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The 4 Best Luxury River Cruises

Staff
Cruise Critic

Last updated
Jan 25, 2024

Read time
4 min read

Some might argue that, with less than 200 passengers onboard, free wine at meals and included shore excursions, all river cruises are luxurious, compared to their mainstream ocean counterparts.

There are river cruise lines, however, that stand out as being more luxurious than others. These lines include more in the fare, such as specialty restaurants, custom mini-bars and full spirit packages; onshore events in gorgeous palaces or chateaux; exceptional service, sometimes with butlers; and spacious staterooms with posh linens and upscale amenities.

Take a look at the luxury river cruise landscape -- and find the line that's right for you.

1. Tauck

Panorama Lounge on ms Sapphire
Panorama Lounge on ms Sapphire

Who: The river cruising arm of a luxury land tour operator, Tauck, goes out of its way to make itineraries seamless.

Luxury Hotel Equivalent: Ritz-Carlton. Tauck's luxury lies in its anticipatory service, the ships' subdued sophistication and the "all-you-need-to-do-is-show-up" inclusions.

What's Included in Your Tauck Cruise Fare: All alcoholic drinks and spirits; airport transfers to and from the ship; 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.

Special Touches: Tauck is so committed to making its trips hassle-free, the guides hand passengers local currency to use in port for lunch.

2. Riverside Luxury Cruises

Palm Court lounge on Riverside Ravel (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)
Palm Court lounge on Riverside Ravel (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Who: Riverside Luxury Cruises entered river cruising in 2023, buying the fleet of luxury ships once owned by the former Crystal. The line has three ships operating in 2024: Riverside Mozart; on the Danube; Riverside Ravel on France's Rhone River and Riverside Debussy on the Rhine.

Luxury Hotel Equivalent: Kempinski. Or Seaside Collection, the Germany luxury hotel brand that owns Riverside. The ships range in amenities, from Japanese toilets and multiple specialty restaurants on the larger Riverside Mozart to the smaller, but no less attractive Ravel and Debussy.

What's Included in Your Riverside Cruise Fare: Riverside has two packages -- an all-inclusive, which is geared toward North Americans and a Full Board, which is more a la carte pricing for Europeans. The all-inclusive package provides airport transfers to and from the cruise; all alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages; gratuities; choice of shore excursions in every port; butler service; in-room mini-bar; room service; Wi-Fi.

Special Touches: Riverside Mozart is one of a kind, with a much-larger-than-usual spa, salon and fitness center. But all ships feature outstanding food and true open seating, with meals cooked a la minute, and outstanding local wine selections.

3. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Atrium on Uniworld's S.S. Catherine (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)
Atrium on Uniworld's S.S. Catherine (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Who: Part of a vast portfolio of Travel Corporation companies, Uniworld brings over-the-top country house decor to its river ships.

Luxury Hotel Equivalent: Four Seasons. Just as every Four Seasons property is slightly different with lots of local luxe touches, every Uniworld river cruise ship looks unique -- yet all share the same commitment to service.

What's Included in Your Uniworld Cruise Fare: 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.

Special Touches: Uniworld ships reflect the rivers they sail on with their decor, cuisine and shore excursion choices, making your cruise an immersive experience.

4. Scenic

The Balcony Suite on Scenic Eclipse (Photo: Scenic)
The Balcony Suite on Scenic Eclipse (Photo: Scenic)

Who: Part of one of the largest collections of Australian travel companies, Scenic promotes a refreshing "do it your way" approach to river cruising.

Luxury Hotel Equivalent: Park Hyatt. Modern and cosmopolitan, Scenic ships have a casually luxurious feel with attentive service and ever-evolving shore excursions.

What's Included in Your Scenic Cruise Fare: 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.

Special Touches: Although its onboard restaurants and friendly staff stand out, Scenic excels off the ship, with more active excursions, Scenic Sundowner events and opportunities for independent exploration.

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