7 Reasons for Older Women to Consider a River Cruise

by | Oct 29, 2022

A river cruise ship makes its way down the Rhone River in France
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Last updated on November 30th, 2023

Featured image: River cruises, like this one on the Rhone, can make travel more accessible to women over 80 | Photo by Daniel VILLAFRUELA, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tips to find the right experience for you

By Diana Eden, Contributor, Women Over 80 Travel

A few of years ago, my younger sister and I decided to try a river cruise on the Rhöne River in France, starting in Lyon and ending in Arles. We were delighted with the experience. 

I hadn’t quite turned 80 at the time. One day, I was sitting on the top deck enjoying the sun on my face and the view of the hills covered with lush vineyards and dotted with ancient stone buildings. I thought, “when I’m 100 years old and decrepit, I’ll just cruise up and down a beautiful river like this all day!”

Why women over 80 should consider a river cruise

1. The intimacy of a small ship

Truthfully, I found the small river cruise ship to be ideally suited to me in my older years. It was so much more intimate than a massive 14-story mega-liner. It was quieter, more relaxed, and easier to navigate (you can walk stern to bow in under a minute!). 

On this trip, I was happy to have my sister as company, but I would not have worried about going solo. With a maximum of 140 passengers, it is easy to make friends. All the passengers fit into the lounge together for drinks, announcements, and entertainment, and all fit into the one dining room. Being just two, Carol and I usually sat at a table for 4 or 6, meeting some lovely people. It is unlikely that a solo guest will be eating at a single table in a corner or going on the excursions without already knowing some of the others.

CAVEAT: Be aware that cruise companies rarely relinquish that miserable single supplement. If you are solo, check first, and depending on capacity, see if you can make a deal or have the supplement waived

2. The clientele is my age 

The clientele also seems to be of retirement age. Certainly, no children were running around unattended. In fact, no children were present at all except in the iPhone photo albums of proud grandparents. I look for trips where I can relate easily to my fellow travelers.

3. Disembarking the river cruise ship

One of the best aspects of a river boat is the ease with which you can get on and off with a simple gangplank and the guiding hand of a crew member and be almost instantly in the center of town. Since most ancient towns originated on a river, we docked near the main intersection and could be in the center square in less than five minutes. That made it possible to take an evening stroll around town before or after dinner. 

This was the case, especially in Vienne, a lovely town already thriving 2000 years ago, which boasts the Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia, the ruins of a Roman theater, timber-supported medieval houses, and many other centuries-old monuments. Even in Avignon, one of the few French cities to have entirely preserved ancient town walls, we were 5 minutes from them from the dock. The historic center, which includes the Palais des Papesthe cathedral, and the Pont d’Avignon, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. We were but a ten-minute stroll from the Papal Palace.

CAVEAT: sometimes, if the dock is busy, they “park” the riverboats parallel with each other. In those situations, one has to climb to the top deck of your boat, cross over the top deck of the next boat, and even the next, and then down stairs to the gangplank. Not too much of an inconvenience, but tricky if you are stairs-averse.

View From Lounge on River Cruise

Disembarking a river cruise in Vienne, France / Photo by Carol Moore-Ede

River cruise ship Avalon Scenery on the Rhone at Vienne, France

Disembarking a river cruise in Vienne, France / Photo by Jim (WCK-JST), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4. There ia a choice of excursions 

With the cruise line we chose, there were many choices of excursions every day, and they accommodated everyone- early risers, late risers, high-energy walkers, slow walkers. In fact, every level of capability or interest of their guests was taken care of.

We visited the medieval hilltop town of Oingt and a neighboring winery, took an antique steam train up the Gorge du Doux, visited the breathtaking miracle of Roman engineering, the 2000-years old Pont du Gard, saw the Son et Lumiere show projected on the walls of a giant stone quarry, and visited the Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum where Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted some of his most famous paintings such as Starry Night. My sister opted to go to the Camargue to photograph the wild flamingoes, black bulls, and white horses. 

Not all river cruise companies offer the same advantages. Another company I sailed with offered less choice of tours, they usually started at 7 or 8 am. and their cost was not included in the original package.

Looking for day trips or activities? Check Viator for endless things to do here!

5. The food is excellent with many options 

Meals were uniformly excellent, and wine flowed freely. If one was vegan or vegetarian, there were plenty of options, and kitchen staff even prepared special requests. One of our group wanted fresh salsa with her scrambled eggs, and they made it just for her every morning.

