River cruises are designed to be stress-free, but even vacations have rules and restrictions. Keeping track of them can be a challenge.
For example, one cruise line won't accept any passengers under 18 years old. Others take newborns.
On a few ships, you'll find an open bar for your entire trip. Some only offer free drinks during meals and cocktail hours. And if you're traveling with someone under 21, they may -- or may not -- be able to order a drink.
Most of these rules are found in the fine print in cruise lines' contract of carriage, a legal document, usually posted online, which lays out the terms and conditions you're accepting when you buy a cruise.
Here you'll find many of the pertinent age, alcohol and smoking policies from the most popular river cruise companies. If you have questions, always check with your cruise line or travel agent before you commit to a trip.
If you enjoy a drink with your meal or after a day of sightseeing, you're in luck. Nearly all river cruise lines, except for Riviera and U River Cruises, include complimentary beer and wine with lunch and dinner, but beyond that, policies differ.
A few cruise lines offer unlimited alcoholic beverages. Those include APT, Crystal, A-Rosa, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld. Another line, CroisiEurope, offers unlimited alcoholic beverages on most itineraries.
On these lines, there may be a fee for premium wine and spirits. Not all lines include a daily replenishment of the cabin mini-bar (Scenic is one line that does). If avoiding a bar bill is important to you, make sure to verify the policies (and exceptions) before you book a cruise.
Most other river cruise lines, including Adventures by Disney, AmaWaterways, American Cruise Lines, American Queen Steamboat Company, Avalon Waterways, Emerald Waterways, Travelmarvel and Viking River Cruises, offer beer and wine at lunch and dinner without charge. Several also have a cocktail hour with complimentary wine, beer and spirits.
If you're sailing those lines and want the freedom to drink alcohol outside the times that it's complimentary, you can buy an unlimited beverage package, which includes drinks throughout the voyage.
When you're traveling with someone under 21, rules about alcohol can get even more complicated.
Cruise line practices vary widely, with some following the law of the country where the ship is traveling, and others limiting alcoholic beverages to passengers 18 or 21.
Those enforcing a drinking age of 21 include American Queen Steamboat Company, Viking River Cruises, Emerald Waterways, Tauck and Uniworld.
But others are more flexible. For example, Adventures by Disney in Europe allows 18- to 20-year-olds to drink if a parent signs a waiver.
Crystal River Cruises aims for a middle ground, serving beer and wine to those more than 18, although it limits spirits to passengers more than 21.
Avalon Waterways, Scenic and APT will serve alcohol to passengers more than 18. And CroisiEurope follows the drinking age of the country it's visiting, which in Europe is generally 18, and sometimes younger.
Age restrictions go beyond the bar, though. A river cruise usually isn't designed to appeal to children. Some lines specifically prohibit younger guests, and most discourage it.
For example, Viking stopped accepting passengers under 18 for any trips booked after Aug. 1, 2018. American Cruise Lines, American Queen Steamboat Company and CroisiEurope, by contrast, have no age restrictions.
Crystal won't accept children under 6 months and may limit the number of kids under 3 on a sailing. It also won't allow passengers under 7 on any excursions involving a Zodiac craft.
Uniworld accepts passengers more than 4. On Tauck, the minimum age is 4 for European river cruises and 5 for Africa; and while AmaWaterways will take 4-year-olds, it says it doesn't recommend sailings for those under 8 and has a minimum age limit of 12 for African trips.
Avalon will accept passengers 8 and older. Emerald Waterways and Riviera limit passengers to those 12 and over, except for some Christmas tours. Scenic accepts passengers under 12 at their own discretion, except for its more family-oriented Christmas cruises.
Adventures by Disney has different age limits depending on the itinerary. Most begin at 4, although the trips are recommended for passengers 8 and older. A few trips have a minimum of 18.
APT does not recommend children under 7; children under 4 not permitted. Travelmarvel does not encourage children on its cruises.
Smoking policies are more standard.
Most river cruises limit smoking, which includes e-cigarettes and vaping, to specified outdoor areas, usually on the top sun deck in the back. The restriction applies not just to most public areas but also rooms and verandas, and also on buses used for shore excursions.
The rules aren't just due to health concerns from secondhand smoke but also because of the fire hazard, cruise lines say. As a result, those who want to light up won’t have many options.
Updated October 10, 2019