Europe River Cruises are an Easy, Good Value Vacation

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

As often as I write about Europe River Cruises, the more I realize what a great vacation deal is provided for you while taking this type of vacation.  We have been in the travel business about 23 years, or so, we lead tours to Europe and we cannot provide all the things you get on a river cruise vacation.  While river cruises are not for everyone, for most folks, they are the best possible deal they could get to see much of Europe.

For me, their only key limitations are 1) not spending enough time in one location or 2) the place you want to visit is not near enough the chosen river you are sailing (by far the biggest limitation of a river cruise).

So, let’s explore the easy, great value of a river cruise vacation objectively—and determine its advantages and disadvantages together so you can determine if this vacation is right for you.

River Cruising is an Easy Vacation

Simple is a great word to describe a river cruise—almost all is included.  It is a comfortable, effortless vacation—the really only decisions, after deciding what river to cruise on during your vacation, are what tour to take or not take—the rest is provided for you.  You get enough choices during meals, the food and wine is usually great and there is always enough to do or see.  Unpack once, it is a single currency world, easy to get ashore, and you will learn something new and see great destinations in luxury.  Sounds enticing, doesn’t it?

71 River Cruise
Friends and loved ones on an AmaWaterways river cruise 2015

River Cruising is a Good Value Vacation

I constant emphasize the great value of a river cruise.  Here is a list of reasons I feel a river cruise is a great value:

  • A very spacious river cruise ship that has no more than 190 guests.
  • Pack and unpack only once during your 7 or more day cruise.
  • Sumptuous accommodations with every conceivable cabin amenity.
  • Our AmaWaterways Stateroom
    Our AmaWaterways Stateroom
  • Incredible gourmet cuisine, much of which is prepared when you order it.
  • Complimentary wines, beers, sodas and bottled water—some include all beverages.
  • Many have complimentary small-group sightseeing excursions in every port.
  • Some ships have a gym, sauna, massage, hairdresser, & pool.
  • Free internet and free use of bicycles (most lines).
  • Daily free onboard evening entertainment (usually a piano player, sometimes local groups that come on board).
  • Complimentary in cabin Internet, entertainment systems and free movies.
  • Dock right in the center of most towns & it takes only one minute to get on/off the ship.
  • Ability to see more of a region and experience the local culture in-depth.
  • A resort-casual onboard atmosphere –leave the formal wear at home.
  • All staterooms have a river view.
  • You should never get seasick on a river cruise ship—you can always see the shore.
  • Impeccable, warm and friendly service by an English-only speaking crew.
  • A staff that knows your name & favorite beverage or dining preference by the second day.

Advantages of a River Cruise Vacation

If you have read the reasons above in this blog that a river cruise is a good value, you can see the many advantages of a river cruise.  It is a destination oriented vacation, viewed from the river—impossible to get on a land only trip.  Sailing through some of the scenic parts of the various rivers, the sights are unbelievable—the Rhine River Gorge or Wachau Valley—come to mind—a river view is the best way to experience these fabulous destinations.

Schonbuhl Castle Watermarked
Schonbuhl Castle–the Watchman of the Wachau

We lead tours to Europe and cannot replicate what a good river cruise line does and does with luxury, great food and wine—it takes a large, well-organized company to pull off such a great vacation. 

Simple, luxurious, fun, great sights, wonderful food and wine, excellent service—what more could you want?

2014 Reception
Key Crew of the AmaDagio 2014. In front from left to right Cruise Director Kris, Hotel Manager Andras, and Captain Danny. In the background, bartenders Tomas and Peter.

Disadvantages of a River Cruise Vacation

Here are some of the limitations of a river cruise:

Since the river boats often dock in the heart of older European Cities and villages, the older towns are often cobble-stoned roads and pathways that are uneven and may require managing a lot of stairs and walking.  For a person in a wheel chair, this is a huge problem.  The walking distances sometimes are very long, often a couple of miles or so, so folks with limited mobility may have problems.  Some companies have a slow walker type tours that can help this problem.

