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19 August 2014

Rise of the River Cruise 

River cruising is growing far beyond the time-honored journey along the Nile as tour companies explore increasingly exotic areas of the world.

Travellers have long taken the opportunity to gaze upon the Pyramids and the ancient tombs of Luxor from Nile riverboats. Russia’s Volga has been another perennial favorite of cruisers.

Lately, though, touring companies and their clients have taken a more adventurous turn, enabling travelers to soak up the scenery along China’s Yangtze, Vietnam’s Mekong and Burma’s Irrawaddy.

For those with a taste for the Americas, the Mississippi made famous by Mark Twain can be cruised on authentic paddleboats. Tours also ply Snake River in the spectacular Rocky Mountains and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. And, of course, a tour of the Amazon is an incredible journey.

Ship design has also become far more innovative, reflecting the growing appeal of river travel. The low-slung "Long Ships" of the Viking cruise line often seen along the Danube and Rhine are among the notable examples, but more companies are adding balconies to staterooms and ensuring that travelers enjoy all the luxuries found on larger ships. More than 50 new riverboats have been introduced since 2013.

Riverboats typically carry no more than a few hundred passengers, offering a more intimate atmosphere than a giant cruise ship accommodating thousands. Because many of the world’s great cities have grown up along inland waterways, a cruise can provide a relaxing day in the countryside one day and drop off its passengers in a cultural mecca the next.

In addition, river travelers can sidestep the tourist traps that grow up around staple cruise ship stops and experience how people actually live in the countries they visit, sampling their food, arts and traditions – a unique experience that often eludes travelers on behemoth ships.