2017 Editors' Picks Awards: River Cruises

See the lines and ships that best represent excellence in ocean, river and luxury cruising, chosen by Cruise Critic's international team of editors.

River Cruise Lines

Best River Cruise Line
Innovation continues to keep AmaWaterways as our top line for the second consecutive year. In 2017, the line expanded its robust theme programming into wellness, with dedicated yoga classes, a choice of active excursions and full healthy menus. New ships boast spacious dual balcony cabins (some connecting), a specialty restaurant, heated swim-up pools, a fitness room and spa. Coming next year: Included happy hour drinks.
Renowned for unveiling a unique look for every ship in its fleet, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises' latest creation is arguably its finest yet. Tastefully decorated with the highest-quality furnishings, Joie de Vivre celebrates the 'joy of life' with an adorable French bistro, opulent cabins, elegant art and design, and an excellent supper club for late-night live music -- all proudly delivered by an exceptional crew.
Best Ship Refurbishment
On its French "Space" ships, Scenic Diamond and Scenic Sapphire, Scenic Cruises took a good thing and made it better. Passenger counts were reduced from 167 to 155, and brand-new Owners Suites were put in. The line also added hot tubs and a demonstration cooking bar for its new Scenic Culinaire enrichment program; it also expanded its spa and fitness, with a gym and a first-in-the-industry salt room.
Best for Active Cruisers
The first river cruise line with bikes onboard, AmaWaterways offers a choice of active excursions in every port. In 2017, the line pioneered a wellness program with onboard fitness classes, circuit training and healthy meals. The program will be expanded to more ships in 2018. Finally, its Backroads partnership now includes walking and hiking trips as well as those for cyclists.
Looking to get off the grid? You can't do better than Pandaw, which has 16 colonial-style river ships sailing throughout Southeast Asia. Besides offering unusual itineraries on the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers in Myanmar, Pandaw sails the Upper Mekong in Laos, India's Brahmaputra, the Red River in Vietnam, Cambodia's Tonle Sap River and even the remote Mergui Archipelago in the Andaman Sea.
River cruise cabins come in many iterations. But we're hard-pressed to find one better than Avalon's signature Panoramic Suite, a 200-square-foot stateroom with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows that slide the length of the cabin, bringing in fresh air and unobstructed views. Beds in most cabins face the river, not the wall, so you can watch the scenery float by.
Crystal Cruises brings sophisticated dining to its river ships. The cruise line wows with innovation; meals are beautifully plated and feature high-quality ingredients. Dishes are perfectly paired with a solid variety of regional wines. Passengers who want something extra will have an unforgettable experience at the Vintage Room, where chefs and sommeliers take indulgent dining to the next level.
Viking remains committed to creating journeys that immerse passengers in the culture, history and cuisine of destinations when they're onboard. The 'Culture Curriculum' program showcases music and dance performances, cooking demonstrations and guest lectures. One day cruisers might be watching a glass-blowing demonstration and the next, learning how to paint like Van Gogh or tasting Dutch cheese.
Adventures by Disney charters AmaWaterways vessels and rebrands them for selected sailings, turning a traditional river ship into a fun-filled family cruise. Highlights include a kids' club, family-specific programming and thoughtful shore excursions such as a tree canopy walk or apple strudel making. On Adventures by Disney, the excellent staff encourage kids to make new friends, giving parents time to themselves.
With its vast fleet of Longships, Viking River has the most choice of cruising dates in Europe and beyond, and offers many of the features that have become the hallmark of river cruising, such as beer and wine at lunch and dinner, an included shore excursion at each port, onboard enrichment sessions, free Wi-Fi and alternative terrace dining.
The French line, which has been updating its fleet, makes waves with unusual sailings. CroisiEurope offers canal and river cruises on French, Germany, Spanish -- even Hungarian -- waterways where no one else goes. In late 2017, the line debuted its first river ship in southern Africa on a cruisetour itinerary that includes a stay in the company's new wildlife lodge.
Tauck has luxury down to a science. Cruisers on the line's river ships are treated to gourmet food, fun, informative excursions, interesting enrichment and beautiful cabins and suites. Cruises on Tauck leave plenty of room for flexibility, and staff are more than willing to go the extra mile to help passengers create a personalized experience. Tauck thinks of everything so passengers don't have to.
Attentive without pretense, gracious but great fun -- it's a precious balance that makes the Uniworld experience feel regal, yet relaxed. From the butlers to the waiters and bartenders, everyone delivers first-rate, flawless service at all times. Distinguishing itself from other cruise lines, Uniworld's crew are employed rather than contracted and it shows in the pride displayed in their work.
Drawing a page from their successful ocean cruises, Viking has added more for-fee options to the usual city walking tours and bus trips. Local Life excursions might visit a local market on a culinary tour, while Working World tours help passengers understand the local economy. Privileged Access tours give small groups of people a special experience, such as a winery tour with a princess.
More lines are cutting single supplements and adding solo cabins. But only American Cruise Lines offers single occupancy cabins with balconies -- huge, at 230 square feet -- on its newest river ships. (Its modern riverboat coming in 2018 will boost that to 250 square feet.) The popular complimentary happy hour allows passengers to mix and mingle before dinner.
With lower prices than sister Scenic, Emerald keeps top-notch service, inclusions, enrichment and cuisine. Rooms are compact but comfortable, with sliding glass walls that open to the fresh air. Gratuities, Wi-Fi, transfers, bottled water, use of bikes, drinks at lunch and dinner, port charges and new active excursions are wrapped in the fare. Staff exceed expectations with unexpected touches.

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