In the travel industry right now there is a huge buzz about River Cruising. It is new. It is wonderful. You might want to know more about it. You might not have ever even heard of it. I have made it my number one new thing to learn about in 2008. And I wanted to pass along what I’ve learned so far.
First of all,
Most European River Cruising boats are long skinny boats holding 120 passengers or so on average. They are, of course, built to the exact dimensions as to what will fit into the locks of that
One of the things that you need to most understand about European River Cruising is that the experience is a lot more all-inclusive than an ocean cruise. In particular, shore excursions of some sort are included in every port. Many times they are walking tours with an audio device and/or a tour guide. Since you dock right in the center of town, you simply walk off and you are there. No parking in an industrial port. No tendering. No long bus rides to get to the town. And easy to go back to the boat for lunch and then off again for your own discovery in the afternoon. There are also opportunities for optional shore excursions if you want to try something specific in your free time, but it is not required. I would actually not suggest you do those optional tours unless it is something you REALLY wanted to see. The trip is so port-intensive, a half day of touring each day is a good pace for most.
Would a European River Cruise be right for you? Let me discuss the general atmosphere of a European River Cruise and you can then decide for yourself. A European River Cruise has an advantage over a land tour in that it has that same LOVELY perk that an ocean cruise has which is the unpack once idea. If you do a pure river cruise only, then you will only unpack once you board, and then you will take your floating hotel with you along the river to the end of your journey. Onboard you will experience great dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Often a buffet in the lounge area for breakfast, and sit down seating for lunch and dinner. (Various cruise lines do it differently.) There is nearly always open seating, but everyone has the same general dining time. The boats are relatively small, so you will likely get to know many of your fellow passengers. And there will be minimal entertainment. Maybe a lecture or local performers, or a pianist or something like that. But not big shows. No pools onboard for the most part, although a few have Jacuzzis. You need to be able to entertain yourself. Enjoy a good book on your own, or play cards or watch a movie. And there is no spa onboard, although most have a small under-used gym since there is so much walking involved in the ports.
The European River Cruise companies are building boats at breakneck speed. Some of them launching more than one boat per year. And in this industry, I do NOT think the cruise lines that have been in the business the longest are necessarily the best. It’s important to look at the itinerary and offerings of the lines when determining what is best for YOU. I can assist you with this.
For example, Viking River Cruises is one of the first lines in the industry and they probably own the most boats. They own many of the river cruise docks so they get the best parking slot. However, they most closely resemble an ocean cruise as far as what is NOT included. No free wine with dinner for example, when that is a common offering on nearly every other European River Cruise company.
There is also an interesting phenomena on the River Cruise lines in that is sometimes they own their own boats and sometimes they charter their a boat from another company. When they own the boat, you’re most likely to have better English speaking crew and more things might be included. They have less power when they charter. And still other times they simply charter chunks of boats and many of the river cruise lines share the SAME boat but have different land programs. (This is common in
Where can you take a River Cruise? Well, as I mentioned,
What else is common with River Cruises? River Cruises are often cruisetours. Besides
Who is in the River Cruise business? Well, Uniworld Grand River Cruises and Viking River Cruises were the first two big players in River Cruising. They are both good and both started out with the boats. In future years I’ll probably suggest the Viking River Cruises products first in
And that brings me to whom else is in the River Cruise business. Mostly we’ve seen really good land tour companies such as Globus and Tauck step into the River Cruise business in the last few years. They have taken their extremely organized land product and incorporated the River Cruise boats with these land products. So, when you go on an Avalon Waterways boat, for example, your land excursions will be handled by Globus folks that have extensive experience in
My training in River Cruises has been quite extensive in the last few months. This Spring I did a Webinar class put on by Peter Deilmann Cruises. I completed the Uniworld Grand River Cruise Specialist program in May. And then in June took training from Uniworld both in a Webinar and in person at my travel conference. I also took training from Viking River Cruises at my conference in June. And then upon on my return I did a four-part Webinar training program offered by Avalon Waterways. (A Webinar is a seminar online where I watch a presentation on my computer and listen via my phone. Like going to a class, but not having to leave my office.)
Throughout this training I’ve been trying very hard to figure out the differences between the lines. They all sound good, to be honest with you. And they are all priced similarly, so I really wanted to delve into the details to determine which lines give the most bang for the buck. I’m going to have to say my top three favorites are the two “A” lines and Tauck. Tauck will be my top choice, simply because it is more of a luxury line and it will have a higher service level and the included excursions are likely more impressive. Their downfall is only that they have only three boats and they aren’t doing every possible itinerary. The “A” lines, Avalon Waterways and AMA Waterways are tied for second. Avalon boasts the largest standard cabin size of 172 square feet. (Most river cruise boats average 150 square feet for standard cabins.) And AMA Waterways (formerly Amadeus Waterways) offers wine with lunch AND dinner so if you enjoy wine that might be your ticket to a smaller onboard bill. So, it is more all-inclusive in that way and a better value.
How long are River Cruises? Some cruises are as short as 7 or 8-Nights, perfect for those with not a lot of vacation time. Just like an ocean cruise, you’re more likely to find some younger guests on these sailings. Most River Cruises are longer though, 13 or 15-Nights or even 23-Nights + if you do the full
Think of the Winter! Ever wanted to try something totally different around Christmas? A few of the River Cruise companies do “Christmas Markets” cruises, giving you a perfect opportunity to see beautiful little towns brushed with snow and decorated to the hilt for the holidays. Although you might need to bundle up in your jacket and mittens for your shore trips, you’ll have a great experience and the vacation will cost you less than the prime summer months. And you’ll be greeted back onboard with hot food and beverages. Sounds magical.
I am going to highlight a few River Cruises to the right. When you see the prices, remember that a River Cruise is MUCH more inclusive than an ocean cruise, because the shore excursions are included, and wine is included with dinner and sometimes lunch. Each line is constantly changing these policies. All of the lines have following year itineraries open by the end of June, and many offer promotions if you pay in full or deposit by a certain deadline. Ask me for more details, or just pop me an email or click the yellow CONTACT US in the upper right and tell me what you’re most interested in seeing! I’m always happy to advise you.
Elite Cruise Counsellor
Elite Cruise Counsellor
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