald, Scenic, and Uniworld, …and where do you fit in? What's included? Is that airfare deal really worth it? Should I splurge on a balcony?

Well, lucky for you, this article covers them all!

If You Have Googled River Cruising and Are Confused - This Article is for You
If You Have Googled River Cruising and Are Confused - This Article is for You

Which River Cruise Company is Right for You?

Each company offers something similar, but knowing the small differences between them will make sure you pick the perfect option for you and will ensure you have a YAY-worthy experience.

Here is a quick summary of each company:

Viking River Cruises Logo
Viking River Cruises Logo

Great For: Guests who enjoy classic walking tours with a focus on art, history and culture.

What sets them apart: Viking River Cruises is certainly the most popular river cruise line with over 50% of river cruise guests in Europe choosing Viking. They have the most ships with a fleet of 60 long boats. They are clear that their target market is baby boomers who like immersing themselves in a destination’s history, art and culture. Sound like you?

Budget: $$

AmaWaterways Logo
AmaWaterways Logo


Great For: Foodies, Active Guests, Golfers, Pickball Players

What Sets them apart: AmaWaterways is really known for its amazing cuisine. In fact, they have been inducted into the Chaines Des Rotisseurs society. AmaWaterways has also launched the one-of-a-kind AmaMagna, a ship that sails exclusively on the Danube. This river ship is twice the width of a traditional riverboat and features multiple dining venues and a newly added pickleball court. Did you pack your paddle?

Budget: $$$

Avalon Waterways Logo
Avalon Waterways Logo

Great For: People who value choice, Active Guests

What Sets Them Apart: Avalon Waterways is really about choice. They think their clients should be able to customize their experience to suit their interests. That’s why at each port, you will have the option to participate in Active (biking, hiking), Discovery (painting, wine tasting) or Classic (walking, history, culture) tours. No two journeys will be the same.

Budget: $$$

Emerald Waterways Logo
Emerald Waterways Logo

Emerald River Cruises

Great For: Budget-minded travellers

What Sets Them Apart: Emerald offers amazing services that are on par with some of the other major river cruise companies, but a budget-friendly rates.

Budget: $$

Scenic Luxury Cruises Logo
Scenic Luxury Cruises Logo

Scenic Cruises

Great for: Those looking for elevated services and options for dining

What Sets Them Apart: Scenic is a luxurious experience that offers clients access to butler services and multiple dining venues. They include a full drink package and have up to six dining options on board their ships.

Budget: $$$$

Uniworld River Cruises Logo
Uniworld River Cruises Logo

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Great For: Upscale clients looking for a boutique experience

What Sets Them Apart: No two Uniworld ships are alike and no two rooms onboard are alike! The uniqueness and over-the-top opulence of their ships and décor really make Uniworld stand out.

Budget: $$$$

What's Included in a River Cruise?

If you have googled river cruising already you have probably already encountered names like Viking, Ama, Avalon, Emerald, Scenic and Uniworld.

Click on an itinerary and you will notice that each one includes similar things in their package price, but there are some differences.

It can lead to confusion when trying to figure out the exact costs and compare one company to the next.

So what is included in (most) river cruises:

  • Your accommodations

  • Transportation (it’s your ship, duh)

  • Your meals and snacks

  • Beer and wine at lunch and dinner

  • One tour per port

What is included with some river cruise lines:

  • Gratuities

  • A full beverage package

  • A variety of excursions at each port

  • Airport transfers

  • Butler service

When booking a river cruise, make sure you are comparing apples to apples. This may require diving into the fine print to completely understand what is and is not included.

Is the Free or Discounted Airfare Worth it?

You have likely seen a river cruise company that is currently running a promo for free or discounted airfare and wondered if it is really worth it. The answer is a bit complicated and requires you to do a bit of research.

But...from my experience, booking the airfare with the river cruise company takes away some choices and you do have to be careful with the terms and conditions. Often there are restrictions to the fare or surcharges for deviations or departures outside of major cities. Please read the airfare terms and conditions very carefully and understand exactly what you are getting.

If you plan on doing a custom pre or post-cruise extension (ahem, we can help with that), it might not be worth taking the airfare offer.

That being said, if you are following the regular departure and return of your cruise, you may find considerable savings taking advantage of these offers. And, if you book your airfare with the cruise line you will have your transfers included as well!

Should You Book a Balcony on Your River Cruise?

With an upgrade to a balcony suite costing $1000+ per person, it is certainly worth considering whether the upgrade is worth it. And like most things in life, it depends on the person.

Please book a balcony if any of these things apply to you:

  • You experience claustrophobia. The windows in standard staterooms are small and high and sit just at the water level. If the thought of being below the water level makes you feel ill, then splurge on the balcony.

  • You plan on spending extended time in your room. If you like solitude then get a balcony. River cruise ships are luxurious but are not large. If you value your alone time, then a balcony is for you.

  • If the image in your mind involves a morning coffee on the balcony as Europe floats by. Then you should splurge on a balcony.

Please consider a standard stateroom if you:

  • Consider your room a place to sleep and shower only.

  • Are okay with spending a lot of time in the common spaces and being social.

  • Are budget conscious. There are a lot of other great ways to spend money, right!?

With or without a balcony I am so confident you will enjoy the experience of river cruising.

I have more articles that go in-depth on some of these topics. Check out:

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