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7 Best River Cruises for Traveling on Budget
River cruises tend to be a bit more expensive than their sea-based counterparts. But the trade-off is an excellent base from which to explore great destinations. You unpack only once on many of these trips. Food costs and tour expenses also are included in the prices, which means fewer budget surprises after the trip.
Other river cruises are simply a segment in a larger tour.
Amazon cruises, for example, frequently are supplemental to a grand tour of South America's wonders -- places like Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu and the Andes Mountains.
G Adventures offers an Amazon Boat Adventure aboard the Amatista that sometimes sells for as little as $2,000 USD -- about $220/day. You'll spend six days on the Peruvian Amazon searching for pink dolphins, toucans, and other wonders with an expert naturalist guide.
Daily costs cited here do not include airfare. you can select from a variety of ships, locations, and price levels.
Keep in mind the budget factor that makes or breaks many river cruise trips is affordable airfare. Many of the Amazon specialists merely arrange ground transfers from the nearest local airport. In other river cruise destinations, you'll find cruise lines that will encourage you to let them package your airfare with the cruise.
The Danube was long one of Europe's "main streets" for commerce, and remains an important shipping route connecting major cities. It is also among the most popular river cruises destinations in the world. Grand Circle Cruise Lines offers an Old World Prague and the Blue Danube trip that obviously takes you away from the Danube for the exploration of Prague, but also hits Linz, Melk, Duernburg, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest.
This itinerary takes you to three world capitals along the Danube in addition to some of central Europe's most beautiful scenery. Costs with Grand Circle start at about $200/day, but include a lot of extras such as a prearranged home visit or school visit designed to bring you closer to the people of the region. Avalon offers The Legendary Danube starting at about $233/day that includes ground transportation to or from Prague to the river.
Mekong River Cruises
Mekong cruises typically run from July-November on smaller ships (25 cabins as opposed to the far larger river cruise ships you'll see in Europe). Prices vary by comfort level, but frequently come in at under $200/day. The Jayavarman Cruise four-day Pearl of the Orient itinerary takes travelers from Ho Chi Minh City through Cai Be, Tan Chau, and Phnom Penh to the Mekong Delta.
These are one-way cruises in either direction. As with Amazon cruises, many travelers choose to supplement a longer itinerary with a short Mekong cruise. But there are 11-day Mekong cruise from Vietnam to Cambodia for those who want to explore this river more completely.
New Orleans is a popular destination in its own right, but many travelers like to savor the Mississippi River towns before or after their Big Easy visit. The American Queen Steamboat Company offers lower Mississippi cruises between New Orleans and Memphis. Costs are a bit less than $300/day. With these and upper Mississippi cruises, the trade-off for higher daily prices is the probability of more affordable airfare. For those who want the river experience for a shorter, less expensive run, there are ships such as the Spirit of Peoria, which runs from Peoria, Ill. to St. Louis on a three-day, two-night cruise starting at $575/person double occupancy. That's an example of river cruises incorporating not only the Mississippi, but other rivers such as the Ohio and the Illinois.
The Rhine, with its high-perched vineyards and storybook castles, long has been a favorite of European visitors. It's possible to take day cruises on the Rhine on the Köln-Düsseldorfer Rheinschiffahrt Line at a 20 percent discount as part of a German Rail Pass purchase.
You can choose the most picturesque sections and step off the ship at day's end with great photographs and a memorable experience. Late in the year, Germany becomes a popular place for people who love the Christmas markets in the cities. Many companies offers a Christmas Markets along the Rhine cruise that starts at about $140/day. The line also offers a longer cruise that combines the Rhine and Danube for 15 days (Amsterdam-Vienna) starting at $187/day.
As with the Rhine, there are plenty of day-cruise options on the Seine. Some of these trips pack tourists on crowded boats for a look at Notre Dame from the water. For those who want a higher quality experience, there are longer trips that take you from Paris to the historic Normandy beaches. Viking offers an eight-day cruise from Paris to Normandy from $170/day that includes six guided tours along the way. Grand Circle offers a 12-day Paris-Normandy trip for $250/day. Condé Nast Traveler ranked that trip among the top 40 river cruises of 2013.
Yangtze cruises in China are popular as supplemental trips within larger tours. More famous companies offers a Hong Kong to Beijing on a Shoestring trip that takes passengers between the two cities in 18 days, starting at just more than $100/day. A Yangtze cruise is part of the itinerary, but you'll also climb aboard trains and stay in some basic hotels. Grand Circle's 20-day tour of China includes a four-day Yangtze cruise starting at about $130/day.