The best river cruises for senior citizens

River cruises are becoming increasingly popular, especially with those over 50 years of age. In fact, the average age of a customer is 75!

What attracts many retirees to river cruising is the convenience of everything being taken care of for you. River cruising enables travellers to see and do a lot in a single holiday, while only unpacking once; not having to worry about finding a decent place to eat; or struggling with language barriers.

River cruises are not cheap holidays, so this may price many younger people out of the market. And they’re also not suitable for children, so you won’t find families on-board. But what river cruising does offer is excellent value for money and a wonderfully convenient, yet exciting, way to explore the world and make new memories.

What should senior citizens look for in a river cruise?

Group on-board Amadeus ship - River cruise

There are so many river cruises to choose from, ranging from short, budget-friendly cruises on the waterways of Europe, to extensive ultra-luxury cruises through Asia and the Far East.

Everyone’s desires are different, but it’s important to consider carefully which ports you’d like to visit, what you want from the ship and what kind of excursions you’ll enjoy and which will match your level of physical fitness.


Danube - Avalon Waterways

For Brits, European river cruises are by far the most popular choice, as there is are myriad beautiful waterways to enjoy which criss-cross mainland Europe. The Danube is a popular choice – this mighty river flows through ten countries from its source in Germany’s Black Forest to its outlet into the Black Sea.

If you’re into wine, a cruise on the Moselle, Douro or Rhone will enable you to visit vineyards and enjoy wine tours and tastings.

History buffs will enjoy a cruise along the Seine, learning about France’s fascinating past as you go.

If you’d just like to sit back and admire the scenery, the Rhine has much to enjoy along its banks which are dotted with fairy-tale castles, medieval towns and sloping vineyards.


Couple enjoying dinner on-board Scenic

As river cruise ships are much smaller than ocean ships, there isn’t much space for flashy facilities like rock-climbing walls and surfing simulators. However, most ships will feature multiple bars and dining venues, a sun deck with sun loungers, a plunge pool and a fitness centre. Popular facilities to look out for include bicycles which you can use in each port, whirlpool hot tubs, walking tracks and putting greens.

Unlike ocean cruise ships which have hefty fees for WiFi, almost all river cruise lines include wireless internet access for free. However, it is likely to be slower than you’re used to at home, and may not always be accessible depending on the location of the ship and the weather.


A Uniworld river cruise ship sailing down the Seine in Paris, past the Eiffel Tower

Most river cruise lines, with the exception of budget lines such as CroisiEurope, include excursions in the cruise price.

The standard excursions usually visit the same places by coach, no matter which river cruise line you choose. Special optional excursions are also available, which usually involve more specialist activities in smaller groups. There is usually a charge for these unless you travel with Tauck or Scenic, which include all excursions choices in your fare.

There is often a choice of excursions available at each port of call, with the larger ports having more options. Excursions should be categorised by activity level, with almost every river cruise line having a selection available for people who have difficulty walking. If you do have mobility issues, our team of river cruise concierge here at will be happy to help you find a river cruise which suits your ability.

The best river cruises for active seniors

Guests riding bikes during a Rhine river cruise

One of the most popular activities which active types like to enjoy on river cruise holidays, regardless of age, is cycling. Bicycles are available to hire free of charge with many river cruise lines, with models ranging from simple push bikes to those with satellite navigation and electronic assistance so that you can conserve energy whilst pedalling. Passengers can either cycle around each port of call, or cycle along the river and meet the ship at the next stop.

Hiking is another popular river cruise activity, with guided walks available in many ports. Boutique line, Uniworld, even provides walking sticks for hikers. Kayaking is also available on selected itineraries with several river cruise lines. If you like to stay active even during your time on-board, look out for options to enjoy fitness classes, yoga or for a pool large enough to swim lengths.

The best river cruises for relaxation

Couples relaxing in the pool area of Emerald Liberte, which transforms into a pool area at night

River cruise holidays can be as active or as relaxing as you like. If you enjoy sitting and watching the world go by, there’s quite simply no better place to do this than from the top deck of a river cruise vessel.

With stunning and ever-changing scenery to admire, you’ll never be bored, even if the furthest you venture is to the bar for a top-up. Not that you even have to do that, with waiter service as standard.

If you like to explore at a gentle pace, you’ll be pleased to know that almost every river cruise line splits their walking tours into ‘regular pace’ and ‘slower pace’, so you don’t need to worry about being left behind, or becoming exhausted after walking for miles every day. You can even explore at your own pace, simply take yourself off and wander wherever you like, just make sure you’re back at the ship for the allocated time!

The best river cruises for people with limited mobility

People with limited mobility should plan carefully when choosing both the ship and the destination to ensure that their needs can be accommodated.

Solo travel is generally not an option, as passengers with limited mobility will need an able-bodied companion to help them. Passengers who can walk a little generally fare much better than those who are wheelchair bound, as getting on and off the ship isn’t always possible in a wheelchair and staff may not always be able to assist.

Wheelchair accessible ships

Many river cruise lines offer a small number of accessible cabins, but these are not available on every ship or every itinerary, and due to the popularity of river cruising with older people, they can fill up fast. So if you do require accessible accommodation, it’s worth booking as far in advance as possible. In most cases, if you plan on bringing a wheelchair, it will need to be collapsible – cabins are often small and equipment cannot be stored in the corridors due to safety regulations.

Excursions for wheelchair users

The beauty of European river cruising is that most ports are very close to town and city centres, so you won’t usually need to travel far to reach the attractions. However, it’s worth noting that many of Europe’s historic destinations have cobbled streets, which are not ideal to push a wheelchair along. The on-board cruise director will be able to advise of the best routes to take, or suggest alternative attractions with wheelchair access.

For longer trips involving coach travel, passengers need to be able to climb the steps to the vehicle, which may be as many as four. Of course, you’re welcome to stay on-board the ship as it docks. But as the tours are included in the price of most river cruises, it’s worth thinking about how many of the tours you’ll be able to manage and whether it’s worth it overall.

Booking your river cruise

An Avalon Waterways river cruise ship on the Seine in Paris

If you’d like any help in deciding which river cruise is best suited to your desires and needs, please don’t hesitate to give our river cruise concierge team a call on 0800 197 0854. They have all the information about each ship, itinerary and port and can help you plan every detail of your next river cruise with any river cruise line.

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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.