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Top European river cruises

Feb 9, 2012, 8:20 a.m.

European river cruises provide the traveler with a rare combination of luxurious accommodations, gourmet local foods and immersion in the culture of the region. While giant cruise ships focus primarily on entertainment and on-board activities, a river cruise vacation ideally suites people who prefer learning about the history and culture of the regions being visited. Just imagine gliding down the rivers and canals of Europe, mere feet from the vineyards of southern France or the ancient stone bridges that gracefully arch over the waterways.

There are significant differences between the massive cruise ships that ply the seas and the smaller vessels that cruise the rivers, canals and lakes of Europe. One of the most pleasant differences is the almost complete lack of turbulence on the smooth inland waterways crisscrossing the European continent. Another is the slow rate of speed combined with the up-close view of vast countryside, quaint medieval villages and intriguing city centers. For centuries, these waterways were the primary mode of travel, taking goods and passengers from city to city. Now, the cruising industry is blossoming as travelers seek an in-depth journey through the unique regions of Europe. Whether taking a river cruise vacation through the wine regions of France or exploring the fascinating cities of Eastern Europe, each cruise provides an intimate experience of the area unsurpassed by other modes of travel.

When deciding on a river cruise vacation, several initial decisions present themselves. The length of the cruise, the region to see and the type of boat are factors that will help narrow down the abundant choices in river cruising. Are you looking for a brief one or two day cruise to experience a new perspective on the grand architecture of a major city, or seeking a wonderfully slow-paced journey lasting a month and spanning the entire continent? France and Germany are two of the most popular choices in cruising, but a vast variety of journeys are available in the United Kingdom and most countries on the continent. Do you have ancestors from a particular region, an interest in specific historical events or are you seeking a trip where cuisine is the major focus? Your interests can help guide your decisions. While some travelers prefer the exquisite luxury of boutique ships, others enjoy the romance of river barges. Luxury is increasingly the key element of the newest riverboats, while barges range from the height of opulence to modest yet comfortable accommodation. While the larger riverboats may carry up to 250 passengers, barges typically accommodate under a dozen people.

Rather than traveling in a floating city offering an abundance of entertainment options, as the ocean going vessels do, expect a river cruise to be much more focused on providing expert guides to the region who satisfy curious travelers' needs for extensive information. European river cruises can make numerous stops each day, so expect to spend plenty of time exploring cities and villages.

Is a river cruise the right choice for you? If you are looking for a unique journey where you will be immersed in the local culture and history while traveling at a relaxing pace, a river cruise vacation might be the perfect choice.

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