Choosing your cabin on a river cruise. Is it worth having a balcony?

As I sat enjoying breakfast, admiring the view from my Deluxe Balcony Stateroom onboard the beautiful Scenic Azure, my answer would be a resounding, yes.

I prefer a balcony cabin so that I can relax and enjoy the view and some fresh air. However, I do have clients who decide that they will spend most of their time outside of their room in the shared spaces and would like to make their holiday budget stretch further. They’ll opt for a lower deck cabin with a fixed window. It’s down to personal preference and budget. If finances allow, I highly recommend a balcony option.

It is worth noting that one morning, you could have an incredible view over the river, but the next day, the view could be of a dock wall and your balcony becomes less important. In busy ports, river ships may need to dock next to each other and on one occasion I opened my curtains, and my view was straight into the cabin of a passenger on the adjacent ship. The view from the deck can’t be obscured by another ship as they are all the same height.

When I travelled on Uniworld Joie de Vivre, I had a stateroom with a French balcony – the top half of the floor to ceiling window glides down to the halfway point allowing an uninterrupted view and plenty of fresh air to circulate.

Cabin, room, stateroom or suite? 

The terminology can vary between river cruise lines. For example, AmaWaterways and Uniworld have Staterooms and Suites. On Scenic river ships, each room is known as a Suite with larger options named Junior Suites or the opulent Royal Suite. Riviera refer to their “wonderfully spacious and luxuriously appointed cabins”.

A room with a view and even a bed with a view…

Some river cruise lines have chosen to position the bed facing the huge balcony window meaning that you can sit in bed and watch the world go by. A fantastic example is Avalon’s Panorama Suites which feature wall to wall, and floor to ceiling, panoramic windows with beds that face the view. They say, “think of it as a view with a room!”.

River cruise balcony types

River ship French balconies often have dramatic floor to ceiling windows where the top half of the window glides down to create the balcony. Some will have doors that slide back, with railings on the outside. Scenic Suites have a seating area next to the huge windows and the area is separated from the main bedroom by folding glass doors. This is referred to as the Sun Lounge.

An open air, traditional balcony is unusual on river cruise ships as space is limited and the design preference has been for French balconies.  The space can then be used inside as well as creating a balcony.


Many of the staterooms on AmaWaterways river ships have an innovative solution with twin balconies, making the most of both worlds – a French balcony and a step-out area.

Which is the best deck on a river cruise ship?

The top deck is generally regarded as the best and the price reflects this. When you reach a port there is less chance of your window being below the line of the dock wall.

A consideration when choosing a lower deck cabin without a balcony is the fixed window. Being close to the waterline, the windows can’t be opened but the onboard air conditioning ensures that a suitable temperature is maintained as well as refreshing the air. My personal preference is to have a window or doors that open but the cost saving is a factor. When I asked about their choice of cabin, my client said:
“We never spend time in our room, so we are happy to save the money towards another trip”.

Are there any cabins to avoid on a river cruise?

All cabins can experience some vibration and noise when the ship docks or navigates locks as it is manoeuvred into position.

I generally avoid the cabins closest to the engines at the rear of the ship, but I’ve spoken to people who have stayed in them and not had any issues. They are also the cheapest option. Sound insulation tends to work well, and I’ve personally not experienced any noise that has kept me from sleeping.

Some guests like to choose cabins near the reception area and restaurant for convenience while others prefer to be further back so that fewer people will pass their door on the way to their own cabin. This is often the advice given when choosing an ocean ship cabin, to minimise motion awareness but this doesn’t apply to river ships where the rivers are calm.

How do I choose a cabin on a river cruise?

It comes down to budget and personal preference. The key things to think about are:

  • How much time will you spend in the cabin?
  • Are you happy with a fixed window?
  • How much do you value a large window and the views from your own personal cabin?
  • Is the upgrade cost worth it to you?

A client told me recently that her balcony room was perfect, and she loved the opportunity to admire the view at any time of day or night, particularly when the ship was sailing.

I’ve sailed on or visited many river ships and I’m always happy to share my own experiences and help you choose yours. If you have any questions, please send me a message, I am happy to help.

Jenny Cookman

dining on a river cruise