Old Town Lyon
Old Town Lyon–lots of stairs & cobble-stone roads

Another limitation is water levels, which can be unpredictable.  Sometimes, the levels are too high or low for safe passage.  This can result in missed stops or bus rides to the location that is unreachable due to water levels.  By far the Elbe River has the most low water situations in Europe and recently there have been problems around the Passau area.

img_2098
The Veste Oberhaus (bishop’s fortress) overlooking Passau–it is a low water area.

Another limitation is called rafting by the river boat companies.  Rafting means due to limited dock areas, river boats often tie up next to one another.  This can cause problems getting off the boat, may cause cabin privacy issues and most importantly, limit the view from outside your cabin.

3 AmaWaterways riverships Rafted
3 AmaWaterways riverships Rafted in Vienna

A limitation sometimes is the pace of the tours.  This is not as big a factor as the other limitations since groups are often split into groups that want a faster paced experience or a slower paced tour and the better lines have optional tours.

As I indicated in the beginning of this blog, the biggest limitation for me is not getting to spend enough time in a location, or the destination is just too far from the river to visit.  We have often overcome this visit by returning on our own to further explore an area, either as a separate trip or a pre/post cruise.

My Final Thoughts

River Cruises a great vacation—they are easy, a great value and for me the advantages out weight the disadvantages.  We have a lot of experience helping folks take these great vacations—we hope soon you will seek our assistance to experience the trip of a lifetime.

We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand-knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

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Dreams. Desires & Concerns–We Listen to You!

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

To us, you are special and important.  You have travel dreams, desires and concerns and are looking for answers and solutions.  Well, you have come to the right place—Anne and I are eager to hear what you have to say—we actively listen to you!

So, why is this so important for your travels—the more we know what you like and dislike, the better a trip we can plan and provide to you.  So, let’s explore this important topic together.

Dreams

We all have dreams.  Most of us have several places we want to travel and see.  I’ll bet right now you could close your eyes and see a vacation spot—maybe you looked on our website, or our Pinterest page, or you regularly read this blog—we hope we have added some destination inspiration for you.  OK, it may have been another source for your travel inspiration, but the key is you do have at least one dream destination and hopefully more.

Regan Gauthier28
Regan proposes to Megan on an ocean cruise at Tulum, Mexico

Your dreams lead to anticipation and excitement—I want to go there!  But dreams can become reality if you just reach out to us.  As many of you have told us, our company name says it all—Dream Destinations.  The really good thing about dreams is they can change and mature as you do.  Go ahead, let you imagination run wild and then let us try a match your dreams to a great vacation.  Keep on dreaming—we will be ready to help when needed!

hall-of-mirrors
I always dream of going to Versailles–a treaty that ended WWI and a sumptuous  palace–finally made it there–what an experience!

Desires

There are certain items each of us desire when we travel. Travel is an exciting, emotional business with great life changing experiences and many benefits but when there is a lot of money on the line, we have to get it right so you get the best possible value for your money.  Part of getting right is our experience and credibility (22+ years in business; numerous professional certifications and specialty designations; first-hand knowledge of the desired trip; and great industry vendor contacts) but it is really about building trust and a partnership.

Partners add value so both win. Thinking back to my high school football coaching career, my focus was on developing players to be their best by being demanding yet caring so we could win games.  It was about the relationship and trust.  

Coach Schrader
Coach Schrader teaches his defensive players in preparation for the 3A Championship Game in 2001–we won it all!

Travel experiences are no different—there are a lot of options but finding the best fit is like coaching—it is both an art and a science. The science of travel is the trip offered by the vendor.  The art is matching the right client to the right trip.  First, we start with the goal of the trip—what does the client want to experience?  What do you desire to see, do, stay and eat?  Does one factor outweigh another?  What is the deal breaker?  Does it have to be on a certain date or is there flexibility on the time of year?  Once we have all the desires for your trip out in the open, we can now match those desires to trip.  The outcome will be great experiences that will make you feel awesome and will create great stories when you return home.  Trust me, travel desires filled is a great thing!

