River cruises in the USA may not have castles and ruins, but they have their own history, charm and, in some cases, spectacular scenery.
What river cruise adventures does the United States have to offer in comparison to those in Europe? Well, to be brutally frank, not much.
This surprises me, since one would surmise that the US certainly has enough rivers and canals to make river cruising a viable enterprise.
However, second thoughts on the matter bring a few glaring problems to light. Our mighty Ohio / Mississippi River system lost its major cruise boat with the permanent docking of the Delta Queen. Now, if you want to go down the Mississippi, you'll have to build your own raft.
However, all is not lost, as someone picked up the slack and the Niagara Prince, a 78 passenger European-style river boat now cruises from Chicago to New Orleans. More info can be found at American Heartland River Cruise. Another cruise company will be offering trips from Nashville to New Orleans in 2011.
A river cruise on the mighty Missouri was possible, but no more. This notice is up on their web site: "RiverBarge Excursion Lines, Inc. has been forced to cover all operations for 2009 due to economic conditions. Rising costs and very soft bookings have forced this decision." So, economics seems to be a large part of the problem.
However, once the nostalgia and fun of riding on an ancient river boat passes, one realizes that these rivers flow through essentially flat mid-western terrain. Plus the river towns lack the picturesque and exotic quality of those in foreign places.
The rivers that do flow through the scenic, hilly areas of the US, may be okay for rafting, canoes, or other small boats, but they tend to be too small or shallow for serious river cruise boats.
There are, however, several major exceptions. The most spectacular scenery is courtesy of the Columbia / Snake river system, which can be "river cruised" courtesy of CruiseWest. TravelWizard, may be dated, but it does lists cruises on the Columbia and the Ohio River.
The ante bellum south of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida can be seen on the East Coast waterway on ships, such as The American Star, operated by the American Cruise Lines. They also provide cruises through the Eastern Seaboard, such as Chesapeake Bay and Maine. In New York they ply the Hudson River, with its stunning scenery and the attraction of New York City to add flavoring.
In New York, the Erie Canal still acts as a canal, but primarily for recreation. There are countless "day" or hour trips. Mid Lakes Navigation offers 2 or 3 days canal boat tours with evenings located in land hotel accommodations. It's even possible to rent a self-drive boat for a week or more at Erie Canal self-hire boats 3 or 7 days.
For more info on New York's canal system look at NYCanal.
USA River Cruises is an agency that covers river cruising through most of the country.
However, for better or worse, the giant lion's share of river or canal cruising is short term, maybe only an hour or two. Up and back. And it seems there are many, many of these available in virtually every navigable river or lake in the country. All it takes is a little googling.
However, these short trips may be worthwhile as they could provide some indication of what river cruising in the USA is all about.