What to Expect on a River Cruise: What's Included in My Cruise Fare?

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 and newcomer Crystal, followed by Uniworld and AmaWaterways. An exception to this is Emerald Waterways, 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).

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 and dinner, sparkling wine at breakfast
  • At least one complimentary shore excursion in every port
  • Special events, such as dinner in a castle
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Specialty restaurants
  • Wi-Fi

American Cruise Lines

  • Drinks at Happy Hour before dinner
  • Beer, wine and soft drinks at dinner
  • Some complimentary shore excursions, depending on itinerary
  • 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

A-Rosa

  • Alcoholic drinks, all day
  • Gratuities
  • 200 euro per person shipboard credit to use for shore excursions, spa and purchases
  • 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 dinner (will be included with lunch in 2017)
  • At least one complimentary shore excursion in every port
  • Special events, such as dinner in a castle
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • Specialty wine-pairing meal at Panorama Bistro
  • 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
  • Choice of shore excursions in every port
  • Special events, such as dinner in a castle
  • GPS guides for independent trips ashore
  • Specialty restaurants
  • Butler service
  • In-room mini-bar
  • Room service
  • Wi-Fi (60 minutes per person, per day)

Emerald Waterways

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

Grand Circle

  • Two glasses of wine, beer and soda at dinner
  • At least one shore excursion in each port
  • Wi-Fi

Scenic

  • Airport transfers to and from the ship
  • Alcoholic 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
  • Room service
  • Wi-Fi

Tauck

  • Airport transfers to and from the ship
  • All alcoholic drinks
  • Gratuities
  • All shore excursions in each port
  • Special events, such as dinner in a castle
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • In-room mini-bar (soda and water)
  • Wi-Fi

Uniworld

  • Airport transfers to and from the ship
  • All 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 cabin categories)
  • Room service (for some cabin categories)
  • Bikes for passenger use
  • In-room mini-bar
  • Self-service laundry
  • 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
  • At least one shore excursion in every port
  • Alternative restaurant with lighter meals
  • 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