Every day brings fresh delights to savour – local culture, cuisine, wine, architecture and immersion in the unique pavement-café bustle of French life and the opportunity to visit local places of interest – chateaux, vineyards, markets and historic or artistic sights.

Each small ship has its own personality, providing excellent accommodation in light, airy and spacious surroundings. They feature superb dining rooms, bars and sitting areas – and of course, a sun-deck complete with parasols and loungers. Stateroom cabin bedrooms invariably have en-suite shower rooms, TVs and modern services and, very importantly, each will have a large window or private balcony from which to enjoy the rich panorama of countryside, scenery and architecture as it passes just a short distance away.

  • Modest size, 100-200 guests
  • Close, friendly and personal hospitality
  • Moor in France’s world-famous historic towns and cities
  • Cruise sedately through the sunny countryside
  • 8 cruise companies to choose from
  • Paris, Loire, Burgundy, Alsace, Provence and Bordeaux regions

5 Minute Briefing :: Riverboat Small Ship Cruises

Explore France from the inside – you only have to unpack once!


How are river cruises different from a sea-cruise or a self-drive hire-boat?

River cruises may not offer the grandeur of a big sea-going liner but their smaller scale means that the cruising experience becomes much more immediate. On a river cruise ship:

  • you’ll rarely experience any sense of motion
  • the view changes all the time – you’re not just looking at it, you’re in it.
  • the ambience is more intimate than a sea-cruise with fewer people
  • More to do as daily excursions are organised for you
  • no ‘sea-days’ when one has to rely solely on on-board entertainment
  • no need for driving or mooring skills, no self-catering, no itinerary planning – your cruise company and crew will take care of everything.

What’s a typical river cruise like?

Your cruise may start in one port and finish at another, or it may conduct a round trip, there and back. Some river cruise trips start by train and finish by coach; tend to include a few nights in a land-based hotel, when you’l be able to take in the city sights and some nightlife.

Although most river cruises are all-inclusive some are not, preferring to offer your choice of add-on excursions as you cruise. This reduces the initial cruise price without any reduction in quality on accommodation, cuisine or service.

River cruises are offered by long established and highly experienced operators, some of them having very large fleets, operating throughout the world. Ships are regularly inspected to ensure compliance with strict operating regulations. The latest ships are superbly fitted with balconied staterooms, top deck night-clubs, panoramic sundecks and al-fresco dining areas. Some have indoor pools and plunge pools on deck.

Why is France so special?

…because it’s a great combination of many good things:

  • truly beautiful scenery that changes by month and region
  • historic sites, medieval architecture and innumerable chateaux
  • charming villages that have barely changed for hundreds of years
  • excellent localised gastronomy which varies from region to region
  • a sunny, warm climate, hotter in the south to cooler in the north
  • expertise, care and attention of a reputable cruise company
  • English is always spoken on board, along with many other languages

All these combine to provide an excellent mix of fascination and relaxation, which is why a huge percentage of cruising holiday-makers choose to do it again. There are four main river routes, eight cruise companies, over eighty different cruises and more than 40 river boats – testament to the success of this type of vacation, its affordability and value for money.

What’s a typical river cruise ship like?

River cruise ships carry an average of 140 passengers on two or three decks, with a sun deck on top. Cabins, or staterooms, some of which are very spacious, are all outward facing, all with en-suite bathrooms, and some with floor to ceiling picture windows or private balconies. Some ships also offer single cabins and 3 – 4 person suites.

Facilities aboard will vary, but you can expect a bar and dance floor, one or two restaurants/dining areas, a boutique, a library, TV in your cabin and (limited) WiFi. Some ships may also provide laundry services, a hairdresser, bicycles for hire and lifts to upper floors. Most ships are also air-conditioned throughout.

Public spaces offer a mixture of open and covered deck areas, for sun-bathing and relaxing, and in the evening a piano bar for an early evening aperitif. Some cruises offer live entertainment – a jazz evening, for example, after dinner. Standards range from 3 star to luxury class and prices vary accordingly.

What’s the food like on-board?

The distinguished English chef Rick Stein made an entire, highly acclaimed, series of television programmes for the UK based around the cuisine and produce local to hotel cruise routes in France. The vast majority of cruise ships also pride themselves on the quality and reputation of their on-board cuisine, often superior to the local three and four star restaurants. The general standard of river cruise ship food and drink is of high quality, combined with excellent service from stewards and hostesses.

Most cruise ships provide all meals, from breakfast to lunch to dinner, on-board and, unlike an ocean going liner, seating is ‘free’ so you can sit with different people each time at any table you want. Provision includes a welcome cocktail party, the last evening’s Captain’s table dinner and the hosts will try to go that one-step further for a special celebration if required. Special diets can usually be accommodated with prior notice.

How much does a river cruise cost?

This depends on the length of your cruise, the itinerary, the ship and the operator. As with most things, you get what you pay for so read the cruise details carefully. Nearly all cruises provide excursions by coach as integral features of your holiday – to nearby chateaux, vineyards and historic attractions – and these may influence your choice substantially. They are usually included in the cruise price but may sometimes be added extras.

Some cruise prices include transfers from the UK, and some have no-fly options. Some will also be ‘themed’, providing a week of jazz, for example, for music lovers, or country walks for those who like a more active holiday.

Cruises in France generally last from 3 – 15 nights so the range in prices is quite large, from 350 EUR to around 5,800 EUR per person. Lower fares may not include costs of excursions, sundries aboard ship or tips. Whilst you may want the peace of mind of having your holiday booked early, you may be able to find a bargain last-minute cruise.

River cruise France booking

Clare, our award-winning river cruise expert at Ponders Travel
will find you the perfect
river cruise in France