There are distinctions between river ships, based on the waterways that they cruise. The most common type and the most abundant are the long flat river ships that cruise along the rivers of Europe. The other type of river ship would be the iconic paddle wheeler, steamship replica or mega-yacht that you’ll find on the rivers and waterways in the USA.
When you’re looking at the European river ships, that’s an entirely different ballgame. Due to an extensive locks system and a multitude of bridges on the waterways, river ships in Europe must conform to a very specific height and width. Weather conditions also play a major role in the design and construction of these elongated vessels.
The water levels of Europe’s rivers is at nature’s whim. Consequently, river ships are built with a very shallow draft (the amount of ship that’s below the waterline) and construction materials. If the weather’s been dry, rivers become shallow and only the lightest weight and shallowest draft ships can hope to continue their voyage.
Cabin sizes on river ships in the USA run the gamut from small to amazingly large. For example, a standard balcony cabin on American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the Mississippi is bigger than what you’ll find on many ocean cruise lines.
Steamship replicas that ply the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest have smaller cabins and interiors are a reflection of the Victorian style of ship. It’s not fair to say that one type of river ship in the USA is better than another. Each type of ship, whether paddle wheeler, steamship replica or a large yacht, has its own unique charm and character and the cabins follow suit.
If an Africa, Asia or Russia river cruise are on your wish-list, keep in mind that these are usually smaller, chartered rather than owned by the cruise line selling it. Always ask if they own the vessel or is it chartered. It may not make a big difference, but in some places and with some cruise lines it does.
The wedding cake-style paddle wheeler at the top is American Cruise Lines Queen of the West.