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River Cruising ~ What you need to know!


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, Europe is the most common place you will find the river boats, but there are also a few other geographical regions.  I want to discuss the European ones first though.  In Europe the completion of the Main-Danube Canal connecting two of the primary rivers of Europe in 1992 is what actually opened up Europe for River Cruising.  River Cruising as a vacation concept really got rolling only in the last couple of years though.  Just in the 2000’s.


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 Main-Danube Canal.  Most of them have just three passenger sleeping decks and a top open deck, each company doing their own designs of course.  Generally though there is one hallway with cabins on both sides on the three decks.  There are lead-in priced porthole-type oceanview cabins down low, with those windows or portholes being high up in the cabin.  Then above that there are usually two decks of cabins with large windows that open or French balconies.  (A sliding glass door with a railing only six inches out.  This give fresh air and floor to ceiling windows but not a balcony per se.)


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 China.)



Where can you take a River Cruise?  Well, as I mentioned, Europe is the most common with most of the lines doing the many rivers there.  A River Cruise is the BEST way to see the Amsterdam area (sold out for Tulip time very far in advance every year), Paris to Normandy (the lines often stay parked in Paris for multiple days), and wine regions of France and Spain.  Add to that just absolutely spectacular castles along the Rhine through Germany, the history of Vienna and the diverse cultures and beautiful scenery all along the way.  You can take a River Cruise all the way from Amsterdam to the Black Sea!



What else is common with River Cruises?  River Cruises are often cruisetours.  Besides Europe, you can take a River Cruise in Egypt along the Nile or China along the Yangtze or even Russia on the Volga.  These non-Europe River Cruises nearly always have some land portion.  If you’re going to go all the way to China, you’re going to want to cruise some days, but also fly to the other main attractions within China so the land part is very important.  All of the companies seem to do great cruisetour products in these areas.  They do not often call them cruisetours like the ocean cruise lines do, but they are.



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 Egypt and Russia, but at this time I don’t see them quite as differentiated.  Viking is building its own boat for Egypt so it will not be sharing with other lines when that happens.  And they have some very old boats in Russia that are getting major facelifts that will make them more livable.  Viking River Cruises launched a land tour program last year, as they had a lot of requests for more land time near were the River Cruises started and ended. 


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 Europe leading successful tours.  And Tauck World Discoveries has long been known as simply the best in service for land tours in the areas they serve.  More all-inclusive than other land tours.  More luxury.  And more service.  They started out chartering boats from other companies, but in the last two years have launched their own boats.  Each built with suggestions of their current guests.  And they have a third one on the horizon for next year.



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 Amsterdam to the Black Sea cruise. On these, you’ll find many 'young at heart' retired individuals who have a quest for adventure and love culture.



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.


Click here to read a review of an AMA Waterways Amsterdam to Budapest cruise written by my client Kathy.


~Suzy Cruisy

Elite Cruise Counsellor

River Cruise Options

Click on the blue [More Details] to see more about any of these offers, or "View All Specials >>" at the bottom to see the entire highlighted list.

Christmastime In Alsace & Germany (Northbound)
4 nights starting at $2,199.00
from Avalon Waterways
available 12/2/2024 - 12/6/2024
Rhine & Moselle Fairytales
11 nights starting at $5,099.00
from AmaWaterways
available 7/24/2024 - 8/4/2024
Paris & Normandy
9 nights starting at $3,229.00
from AmaWaterways
available 10/28/2025 - 11/6/2025
French Masterpiece: Paris, Normandy & Bordeaux
14 nights starting at $6,798.00
from Avalon Waterways
available 10/28/2025 - 11/11/2025
Elegant Elbe
9 nights starting at $3,799.00
from Viking River Cruises
available 3/11/2026 - 3/20/2026
The Rhine & Moselle: Canals, Vineyards & Castles
7 nights starting at $3,299.00
from Avalon Waterways
available 8/1/2024 - 8/8/2024
Rhine Connoisseur: Montreux to Brussels - Northbound
10 nights starting at $7,990.00
from Tauck
available 7/27/2025 - 8/6/2025
Grand France (2024)
14 nights starting at $6,799.00
from Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
available 10/27/2024 - 11/10/2024
The Romantic Rhine: Amsterdam to Basel - Southbound
7 nights starting at $5,890.00
from Tauck
available 8/13/2025 - 8/20/2025
France's Finest
14 nights starting at $5,499.00
from Viking River Cruises
available 10/29/2025 - 11/12/2025
Treasures of the Danube
9 nights starting at $2,199.00
from Viking River Cruises
available 1/14/2025 - 1/23/2025
A Taste Of The Danube With 2 Nights In Budapest (Eastbound)
5 nights starting at $2,023.00
from Avalon Waterways
available 9/13/2024 - 9/18/2024
Christmas on the Danube
7 nights starting at $2,999.00
from Viking River Cruises
available 11/30/2025 - 12/7/2025
Captivating Rhine (Wine Cruise)
7 nights starting at $3,999.00
from AmaWaterways
available 7/4/2024 - 7/11/2024
Grand European Tour
14 nights starting at $5,299.00
from Viking River Cruises
available 6/11/2025 - 6/25/2025
Danube Waltz
7 nights starting at $1,999.00
from Viking River Cruises
available 11/18/2025 - 11/25/2025
Danube Christmas Delights
7 nights starting at $2,799.00
from Viking River Cruises
available 12/19/2025 - 12/26/2025
The Blue Danube Discovery With 2 Nights In Prague
9 nights starting at $3,778.00
from Avalon Waterways
available 12/15/2025 - 12/24/2025
Lyon & Provence
7 nights starting at $2,599.00
from Viking River Cruises
available 11/12/2025 - 11/19/2025
Rhine & Rhône Revealed (Southbound)
14 nights starting at $7,248.00
from Avalon Waterways
available 10/15/2024 - 10/29/2024