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Sail On! The Perks of Taking a River Cruise

These days, going local is one of the biggest trends out there. Local food, local services, locally made products—you name it. So it's no wonder that more and more of us are taking a local approach when choosing our cruises.

Picture it: boarding a small and quiet riverboat, kicking up your feet, and watching the shores of one of America's most historical and beautiful rivers go slowly by. Being only a stone's throw from life as it unfolds in picturesque river towns. Listening to lectures that give insight into the river's geology, history, and culture. Spotting birds and waterfalls and even alligators (we're looking at you, Florida).

Riverboats can navigate shallow waters and tread more lightly than massive oceangoing cruise ships, and so can take you to the nooks and crannies of this country while avoiding long, featureless expanses of empty ocean. And an extra bonus? Sheltered from ocean swells, you don't have to pack that motion sickness medication.

Yes, oceangoing cruise ships can offer 24/7 entertainment—casinos, stage shows, spas, cinemas—but cruising on a riverboat can give you the space, time, and quiet to fully recharge. So if you're looking for relaxation with your vacation—instead of nonstop recreation—a river cruise might be just the ticket.

We've whittled down all the options to these four spectacular favorites.

Mississippi River

Whether you've got a few days or a solid two weeks, there are plenty of short and long cruise options on the world's third-longest river. In the river's northern reaches, spot bald eagles, shop for antiques in Iowa's charming river towns, and gawk at the series of locks that bring you and the riverboat down to a lower elevation. In the middle reaches, pull out a copy of Huck Finn and enjoy a visit to Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain's boyhood home. And in the home stretch, let the South's mansions, bayous, and balmy air bring you all the way into New Orleans.

Columbia/Snake Rivers

On their way to the ocean, the Snake and Columbia Rivers have carved an incredibly picturesque path though rocky buttes and deep gorges. Snowy peaks, abundant waterfalls, and salmon spotting make a cruise perfect for lovers of geology, landscape, and wildlife. And because it follows the last leg of Lewis and Clark's epic journey to the Pacific, there's no shortage of interest for history buffs, either.

Florida Rivers

For a cruise as warm and sunny as the Caribbean, take a ride down Florida's St. John's River. With its mangrove forests, mineral springs, and abundant wildlife, you'll be experiencing a side of Florida that few ever see. And the small size of the boat lends itself to daily shore excursions, from Amelia Island to old trading posts and America's oldest city, St. Augustine.

And Beyond

Got a taste for adventure? International river cruises allow you to get deep into the remote reaches of a country without ever having to strike off alone. From the Mekong to the Yangtze, the Nile to the Volga, they give you a peek into far-flung cultures from the comfort of a home base. And the bragging rights? They can't be beat!

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