Exterior of Viking Gullveig

What exactly do river cruise lines mean by the term "inclusive"?

The word "inclusive" gets thrown around a lot, but what exactly does it mean? In the river cruise world, it's the term for amenities that are already part of your fare. Part of what makes river cruising so attractive -- and pricy -- is that more items such as shore excursions, Wi-Fi or wine at meals are already wrapped into the cost (of course, if you don't drink, you might feel annoyed at having to pay for all your fellow passengers getting their glasses topped off).

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Which river cruise lines are the most inclusive?

In the river cruise world, the lines that have more amenities bundled into the price tend to -- not coincidentally -- be more luxurious and expensive. These include Tauck, Scenic, APT and Crystal, followed by Uniworld and AmaWaterways. An exception to this is Emerald Waterways (also known as Evergreen in Australia), which is owned by the same tour company as Scenic. Although it is considered a more moderately priced line, Emerald offers a fair number of inclusions (see below), primarily because many of its travelers are Australian (and prefer fares to be more bundled than a la carte). The same applies to Australia's Travelmarvel, which is owned by APT (see below).

Which river cruise lines are the least inclusive?

River cruise lines with European owners, such as CroisiEurope and A-Rosa, tend to be the most a la carte. However, these lines have tailored their offerings, making them more inclusive for North Americans while keeping pricing a la carte for Europeans. For example, they'll include shore excursions and waiter served dinners for Americans and Canadians, while these remain pay-as-you-go for Europeans. A-Rosa does include all alcoholic drinks and gratuities -- measures that appeal to its primarily European passengers.

Read on for a look at what major river cruise lines include in their fares.

AmaWaterways passengers on a Danube bicycle tour

What does each line include in its fares?

AmaWaterways

  • Beer, wine and soft drinks at lunch, dinner and happy hour, sparkling wine at breakfast, along with tea, gourmet coffee and bottled water
  • At least one complimentary shore excursion in every port (all excursions included on voyages in Africa)
  • Special events, such as dinner in a castle
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Wellness classes
  • Specialty restaurants
  • Wi-Fi
  • Complimentary entertainment on-demand in staterooms and suites

American Cruise Lines

  • Drinks at Happy Hour before dinner
  • Beer, wine and soft drinks at dinner
  • Some complimentary shore excursions, depending on itinerary
  • One-night hotel stay before trip on select itineraries
  • Wi-Fi

American Queen Steamboat Company

  • One-night hotel stay before trip
  • Transfer to the ship from hotel
  • Bottled water and soft drinks
  • Wine and beer at dinner
  • Hop-on, hop-off bus service in every port
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Two dinners at the specialty restaurant, per cruise
  • Wi-Fi

APT

  • Airport transfers to and from the ship
  • Alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks
  • Gratuities for crew and local guides and drivers
  • Choice of shore excursions in each port
  • Special events, such as dinner in a castle
  • GPS guides for independent trips ashore
  • Specialty restaurants
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • In-room mini-bar
  • Wi-Fi
  • Room service (for some suite categories)
  • Butler service (for some suite categories)
  • One bag of laundry per cabin on seven-night cruises; two bags per cabin for 14-night cruises (for guests in some suites on an APT Collection cruise on Aria or Concerto river ships)

A-Rosa

  • Complimentary alcoholic drinks, all day
  • Gratuities
  • Bikes onboard
  • One waiter-served dinner (the rest of the meals are buffets -- you'll have to pay if you want a second served dinner)
  • Wi-Fi
  • Laundry for some cabins

Avalon Waterways

  • Beer and wine with lunch and dinner, sparkling wine with breakfast on all European river cruises. Complimentary coffee and teas served throughout the day, along with bottled water.
  • At least one complimentary shore excursion in every port
  • Special events, such as dinner in a castle
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Specialty dining at Panorama Bistro
  • Interactive entertainment on-demand system in staterooms and suites
  • Wi-Fi

CroisiEurope

  • Shore excursions for North Americans
  • Wine and beer at lunch and dinner
  • Wi-Fi
Close up of luxury ship room service breakfast

Crystal

  • Airport transfers to and from cruise
  • All alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages
  • Gratuities onboard and on shore excursions
  • Select complimentary shore excursions in every port
  • Wellness classes
  • Special events, such as dinner in a castle
  • GPS guides for independent trips ashore
  • Specialty restaurants
  • Butler service
  • In-room mini-bar
  • Interactive entertainment system with complimentary movies in cabins
  • Room service
  • Wi-Fi

Emerald Waterways/Evergreen Tours

  • Airport transfers to and from the ship
  • Wine, beer and soda at lunch and dinner, complimentary coffee, tea and bottled water throughout
  • Gratuities
  • At least one shore excursion in each port
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Wellness classes
  • Interactive television system with complimentary movies in cabins and suites
  • Wi-Fi

Grand Circle

  • Two glasses of wine, beer or soda at dinner
  • At least one shore excursion in each port
  • Gratuities for local guides
  • Wi-Fi

Scenic

  • Airport transfers to and from the ship
  • Alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks
  • Gratuities
  • Choice of shore excursions in each port
  • Special events, such as dinner in a castle
  • GPS guides for independent trips ashore
  • Specialty restaurants
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Butler service
  • In-room mini-bar
  • In-room entertainment system with complimentary movies
  • Room service
  • Wi-Fi

Tauck

  • Airport transfers to and from the ship
  • Complimentary hotel stays or land extensions on select itineraries
  • All alcoholic drinks, sodas, specialty coffees, teas, and water
  • Complementary specialty dining venue on select ships
  • Gratuities
  • Gratuities ashore on shore excursions for guides and drivers
  • All shore excursions in each port
  • Special, private Tauck-exclusive events, such as dinner in a castle
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • In-room mini-bar (soda and water)
  • In-room television system with complimentary movies
  • Wi-Fi

Travelmarvel

  • Airport transfers to and from the ship
  • Wine, beer and soft drinks at lunch and dinner
  • Gratuities for crew and local guides and drivers
  • At least one shore excursion in each port
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Wi-Fi

Uniworld

  • Airport transfers to and from the ship
  • All alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
  • Gratuities
  • Choice of shore excursions in every port
  • Special events, such as dinner in a castle (mostly on theme cruises)
  • Specialty restaurants
  • Butler service (for some suite categories)
  • Room service (for some suite categories)
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Wellness classes (select ships)
  • In-room mini-bar
  • Self-service laundry
  • In-room entertainment system with complimentary movies
  • Wi-Fi

U River Cruises

  • Complimentary coffee, tea and water; juice at breakfast
  • Meals in the main restaurant
  • Gratuities
  • At least one shore excursions in every port
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Wellness classes
  • Wi-Fi

Vantage

  • Beer, wine and soda at dinner
  • At least one shore excursion in each port
  • Alternative restaurant with lighter meals
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Wi-Fi

Viking

  • Beer, wine and soda at lunch and dinner; complimentary coffee, teas and water throughout
  • At least one shore excursion in every port
  • Alternative restaurant with lighter meals
  • Interactive entertainment system in all cabins with complimentary movies
  • Wi-Fi
Uniworld crew member serving passengers wine at dinner

How can I learn more about river cruise inclusions?

The What to Expect on a River Cruise series is a resource guide, written by Cruise Critic editors and contributors, where we answer the most common questions about river cruises, including dining, cabins and suites, service and onboard activities