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A Viking longship cruises through the Upper Middle Rhine Valley (Photo: Viking)

The Best Rhine River Cruise for Every Traveler

A Viking longship cruises through the Upper Middle Rhine Valley (Photo: Viking)
Jeannine Williamson
Executive Editor, U.S.
Chris Gray Faust

Sep 13, 2023

Read time
6 min read

Lined with more castles than any other river, the Rhine River is a spectacular showcase of enchanting wine villages, cultural treasures and ever-changing scenery. That makes the Rhine an ideal choice for both first-time and seasoned river cruisers alike -- and means there are plenty of candidates for the best Rhine River cruise.

For starters, all of the major river cruise lines sail the Rhine, from Viking to Uniworld and AmaWaterways. That puts the best Rhine River cruise within reach for any type of traveler. However, the differences between each can make or break your Rhine River cruise experience. Take a look at our guide to find out how they differ and decide on the best Rhine river cruise for you.

Best Rhine River Cruise for Families: Adventures by Disney

Service on an Adventures by Disney river cruise (Photo: Cynthia J. Drake/Cruise Critic contributor)

The Disney name is synonymous with family fun, so it's not a surprise that Adventures by Disney is easily the best Rhine River cruise line for families. Adventures by Disney charters AmaWaterways ships that carry only 140 passengers, and brings their own spin to the sailings through Adventure Guides who are trained in all things kids.

On an Adventures by Disney river cruise, families are the only passengers onboard. Programming and excursions are geared toward kids, with a focus on stories rather than history, and activities designed to burn off energy and keep children engaged, such as tobogganing in the Black Forest. The ships also have small pools onboard, so kids can take a break from touring and just have fun (while their parents relax).

In the evening, kids gather together to have their own supervised meal -- teens have their own gathering -- while parents unwind on their own. That's followed by a movie night or activity that goes until bedtime. It's all a great mix of together time as a family, paired with opportunities for parents to reconnect -- the extra Disney-level service is just a bonus.

Best Rhine River Cruise for Romantics: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

A Uniworld River Queen Suite (Photo: Uniworld)

With its fairy-tale castles and picture-perfect scenery, the Rhine is arguably Europe's most romantic river. You can harness that dreamy atmosphere on Uniworld's one-of-a-kind boutique vessels, like the River Queen.

What makes Uniworld the perfect river cruise line for romance? Expect luxe touches like sophisticated dinners served on tables decorated with beautiful flower arrangements; handcrafted Savoir Beds; and white-gloved butlers for suite passengers. Uniworld's Rhine ships include the aforementioned Art Deco-style River Queen and the richly decorated S.S. Antoinette with its stylish Bar du Leopard.

Best Rhine River Cruise for Luxury: Tauck

Hors d'ouvres on Tauck sailings are just part of the luxe experience (Photo: Oyster)

While Uniworld brings luxurious touches to a romantic cruise, those who want to spoil themselves no matter the reason would do well to check out Tauck's Rhine River cruises. Out of the 67 cabins on its 130-passenger vessels, 22 are suites -- the highest ratio on any European riverboat of the same size. All clock in at around 300 square feet, so there's plenty of space to spread out.

But it's Tauck's fully-inclusive rates that really help make this line a great choice for luxury seekers. Exclusive events for Rhine River passengers include a special reception, dinner and entertainment at the historic Rheingau wine estate overlooking the river. You can also expect thoughtful extra touches, such as money to buy something to eat if any tours take place over lunchtime.

Best Rhine River Cruise on a Budget: Gate 1 Travel

View of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley (via Shutterstock)

For wallet-conscious cruisers used to deals on ocean-going lines, the price of a Rhine River cruise can come as a shock. For about $1,000 less than the closet competitor, Gate 1 Travel manages to be one of the best Rhine River cruises for those watching there budget.

