Savvy cruisers, accustomed to sailing the high seas, are taking note of a relatively unknown opportunity. Namely, the experience of cruising down a meandering river in a venue even more laid-back than traditional ocean cruises. Drifting through beautiful landscapes, enjoying all the creature comforts of regional food and wine, experiencing chateaus and cathedrals, touring vineyards and sleepy villages left behind by time… this is a European River Cruise.

The countless amenities of ocean cruises have been well documented in numerous forums, including CruiseCompete.com. However, cruising a river waterway brings a new experience that is both similar to, and very different from, ocean cruising.

What is the allure of river cruising? Unlike ocean cruises, rivers provide easy access to city centers. Passengers sail directly into the heart of every destination and dock in the middle of town, then walk right off the ship and move easily into whatever city or town you are visiting. You spend less time getting there—and more time being there.

A river cruise allows for a more intimate experience, as well. Because most of these ships accommodate only 30 to 200 guests, it is easier to meet your traveling companions. You can share a drink with the couple you met on the day’s tour, or dine with interesting passengers in an open-seating restaurant. Another benefit: you can also forget about waiting in long lines to embark, debark, or have a meal.

It’s no wonder that both experienced and first-time travelers have discovered the joys of river cruising; it is currently the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry.

In keeping with this trend, CruiseCompete.com has recently added the premier names in river cruising to their website. The site lists information for Amadeus/AMA Waterways, Avalon Waterways and Uniworld. Also included: Viking River, the largest player in the river cruise industry and the recipient of both Conde Nast’s Gold & Travel award and the recognition as one of Leisure World’s “Best”.

As with ocean cruises, the concept of shopping for a river cruise with CruiseCompete is simplicity itself. Cruisers select a ship and sail date, and their request appears instantly in multiple cruise specialists’ accounts. These specialized agents process the request, and respond with their best offers. Consumers can compare the quotes received, and contact the agencies directly for more information, or to book. Users remain anonymous until and unless they contact an agent. Another upgrade: live chat has recently been added to give an additional layer of communication to cruisers.

Bottom line - you get the cruise destination and dates you want, with the best available deal from cruise specialists bidding to serve you. While many Americans believe there is no economical way to cruise during these difficult times, there are bargains to be had for river cruisers. Those willing to take a few moments on their computers to type in the cruise parameters of their dreams can reap the benefits. What better way to address the "economic blues" than by taking a respite from these tough times? River excursions are low in cost, but high in unforgettable memories.