Best US River Cruises

Travel Channel's list of the best river cruises for 2011 and beyond.
By: Donna Marino Wilkins
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In the US, river cruising can involve a voyage down the Mississippi River on a historic paddleboat, meandering alongside glaciers in Alaska or heading down the Hudson River on ships that carry fewer than 150 passengers and move at a relaxed pace. Fewer fellow passengers mean shorter lines, while on-board historians and naturalists put travelers in touch with the surroundings with daily lectures on many river cruises. Shore excursions are included in the price as well. Another advantage: these smaller ships can reach places and ports that mega-ships can't. Below are several ships and itineraries worth considering. 

Get on board with Travel Channel's top picks for cruises

Civil War and history buffs gravitate to this 7-night river cruise aboard the 4-year-old, 52-stateroom American Star. The cruise includes a stop at Daufuskie Island, accessible only by boat, where a small, native population has little contact with the outside world.

Ports/Destinations: Beaufort, SC; Daufuskie Island/Hilton Head, SC; Savannah, GA; St. Simons Island, GA; Jekyll and Amelia Islands, GA; Jacksonville, FL

While you're in South Carolina, check out their Best Beaches.

Small-ship cruising doesn't get much smaller than the 32-passenger Island Spirit sailing southeast Alaska from Sitka to Petersburg (or the reverse). The 8-night cruise offers access to wilderness areas most other ships cannot visit for close-up views of whales, eagles, bears, moose, seals and other wildlife as well as glaciers and ice fields.

Ports/Destinations: Dawes Glacier (Endicott Arm and Holkam Bay); Ford’s Terror; Juneau; Chatham Strait; Tenakee Springs; Sitka

Learn how to navigate an Alaskan cruise

Schedule this 12-night cruise during the fall foliage season for spectacular views. The 96-passenger ship makes stops at towns along the Hudson River and journeys through the Thousand Islands that straddle the Canada-US border in the Saint Lawrence River.

Ports/Destinations: New York, NY; Kingston, NY; Troy, NY; Amsterdam, NY; Sylvan Beach, NY; Oswego, NY; Clayton, NY; Alexandria Bay, NY; Dark Island, NY; Ogdensburg, NY; St. Lawrence Seaway; Quebec City, Quebec; Montreal, Quebec

Travel into the past aboard a historic paddleboat. The 120-passenger vessel sails a 7-night voyage from Portland, OR, to Clarkston, WA, (or the reverse) and brings passengers through a diverse geography that ranges from lush greenery to arid desert. Highlights include traveling through Hells Canyon on the Snake River, views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood and plenty of Lewis & Clark history.

Ports/Destinations: Portland, OR; Astoria, OR; Rainier, WA; Stevenson, WA; Pendleton, OR; Clarkston, WA

Visit the Columbia River Highway

It's not the typical river-cruising option (not all meals are included), but this 40-person, 160-foot tri-masted tall ship offers summer Chesapeake Bay sailings in a yacht-like setting. There are teak decks, luxury cabins with satellite TV and onboard snorkeling and kayaks. The cruise departs from Annapolis, travels along the Patuxent River and ends in Baltimore.

Ports/Destinations: Annapolis, MD; Cambridge, MD; Solomons, MD; St. Michaels, MD; Kent Island, MD; Baltimore, MD

Video: Travel through western Maryland for fall festivals, artisan workshops and more »

Recent economic conditions and natural disasters have stopped river cruises on the Mississippi. But you can reserve space now on a new 140-passenger sternwheeler scheduled to begin itineraries in August 2012. The ship, a traditional riverboat, will feature the largest cabins of any small ship.

Ports will include: Memphis, TN; Nashville, TN; St. Louis, MO; St. Paul, MN; Cincinnati, OH; and Pittsburgh, PA

See our Memphis and Nashville Weekend Guide.

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