After pandemic-related challenges at the beginning of last year, river ships got back to what they do best: exploring inland waterways in Europe, the United States, and select other destinations around the world. Travel + Leisure readers enthusiastically returned, setting out on voyages both classic and new.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated individual cruise ships on their cabins and facilities, food, service, itineraries and destinations, excursions and activities, and value. Those assessments were combined to generate results for the cruise lines in six categories, including river cruising.
The top three in the river cruise lines were very close in their scores. Viking, the world’s largest river cruise company, moved up two spots into the lead position. Tauck, the well-known tour and river-ship operator, retained its No. 2 spot. “The itinerary was thoughtful as well as instructive,” wrote one reader who traveled on the Joy. In the No. 3 spot is Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, with praise that included this rave from one voter who sailed on the Maria Theresa: “This was an exceptional cruise. The staff was excellent. I can’t say enough about this cruise line and this ship.”
Aqua Expeditions, with journeys on the Peruvian Amazon, ranked No. 4, thanks in part to the sophisticated onboard dining. “Its cuisine is rich in local products and designed by one of the most renowned chefs in Peru,” noted one reader. Closer to home, No. 5 American Queen Voyages (formerly American Queen Steamboat Company) earned praise — especially from older adults — for its leisurely cruises on the Columbia, the Mississippi, the Ohio, and other U.S. waterways.
Top-ranked Viking does all the major riverways of Europe, with ships also on the Nile and the Mekong, and, new in 2022, on the Mississippi. Readers praised the line’s value proposition and shore experiences that go beyond the norm. The “Thinking Man’s vacation” is the way one reader who sailed on a Viking ship on the Rhine river put it.
Find the full list of the best river cruise lines — and more on what sets Viking apart — below.
With its fleet of more than 50 contemporary “longships” on rivers such as the Rhine, the Danube, and the Seine, plus additional ships in Europe, Egypt, and Vietnam, T+L’s top-ranked river cruise line for 2022 is often praised for its steadiness. “Having traveled on seven Viking longships that are virtually indistinguishable from one another, I believe it’s the consistency that makes Viking one of our favorite ways to travel,” said one reader. The longships are light-filled floating boutique hotels with a Scandinavian-design aesthetic, indoor and outdoor dining, and herb gardens up on top. Viking’s carefully crafted itineraries and “good value” also received praise from readers. “Met wonderful new friends. Absolutely outstanding service and terrific food,” said one fan.
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 96.77
More information: viking.com
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 96.60
More information: tauck.com
3. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 96.31
More information: uniworld.com
4. Aqua Expeditions
More information: aquaexpeditions.com
5. American Queen Voyages (formerly American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines)
More information: aqvoyages.com
6. Grand Circle Cruise Line
More information: gct.com
More information: amawaterways.com
8. Avalon Waterways
More information: avalonwaterways.com
9. Vantage Deluxe World Travel
More information: vantagetravel.com
10. American Cruise Lines
More information: americancruiselines.com