5 best river cruise ships for first timers

Updated 06/07/2023

If a river cruise holiday has always tempted you but you aren’t sure which cruise ship to step on-board, we’re here to help.

If you’re used to ocean cruising, you’ll likely be familiar with researching ships to learn about the facilities, dining, activities and ambience of each one. It’s important to consider one key difference between ocean cruising and river cruising – with river cruising, the ship itself doesn’t matter that much. River cruises are very much focused on the destinations.

True, there are major differences between the different river cruise lines, in terms of facilities, decor, service, what’s included and, of course, price. But what you will find is that within each cruise line, the individual ships are pretty much the same.

Still, if you’re a first-time river cruiser, and want to pick a great ship, have a look at these five vessels that we think you’ll love. Whether you are looking for decadent décor and indulgent suites or adventure and authentic experiences, you can see which river cruise ship is perfect for introducing you to the world’s waterways in style.

1. Scenic Aura

River cruise ship - Scenic Aura

If you don’t want to worry about budgeting for things like meals and excursions, five-star all-inclusive Scenic River Cruises offer the ultimate river cruise package. From the moment you book your cruise, everything is taken care of, and you won’t have to pay extra for things like return airport transfers, personalised butler service, laundry concierge and gratuities.

Guests on-board Scenic Aura can enjoy free use of the on-board electronic bikes and Tailormade GPS for self-guided tours while cruising the Irrawaddy. Enjoy her fantastic selection of dining venues, relaxing sun deck and open-air cinema: the perfect spot to watch old favourites or new blockbusters. Scenic Aura boasts a staff-to-guest ratio of 1:1, meaning you won’t need to lift a finger and can instead enjoy the all-inclusive extravagance.

2. Emerald Liberté

Emerald Liberte - a popular river cruise ship

Thinking of booking your first river cruise but worried you may not fit in with the demographic, or that the pace will be too slow? Emerald Waterways has introduced EmeraldACTIVE and EmeraldPLUS, where passengers can enjoy nature hikes through forests and bike rides along the riverside – perfect for healthy cruisers or those looking to get moving.

Sail on-board Emerald Liberté and explore each port in depth with complimentary biking and hiking tours, as well as authentic experiences of local European culture. Travel to Lyon and Arles along the Rhone where you can enjoy a bike tour from Tournus to Macôn along the riverbanks of Beaune, before stepping back onto your river cruise ship for cheese and olive tasting.

3. River Duchess

Lobby of a Uniworld ship - River Duchess

If you want to experience a little luxury on your first river cruise, Uniworld’s boutique fleet will introduce you to decadent cruising. River Duchess is a 130-passenger ship whose décor is draped in soft hues of blue and green, complemented by soothing earth tones and an elegant on-board ambience.

The suites and staterooms on-board River Duchess offer the perfect on-board sanctuary, with beds hand-crafted by Savoir® of England, high-quality linens, a menu of pillow options and Italian marble-lined bathrooms. The restaurants and lounges are plush, with each stairway and corridor decorated with refined artistry. If you want your first river cruise to be truly unforgettable, Uniworld’s River Duchess is difficult to beat.

4. AmaStella

AmaWaterways river cruise ship - AmaStella,

River cruises may not shout family holiday, but AmaWaterways presents a change in the waters. Teamed with Adventures by Disney, guests can book sailings with AmaStella along the Rhine to some of the sights which inspired the classic, Beauty and the Beast.

Guests on-board AmaStella can book rooms for groups of up to five thanks to their adjoining staterooms – perfect for family cruises. On-board Disney guides lead Junior Adventurers on special excursions and host kids-only dinner in the ships lounge – great for keeping them occupied while you enjoy a romantic meal or a relaxing massage in the on-board spa.

5. Avalon Impression

Panorama suite on-board Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways is one of the best river cruise lines for first-time cruisers seeking complete relaxation. It has perfected open-air beauty with panoramic windows and expansive decks, while offering a refined and unpretentious atmosphere complemented by plenty of space.

Avalon Impressions is particularly stunning, boasting Panorama Suites that are 30 per cent more spacious than the industry standard, complete with floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows. Relax on the Sky Deck with premium lounge chairs and a whirlpool, or enjoy a light, alfresco lunch at the Sky Bistro – perfect for those who want to enjoy the view as they sit back and relax.

From active holidaymakers to those who simply want to recharge their batteries, there is a river cruise ship for every first-timer, no matter what your personality. Explore the waterways of Europe from your balcony window and find yourself at home in this new-found world of river cruising.

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About Emma Smith

Emma has more than seven years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for nearly five years. She loves learning about new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Princess Cruises, Cunard, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Avalon Waterways and Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in her diary for 2024! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.

5 Responses to “5 best river cruise ships for first timers”

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      Emma Smith

      Hi Sean, we’d love to add you to our mailing list! I will be in touch to confirm further details with you. Thanks, Emma.

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    Gill Turner

    Please can you send me brochure 40 Ashlawn Road RUGBY WARKS CV 22 5 ES thankyou

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      Emma Smith

      Hi Gill, you can find our brochures here: LINK. If you have any questions our would like to make a booking, please call our Cruise Concierge team on 0800 197 0854. Thanks, Emma.


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