Best River Cruise Line (2016)


Check in, unpack once and let your floating hotel show you around. In the last decade river cruising has exploded in popularity as a comfortable and affordable way to explore a region. For the last four weeks, USA TODAY 10Best readers have been voting daily for their favorite river cruise line, and the results are in!

  • Viking River Cruises

    Viking River Cruises

    Viking Cruises specializes in cruising European waterways on its fleet of more than 50 vessels, but the company also offers itineraries in Asia and Egypt (with a Mississippi itinerary slated for 2017). Viking's signature Longships were designed for river cruising and feature all-outside cabins, spacious outdoor seating and floor-to-ceiling windows in the restaurants.
    Photo courtesy of Viking River Cruises

  • Grand Circle Cruise Line

    Grand Circle Cruise Line

    American-owned Grand Circle Cruise Line has carved out a comfortable niche in the river cruise industry by catering to the over-50 crowd. Dedicated program directors accompany passengers throughout their trip and onshore excursions aim to be immersive, with experiences like home-hosted meals and local school visits. Grand Circle uses a fleet of privately-owned and chartered vessels and caters exclusively to Americans.
    Photo courtesy of Grand Circle Cruise Line

  • Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

    Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

    Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection refers to their fleet as "luxurious floating boutique hotels," hotels that carry guests through European, Asian and Egyptian waterways. Decor is plush and colorful, service exceptional and the cuisine holds its own against the most luxurious ocean vessels. Passenger-to-staff ratios are among the best in river cruising.
    Photo courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

  • Avalon Waterways

    Avalon Waterways

    Small-ship, destination-focused river cruises are what U.S.-based Avalon Waterways does best. Suite-class ships have floor-to-ceiling windows and most state rooms have beds facing the windows. The fleet of 32- to 168-passenger vessels offer spacious, upscale accommodations, with guided shore excursions, beer and wine inclusive. The Local Favorites enrichment program brings to life the history and culture of destinations via tastings, demos and seminars.
    Photo courtesy of Avalon Waterways

  • American Queen Steamboat Company

    American Queen Steamboat Company

    American Queen Steamboat Company's purpose was to bring back the Mark Twain-era river boat experience to the Mighty Mississippi. The two-ship fleet, which debuted in 2012, includes the world's largest paddlewheel steamboat, the American Queen. The American Empress sails the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Shore tours, dinner drinks and use of a bicycle fleet are included in the fare.
    Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company /

  • AmaWaterways


    California-based AmaWaterways got its start plying the rivers of Europe and has since expanded to include itineraries in Africa and Southeast Asia as well. Vessels accommodate 150 passengers, and fares include wine, internet access, guided shore excursions and use of a fleet of bicycles to explore ports of call.
    Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

  • Vantage Deluxe World Travel

    Vantage Deluxe World Travel

    Based in Boston, Vantage Deluxe World Travel offers river cruises at affordable prices throughout the world. Vantage keeps costs low by selling trips directly to their customers, and while alcohol isn't included in the fare, shore excursions and meals are. Vantage's fleet of river boats include solo accommodations, making it an appealing choice for singles.
    Photo courtesy of Vantage Deluxe World Travel

  • American Cruise Lines

    American Cruise Lines

    Aptly named American Cruise Lines specializes in itineraries exploring America's historic waterways, including the Mississippi, rivers of Florida, Columbia and Snake Rivers, Hudson River and the East Coast Intracoastal Waterway. The on-board experience is all-American, with sustainable fine dining centered around locally grown ingredients and local entertainers who come aboard to perform.
    Photo courtesy of American Cruise Lines

  • Pandaw Cruises

    Pandaw Cruises

    Pandaw Cruises' fleet of luxury, colonial-style ships were custom-designed for river cruising, and they sail to hard-to-reach destinations in Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, China and India. All-inclusive sailings are friendly and informal, and an English-speaking local guide accompanies passengers on unique shore excursions. On board, the passenger-to-crew and passenger-to-space ratios are about as attractive as they come.
    Photo courtesy of Pandaw Cruises

  • Blount Small Ship Adventures

    Blount Small Ship Adventures

    Family-owned Blount Small Ship Adventures offers unusual itineraries focused on off-the-beaten-path destinations in the Americas, including the Hudson River Valley, St. Lawrence River, the Lake Michigan region and the New York State barge canal system. The casual, comfortable atmosphere appeals to a hugely loyal fan base who come aboard to explore.
    Photo courtesy of Blount Small Ship Adventures

The top 10 winners in the category Best River Cruise Line are as follows:

  1. Viking River Cruises
  2. Grand Circle Cruise Line
  3. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
  4. Avalon Waterways
  5. American Queen Steamboat Company
  6. AmaWaterways
  7. Vantage Deluxe World Travel
  8. American Cruise Lines
  9. Pandaw Cruises
  10. Blount Small Ship Adventures

SLIDESHOW: 10 Amazing Sights Aboard a Viking River Cruise

10Best Local Experts and Editors picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Doug Parker (Cruise Radio), Fran Golden (USA TODAY), Gene Sloan (USA TODAY) and Stewart Chiron (The Cruise Guy) were chosen based on their extensive experience with the cruise industry.

Additional nominees for Best River Cruise Line included A-ROSA CruisesAbercrombie & Kent, Amadeus Cruises, Aqua Expeditions, CroisiEurope, Emerald Waterways, European Waterways, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, Tauck and Victoria Cruises.

Congratulations to all of our winning cruise lines!

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AlertThe Experts

Doug Parker

Doug Parker

Doug Parker

Fran Golden

Fran Golden

Fran Golden

Gene Sloan

Gene Sloan

Gene Sloan

Stewart Chiron

Stewart Chiron

Stewart Chiron