Concerns

Travel is exciting but it also brings concerns—there is a certain what if factor on every trip, no matter how experienced or well prepared a traveler is for any trip.  I think the goal of ever trip should be to get the best possible vacation, despite the obstacles, concerns and constraints of what is possible.  Never forgetting the goal, the second part is to obtain the goal trip, given the constraints of real life (time available, cost, a trip offered at the desired time of travel by the desired vendor, etc.).  It is a balancing act that requires just the right touch—what is the solution to the problem?

It should be easy—we should do the hard work for you and alleviate as many concerns as possible.  It should be hassle free for you—just follow the plan we created for you.  It should avoid situations that make you so uncomfortable you are afraid to go and do and experience.  And most of all, it should be fun, as we have addressed all your concerns and found a solution that puts you at ease.

Listening—the key to getting your trip right

One professional travel advisor trait that Anne and I have in great abundance, is the ability to listen to exactly what you are looking for in a trip.  Perhaps it is the most important trait for an effective travel advisor.  We ask a lot of questions and LISTEN—not only what is said but not said.  Each question has a purpose and gets us closer to the right vacation for you.

Our listening methods include concentrating on exactly what is said by you, understanding what you are saying, responding with sounds ideas and remembering what you said when we plan a trip for you.  Some have labeled this active listening, but I think it is really part of a good partnership—you trust us to find the right trip and we trust you to tell us exactly what you desire for your trip.  We can’t do our part without listening carefully to what you want or say. 

Don’t worry if you can not exactly express what you want–part of our job is to understand the intent of the vacation.  In my military days, we called this the commander’s intent–what was the objective that needs to be achieved.  Just listening to you and expressing back your intent will solve this problem–it is our job to get this out of you.

If we listen closely and use our skills as professional travel advisors, you will get a great vacation.

My Final Thoughts

Do you feel sometimes you are not heard?  We hope this never happens to you in our dealings with us.  Tell us your dreams, desires and concerns—we will listen and find you the right trip.  Let’s form a great partnership—are you in?

We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand-knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

The Churchill War Rooms

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

On our 2019 D Day Tour, our first visit will be to the Churchill War Rooms.  This is a fascinating exhibit that will help anyone who visits this place to learn about the facilities and conditions that PM Churchill and his war cabinet used to decide how to win the Battle of Britain and WW II. 

The visit here on the one way route is self guided with an excellent audioguide–each room has an account of an actual person who worked in this complex.

So, let’s explore this underground bunker maze of 27 rooms, learn about the most important rooms, and learn a little more about Winston Churchill, the war-time Prime Minister (PM).

Map Room

The map room was the central place in the Churchill war rooms where the daily intelligence of the war was monitored.  It was operational 24 hours a day from 27 August 1939 until the end of the war.  When the war ended, the room was left just as it was on that day.

From this room, a daily intelligence briefing was prepared for the Prime Minster, the King and the military chief of staffs.

Here is a picture of the map room:

Map Room
Map Room of the Churchill War Rooms with the D Day Invasion Plan Displayed

Cabinet Room

Although only used once until the appointment of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister, in May 1940, he decided to use this area to direct the war.  He held 115 cabinet meetings during the course of the war (the last was on 28 March 1945).  From these meetings, the key leaders developed the plans for the conduct of the war.  This is what the room looks like:

Cabinet Room
Cabinet Room

Transatlantic Cable Room

This room allowed secure access to the US.  It was first used in 1943 so Churchill could talk to President Roosevelt.  They used a code scrambling encrypted telephone.  

It also provided communications to other wartime leaders and facilities.  This room looks like this:

Telephone Room
Transatlantic Cable Room of the Churchill War Rooms

Prime Minister’s Bedroom

As well as a place to rest, this also served as his office.  The BBC installed radio address equipment, so Churchill could address the people of his country.  He made 4 wartime broadcasts from this room.  Although this was equipped from Churchill to sleep, he preferred to sleep in his 10 Downing Street residence and seldom sleep in this actual room.  Here is a good photo of this room:

Churchill Bedroom
Churchill Bedroom and Office Area with the BBC Broadcast Equipment

The Churchill Museum

This area contains displays highlighting the life of Churchill.  The displays are quite good and interesting about the life of this British statesman.  A lot of information is contained in this large room–it is a really honest look at the successes and failures of this giant of the British nation.

