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5 Reasons A River Cruise Needs A Spot On Your Bucket List

Little ships, BIG fun.

If you're like most travelers, going on a cruise means schlepping aboard a massive ship -- along with thousands of other passengers -- and traversing the big blue sea, often without sighting land for days at a time.

But as The New York Times Travel Show taught us, there's more than one way to cruise.

Behold river cruising, the more relaxed, less crowded and culturally richer version of an ocean cruise. If you've never considered this type of adventure before, get ready to trade your mega-boat ticket for a sweet little paddlewheel. Here's why:

1. River cruises are waaay less crowded than ocean cruises.

The Carnival Dream, an ocean liner, takes upwards of 3,600 passengers on its trips to the Caribbean. But on a river tour of the French canals with CroisiEurope, you'll be in the company of just 23 other travelers. See ya later, long lines!

2. They navigate to places that big boats can't.

Whether it's on those French canals or a fall foliage tour of the Hudson River, river cruise boats can venture into shallow waters that those massive liners just can't. And that means more little-known sights for you to explore.

3. There's a view the WHOLE time.

Most ocean cruises incorporate "sea days," where you'll see nothing but open blue ocean for 24 hours or more. On a river cruise, scenery is all around you, ALL the time.

4. You'll learn something about the places you visit.

"On an ocean cruise, the ship itself is the destination,” Christ Greco, an expert at Tauck World Discovery, said in a seminar at The New York Times Travel Show. "But the essence of river cruising is in what guests experience ashore." That's not to say the ships aren't simply stunning, but cultural adventures like attending class with schoolchildren in China or hosting local musicians aboard will ensure you come home with more than just a mega-sized popcorn bucket from the cruise ship movie theater.

5. You'll actually make friends (if you want to).

Those cultural adventures can have lasting effects. "When you have a shared experience with someone during travel, it creates a bond," Susan Schulz, of American Cruise Lines, said at the seminar. "It's common to come home from a river cruise with real, new friends." And to a traveler, THAT is worth it all.

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Cruise Ships Photographed from The Air