As an increasing number of large cruise ships take to the seas, offering thousands of staterooms and a plethora of onboard activities, the appeal of traveling aboard smaller, slower ships on the nation’s rivers and bays holds a growing appeal.

In the US, river cruising can involve a voyage down the Mississippi River on a historic paddleboat, meandering alongside glaciers in Alaska or heading down the Hudson River on ships that carry fewer than 150 passengers and move at a relaxed pace. Fewer fellow passengers mean shorter lines, while on-board historians and naturalists put travelers in touch with the surroundings with daily lectures on many river cruises. Shore excursions are included in the price as well. Another advantage: these smaller ships can reach places and ports that megaships can’t.



“River cruising in the US is a great way to see America up-close, stopping in the towns and cities that make this country unique,” says Cindy Anderson, manager and master cruise agent for USA River Cruises, a Vancouver, WA-based agency that saw a 32 percent increase in river-cruise bookings last year from the year before.

Anderson, who has traveled on hundreds of river cruises, said most offer on-board historians or naturalists who give daily lectures.

On river cruises, no dressing up is required and, unlike large ships, they include all meals, all soft drinks, wine with dinner and evening cocktail parties with drinks. Some also include complimentary in-port excursions to museums, historic venues and other points of interest, and the use of kayaks and inflatable boats for further exploration, such as on cruises in Alaska’s Inside Passage to viewglaciers and wildlife.

The senior/retired group is the number one market for river cruising, while interest among couples and groups appears to be growing, according to a survey of travel agents conducted in 2010 by the Cruise Lines International Association. Its member agents reported that travelers were attracted to river cruises because they sailed to unique destinations, offered the chance to have authentic small-town experiences, included sightseeing programs in the rates and delivered a relaxed shipboard style. The most popular itineraries within the US include Alaska’s Inside Passage, the Chesapeake Bay, the Columbia/Snake River and the Hudson River.