How to choose the best river cruise cabin

Are you new to river cruising and not sure which cruise cabin to choose? We share our top tips on which cabins to avoid and the best river cruise cabin you should definitely book.

In this article, we reveal the things you need to consider when choosing a river cruise cabin, the best cabin locations and why even though every river cruise cabin has a window or balcony, it doesn’t always guarantee a view!

Types of river cruise cabins

Let’s begin with the types of cabins you’ll find on a river cruise ship.

Standard cabin

The lowest grade cabins are usually found on the lowest deck of a river cruise ship.

All cabins have a window.  There are no inside cabins on a river cruise so during the day you’ll always have some natural light in your cabin.

These cabins are close to or below the water line, which is why the windows are sometimes positioned higher.  You may also hear the water sloshing around more because you are much closer to it.

For these reasons, cabins on the lowest decks are the cheapest and most economical cabins on a river cruise ship.  For the amount of time you plan to spend in your cabin, it might be a really good option.

Solo cabins

River cruises also offer solo cabins. These are a great choice for anyone who is cruising on their own and doesn’t want to pay a supplement.

Because river cruising is naturally more sociable, it’s a great type of cruise holiday for solo travellers.

Balcony cabins

Standard balcony cabins, these are located on the middle and upper decks of a river cruise ship.

Most river cruise ships don’t have balconies that you can sit on like ocean cruises and are mostly Juliet balconies. You can still open the sliding doors and get a fantastic view outside whilst sailing down the river.

Another wonderful thing about having a balcony cabin on a river cruise is that you can wake up in the morning and watch the scenery go by from the comfort of your bed.

There are a few river ships that do have proper balconies and we enjoyed one of these on our cruise with AmaWaterways.


Finally, the other main type of river cruise cabin you can choose is a suite.

A suite provides you with the most square footage, a balcony and usually comes with perks like a minibar.  

Some come with a double balconies and even private plunge pools!

The suites onboard a river cruise are the most expensive but are usually in prime locations on the ship.

We stayed in a French balcony suite on Tui River Cruises and a suite on AmaWaterways.  Both were really nice to stay in and provided much more room that the standard balcony cabins.

Why is best? River cruise balcony or suite?

Best river cruise cabin location

The location of your river cruise cabin is more important than you think and for different reasons than an ocean cruise.

On an ocean cruise, your cruise cabin location can affect the amount of ‘motion in the ocean’ you feel and how long it will take you to get to the main public areas.

For river cruising, these factors aren’t really factors at all. You won’t get sea sick on a river cruise and the ships are much smaller.

The factors you need to consider when choosing a cabin on a river ship are:

  • The deck
  • Where the cabin is situated on the deck 
  • How close the cabin is to the public areas

River ships do sometimes have laundrettes but these aren’t close to cabins so you don’t need to worry about being in a cabin next to one.

Our biggest piece of advice when choosing a river cruise cabin is to avoid cabins at the back of the ship

The engines are located at the back and can cause your bed to literally vibrate!  As well as the vibrations, you also experience a lot more noise at the back of a river ship.

We have experienced this firsthand and it was not pleasant. 

Even though cruise ships stay over night or later in ports, they still often travel overnight.  In the middle of the night we’ve been woken by the noise and vibrations when the ship has been moving.

If these are the only cabins left on a river cruise, beware!

Our second piece of advice applies if you enjoy an early night.

The cabins closest to and directly below the main lounge on a river ship are likely to experience some noise from the evening entertainment.

River cruise entertainment doesn’t really go past midnight but if you plan to head back to your cabin early, you may hear some of the noise and music.

We would choose a cabin near the lounge over a cabin at the back of the ship every time.

The best river cruise cabin is located mid-ship so that neither the engines or the lounge entertainment interrupts your sleep.

Which deck is best on a river cruise ship?

Personally, we always choose the upper deck on a river cruise (usually Deck 3) because this gives us the best chance of a view.

What we’ve noticed is that just because you have a window or a balcony, it doesn’t always guarantee a view. 

You may find yourself with no view when the ship is docked because your cabin is below the line of the dock.  This leaves you with a wonderful view of… a wall.

The one thing you can do to minimise this, is choose a cabin on the highest deck – usually Deck 3. This is the main reason that cabins on the upper deck are more expensive.

This deck gives you the best chance of a view from your cabin whilst docked.  A great example of this is when we docked in Passau, Germany on a Danube cruise. Deck 3 was the only deck above the dock line.  

deck 3 on a river cruise ship is a good choice for the best river cruise cabin location
Deck 3 was the only deck above the dock line

This is much more likely to happen when river levels are low and the ship sits lower on the river.

Deck 3 is also a good choice because on cruise lines such Riviera Travel, cabins enjoy the perks of Riviera Plus.

On this deck, Riviera Plus passengers receive:

  • daily gifts in the cabin
  • a bottle of Champagne
  • a Nespresso coffee machine in the cabin
  • luxury toiletries and drinks vouchers that can be redeemed in the bar
  • a smart handset with unlimited calls, text messages and internet usage to use whilst you are out exploring the ports.

One thing to be aware of is that Deck 3 is directly below the top deck so you may hear the crew running up and down the deck when the ship is docking.

Should you choose a cabin on port or starboard?

Which is the best option to choose? Port or starboard?

We discovered a way to work out which side a river ship is likely to dock. This will help you to decide if port or starboard has the best chance of a view.

It’s important to know that river ships always dock facing up-river, against the flow of the water.

Firstly, find out which way your cruise is travelling along the river.  Don’t always assume that a river flows from north to south because the Rhine actually runs south to north.

Once you know this, take a look at a map of the river to see which side of the river the destinations are located. From this, you should get a good idea of whether you will dock on port or starboard side.

Even if you’re river cruise cabin is not on the docking side, there’s still the risk of another ship mooring against yours and you’ve got a great view of… the other ship.

view from river cruise cabin when a ship docked alongside
Our view when another river cruise ship docked alongside

In some places, river cruises even have three river ships moored alongside one another.  Being the middle ship in this situation means that neither side is best.

The reality is that you can never 100% control the view you have from your cabin.

Our top tips to choose the best river cruise cabin

To choose the best river cruise cabin, we recommend following these three simple rules:

  1. Avoid cabins located towards the rear of the ship 
  2. Avoid cabins near or below the ship’s lounge
  3. Choose the highest deck that fits your budget

If you’re looking for more advice about river cruising, we’d recommend reading some of our other river cruise articles like what to wear on a river cruise.


Laura is a UK cruise blogger based in Cornwall, UK. She founded Cruise Lifestyle in 2016 to share useful advice about cruising, destinations and food.
Last port visited: Bridgetown, Barbados
Next port of call: unknown, but she can’t wait for cruising to resume safely!

Find me on: Twitter


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