6. The scenery is exquisite

It was gorgeous, especially on the Rhone sailing south through the center of France. On some cruises, much of the actual sailing is done at night, so you will have free time during the day for excursions, so if you want those days floating along between two banks of exquisite scenery, pick your route carefully and check your itinerary before you book.

Grape fields Near Oingt, France. Visiting from a river cruise

Grape fields near Oingt, France / Photo provided by Carol Moore-Ede

View of Pont d'Avignon on the river Rhone, Avignon, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France

View of Pont d’Avignon on the river Rhone, France / Photo by Image-Source on Envato

7. Shopping is less-crowded

For those who like to purchase things along the way, with river cruises, one does not have to fight the crowds or the vendors at the large ports where the cruise liners stop. You can shop at the local stores! While wandering around Vienne one evening, I purchased two lovely scarves at a small dress shop. In Avignon, I bought a small original painting for my collection of watercolor memories.

CAVEAT: Sadly, climate change is playing havoc with the water level of Europe’s rivers. The boats cannot go under the bridges if the water is too high. If too low, they cannot sail either, and you have no choice but to be content with being bussed to and from the next destination and the accompanying tours. 

So if you want a relaxing tour, solo or with friends or family, choose to sail down one of Europe’s (or North America’s) great waterways and see life at a slower pace, up close and personal.

Tips on choosing a river cruise

“I river cruise alone often. I am very outgoing and can carry on a conversation with just about anyone…Pick an itinerary that interests you and book it …you won’t regret it.” — Wendy C

“River cruises rarely have single rooms. Mayflower lets you get an unknown roommate. That was a mistake.” —  Sarah G. 

“I have gone solo on two French River Cruises with Uniworld. They have several single cabins, and have waived single supplement offers. Both the crew members and fellow passengers were very inclusive , so very comfortable being one of the few singles onboard. Went on cruises in 2018 and 2019. Planning another river cruise in 2022.”  — Louise

“One thing I did notice about anyone with mobility issues – sometimes the boats park side by side, so in order to get ashore, one has to get off our boat, cross the boat next to the dock, to get ashore – difficult for people with a mobility issue. Overall river cruising is better than ocean cruising, as you always see land and it is a smoother ride, good food and entertainment from each country you visit .” — Joy F.

“Two pieces of advice – Look at water levels. When you least expect it, due to drought and climate change, many routes become part river, part land trips! Also, if you’ve been on ocean liners before, don’t think a river cruise is anything like a typical ocean-faring cruise.” — Nancy S. 

Read More on the Older Adventuress

Diana Eden is a Contributing Writer for JourneyWoman magazine, focused on travel for women over 80. She was born in England, raised in Toronto, lived and worked in New York, Los Angeles, and now Las Vegas. She is a former dancer, actress, Emmy-nominated costume designer, and now author. She recently published her memoir, "Stars in Their Underwear: My Unpredictable journey from Broadway dancer to costume designer for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars."


  1. Rachel Gorenstein

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience, this seems like a great solution for traveling with my 81 yr. old mother.
    Will you share which River Boat Cruise company you were on for this article? This excursion options sound like a very good match for us.

    Thank you, Rachel

  2. Sandra Kurjiaka

    So glad to see article aimed at over 80. I’ve wondered if I’d be comfortable on a river cruise solo so I really enjoyed this. Ms advice.

  3. Nanci J Kersch

    I would love to join the September 28th Authors seminar. I will be in the Cotswolds again on that date( prior to a five day trip to Malta& prior to my First ever River cruise down the Moselle and part of the Rhône! I enjoyed the comments in the article about Solo/80 year olds and their river cruise article. Again, what time is the 80+ Author seminar and can I still sign up?

  4. Naida Hyde

    A marvellous comprehensive list, it was a joy to read. I just turned 81 and appreciate your attention to the needs of elders. I am still recovering from the loss of my beloved woman life partner. She was my family. But now I am re-entering life.Before that calamity struck I volunteered, doing sexual violence work with girls and women, 6 different years in Lesotho, southern Africa, a magical high mountain kingdom with welcoming people. I don’t suggest it because it lacks enough infrastructure for travellers to manage with ease. I went to Cape Town and loved it, may go again.
    I love the wild beauty of oceans so am not ready to give them up for rivers, sad as they may be now.
    Two additions to your list I would consider, Jasper, as part of your excellent Rockies suggestion. Jasper Park Lodge is a wonderful place to stay In any season. Swimming in their outdoor heated pool after dark in heavy snowfall was one of life’s highlights. Bhutan is my other suggestion which I visited and trekked in 1991; it is a sublimely beautiful country. I think you perhaps have a trip there already. Thank you again for this excellent site.


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