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How to choose your cabin on a river cruise

Cruise Advice

Nowadays, an ocean cruise cabin size of 150 square feet is considered to be quite small. On a river cruise, that's really the norm.

Let's think about why that is.... Unlike an ocean ship, a river vessel is very limited in size. It can't be too long or too wide as it has to fit into the locks, it can't be too high as it needs to go under bridges (and in fact most vessels have a hydraulic wheelhouse which is lowered to enable it to pass under low bridges), and it can't have too much of a draught as the rivers can be quite shallow.

So by the very nature of things, space is very limited, and depending on the river, capacities range from tiny numbers (sometimes as low as 20 - 30 on the more exotic rivers) to around 130 on the larger rivers, 190 on the Viking longships, or higher numbers on the huge Yangtze vessels.

Viking Freya in Boppard, Germany

The cabins are usually spread over three decks, and unlike on an ocean ship, you don't need to make allowances for the movement of the vessel by selecting something midships - movement is minimal. On the other hand, noise and vibration can be high, so you will probably want to steer clear of the back of the ship where the engine is usually located.

On the lowest deck you will find the cabins with small windows which look straight out over the water - what we refer to as the 'duck's eye' view. These cabins can be quite dark, especially when you are moored up next to a bank or pontoon, and the windows cannot be opened. Tauck have a unique 'loft' design for these cabins which allows more daylight to flood in over a raised mezzanine platform. Higher up, you will find cabins with larger windows, sash windows, French windows, French balconies or walk-out balconies.

Tauck Inspiration Class - Loft Room

Remember that even if you have splashed out for a balcony, you will often find you are moored up adjacent to another vessel, giving you a view straight into someone else's bedroom. On the other hand, many people enjoy being able to open the window and enjoy the fresh air. This accommodation can be more spacious, but in river parlance, a relatively modest cabin size (by ocean standards) of 250 square feet, for example, is often referred to as a suite, and on many vessels, there is nothing larger on offer. A bathtub is very rare.

AmaWaterways - AmaPrima twin balcony stateroom

If you compare like with like pricing by cabin size, you will often find the higher rated operators are excellent value for the more spacious accommodation. All in all, though, don't expect to spend very much time in your room - you will be ashore, out on deck or in the panoramic lounges enjoying the excellent views.

Many operators offer a limited number of lead-in cabins with no single supplement, so look out for these offers, and plan ahead to snap them up if you want a specific departure date or itinerary.

Crystal River Cruises - Crystal Bach Suite

Finally, you should also consider the cabin layout. More modern vessels tend to have beds that can be configured as twins or doubles, but this is not always the case, so ensure you have discussed this at the time of booking. And on some vessels the beds face the window, giving you great views, so this is also something to consider.

River Cruising Uncovered

Thinking about a river cruise but don't know where to start? Our informative guide is packed full of everything you need to know, including which cruise lines we recommend, what to expect on each river and how to make the most of your trip...

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, SeaDream, Ponant, AmaWaterways and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Danube, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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