Unlike ocean cruising, where ships constantly expand and transform into floating resorts at sea, river cruises navigate more shallow, narrow waterways. Think of these ships as boutique hotels, with the number of passengers typically falling under 200. (However, just because the boats are smaller doesn’t mean the rooms are!)

What's more, part of what makes this type of cruising so incredible is that you’re often getting more bang for your buck — and that goes for everything from the size of your suite to five-star dining. From butler service to all-inclusive drinks and excursions, here are just some of the perks you can expect on a river cruise.

1. Locally Driven Cuisine 

Courtesy of Viking River Cruises

Dining is often determined by the area you’re cruising through. Chefs (some of whom are trained by top names in the culinary world) often source ingredients so fresh and local that they were picked up just that morning at the market. Menus typically revolve around regional recipes, allowing you to experience the surrounding culture without stepping foot off the ship. Sommeliers even work to source standout local beer and wine, too.

2. All-Inclusive Amenities

Depending on the ship and package, all-inclusive could be as extensive as unlimited top-shelf spirits and wine, complimentary mini-bars, and included shore excursions. Some lines go all-out and package everything from laundry and butler service to airport transfers and tips (both on board and for guides and drivers onshore) in the price. Some of the more budget-savvy lines like CroisiEurope Cruises may charge extra for shore excursions, though basics like wifi, meals, and beverages are still included.

3. Panoramic Views 

Many river ships sport suites larger than standard European hotel rooms, and the space is specifically configured to emphasize the view. As such, you can expect wall-to-wall windows and open-air balconies. On Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, for example, some of the windows in the rooms open and close with the touch of a button, transforming from an enclosed conservatory into a full balcony.

4. Exclusive Experiences

Over the course of a week-long cruise, the crew often has a surprise or two in store for the ship. Usually, it’s in the form of an after-hours performance and dinner at the Pope’s Palace in Avignon or a private classical concert in Vienna at Palais Liechtenstein. At some smaller ports (and by ports, we mean a small dock by a tiny town), bands will hop on for an evening of traditional entertainment and dancing.

5. Personalized Service 

Concierges, cruise directors, and even adventure hosts — in the case of companies like Avalon Waterways, for example — are on board and able to tailor the trip and itinerary to your taste. The staff-to-guest ratio is often on the higher side, meaning the team will quickly know your name and how you like your coffee in the morning. Some lines, like Uniworld, feature in-suite butlers trained at the same school as those at Buckingham Palace — and they’re on call for anything from shoeshine service to preparing the perfect bubble bath in the evenings.

6. Hotel Perks (Minus the Price)

Designer-brand beds and linens, marble-clad bathrooms, Champagne bars, infinity pools, and eateries inspired by some of the top chefs and restaurants around the globe are just a few ways river ships are taking a cue from five-star properties to recreate a similar experience on a smaller scale. However, if you consider the nightly rate of a luxe hotel somewhere like Paris — compared to what you’re getting on an all-inclusive cruise passing through a few glamorous locales — you’ll find the perks are pretty great for the price. Plus, you’ll barely need to dip into your wallet: that is, except for souvenirs or onboard spa treatments.

Want to take that trip for free — and score some valuable miles for your next excursion? Check out our top pick travel credit cards for the best welcome bonuses, perks, and plenty of cash back.

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