One reason that the Gate 1 fares are lower than others: beer, wine and soda are only served complimentary at dinner, as opposed to lunch and dinner. The ships also offer fewer dining choices, both in terms of menus and venues. The Gate 1 ships also do not have step-out balconies (although to be fair, neither do many other river cruise lines). Your fare does include Wi-Fi; an excursion in every port and entrance fees.

Gate 1 cruises also have more onboard activities than your typical river cruise, such as bingo, trivia and early morning exercise classes.

Best Rhine River Cruise for Active Travelers: Avalon Waterways

Avalon Expression

Avalon Waterways was one of the first lines to recognize that not all river cruise passengers want to do the same thing. With that in mind, Avalon offers Active & Discovery itineraries on the Rhine with options to suit both active travelers and those who prefer to explore in a more laid back manner.

Excursions on Avalon include kayaking on the Rhine, an e-bike tour in the Black Forest and a hike up the Philosophers' Way trail above Heidelberg (a scenic route that inspired German poets and writers). Fitness fans can also opt for the Avalon Fresh menu, featuring healthy meals and vegetarian dishes.

Best Rhine River Cruise for Younger Passengers: Emerald River Cruises

The sharp, minimalist rooms on Emerald Star (Photo: Emerald)

Emerald Cruises is a great option for cruisers in their earlier adult decades. The lower-priced offshoot of Australian-owned all-inclusive line Scenic has contemporary ships that tend to attract a slightly younger crowd -- with good reason.

Excursions on Emerald's Rhine sailings feature EmeraldACTIVE options, like a hike from Mount Konigstuhl to Heidelberg plus guided bike tours around destinations like the pretty town of Breisach or to the windmills outside Amsterdam.

A standout feature on the ships is the glass-enclosed swimming pool which converts to a movie theater at night (complete with popcorn). Emerald Cruises also has activity managers that coordinate the shore tours and arrange daytime and evening programs.

Best Rhine River Cruise for Older Travelers: Viking River Cruises

Al fresco dining on the Viking Aquavit Terrace (Credit: Viking)

With its culture-rich itineraries, Viking River Cruises is a popular line with older passengers. Viking places a big emphasis on curating tours that provide an authentic insight into destinations rather than just scratching the surface. The line is also highly considerate of any mobility issues its passengers might have and provides options for all.

Viking River's shore tours are graded as easy, moderate or demanding so travelers can gauge their ability to partake. At the daily port talk -- outlining the following day's activities -- the cruise director will go into a high level of detail about what to expect, such as if any steps or cobblestone streets are involved and the length of time spent walking.

Best Rhine River Cruise for Food Lovers: AmaWaterways

Sip & Sail Cocktail Hour on board the AmaMora (Photo: Cynthia J. Drake)

The Rhine River can be a food-and-wine paradise and AmaWaterways is the best choice if you're a foodie or oenophile. All of AmaWaterways' European ships are members of the Chaine des Rotisseurs, a prestigious international gastronomic society. The line's intimate Chef's Table restaurant -- where all guests get to dine free once during their cruise -- also ups the gourmet credentials.

AmaWaterways offers themed wine itineraries on the Rhine with enhanced epicurean experiences included in the fare. These sailings are accompanied by a professional wine host who leads onboard tastings and discussions and accompanies trips to local wineries and vineyards.

Best Rhine River Cruise for Solo Travelers: Riviera Travel

Even double cabins are for singles on some Riviera Travel sailings (Photo: Riviera)

Riviera Travel isn't the most widely known cruise provider, but those looking to cruise the Rhine River solo are in luck. On every Riviera sailing a number of double cabins on the lower deck are set aside for single travelers with no single supplement (which is generally charged by cruise lines if you're traveling alone). Additionally, Riviera offers a number of solo-traveler-only itineraries on the Rhine where there is no single supplement on any cabin, including suites. New itineraries for 2024 include an extended 10-night Cologne, the Rhine Gorge & Medieval Germany River Cruise from Cologne to Nuremberg.

Updated September 13, 2023
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