Here is a photo of part of this large display (look carefully at the bottom to see the war cabinet room in action and his famous quote “This is the room which I’ll direct the war”:

Churchill Museum
Churchill Museum Poster displaying some of the story of the War Room and the War

Other Areas

Many others had to support this 27 room complex.  There were dormitories for both men and women and kitchen facilities.  Many women supported this effort as switch board operators or typists–they often worked 16 hour shifts.  The tiny, cramped area is reminder of the stark life during the war–the darkness and isolation of this area was so complete, they even posted weather notices of the outside to help make their mole-like exsistenace seem a little more bearable.   Here is a photo of the kitchen area:

Kitchen Room
Kitchen Area

My Final Thoughts

Wow, what a fascinating place!  I have seldom been able to step back in history and actually be able to clearly envision exactly what it would be like to live in those troubled times.  A visit here is a look at this unique command center and it is easy to understand the importance it played in winning WW II.

This is just one place in Europe we can help you experience.  We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

Integrity and Visit Dream Destinations, LLC

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

Of all the things we pride ourselves about in the 23+ years that we have helped many folks have great vacations, the most important item is our integrity when dealing with all.  We believe we have as high standards as possible in our industry.  However, we feel this is so important an issue that we wanted to tell all exactly how we expect to earn and keep your trust.

Here is our statement about Trust on Our Website

On our home page of our website we, provide you 6 reasons why you should use us.  Here, word for word, is what we have written about trust:

“Trust — We will do what is best for you!  We are honest, hard-working with one goal—to serve you—we will do what is best for you, not us.  We help you avoid hassles & get the best value for your dollar–saves you time & money and we will help you protect your travel investment.”

There is a lot of information there in this short statement.  It means we must make choices that favor you and are in your best interests.  It could mean saving you money, or protecting your investment or getting a vacation that meets your expectations.

Jeff and Hank
Friends for over 47 years–Jeff Rock, my West Point Classmate, and Hank–total trust!

Thanks for Your Trust in Us!

If you have ever received an email or written note from us, it usually ends with the sentence “Thanks for your trust in us!”  To us, it is not a motto, it is a constant reminder that we must earn and retain your trust in our dealings with you.

While we strive for 100% satisfaction in our client’s vacations, sometimes things do not go exactly as planned.  I think this is where we shine—if in the middle of a trip, we might be able to intervene and fix the problem.  Sometimes it happens we learn of a problem or issue after the end of a vacation and we notify the vendor and provide their response to their problem or issue. 

I like to say, “Trust is doing what is right when no one is looking”.

Our Dealings With Our Vendors

We have established some great relationships with some key vendors in the travel industry.  The relationships allow us to provide you, the traveler, a way to get some added value by using our services.

You should be aware that some vendors have allowed us to learn about their products first hand thru what is known in our industry as “familiarization trips.”  While we have never accepted a fully hosted trip for free, unless we have won a trip by an agent give away, we have been on some discounted trips that were available to all qualified travel agents.  We have always paid for these trips.  The reason we have participated in these trips is to gain a better understanding of the benefits a travel supplier can provide you for your vacation.  The other thing you should know is we take every effort possible to disguise the fact that we are in the travel industry–we try to avoid getting special treatment that might come if we have been identified as travel professionals, so we get a true picture of the vendors product and how they really treat their guests..

Here is the integrity portion of this—we have never allowed our relationship with a vendor to influence our recommendations for your vacation.  We would never accept any money from a vendor to promote them.  We pride ourselves with telling it like it is—honest and comprehensive information so you can make the right decision for your vacation.

An awesome example of this is our 2018-19 Europe River Cruise Company Comparisons.  It is a balanced, fair look at 8 companies—never did any of these companies influence our judgements.  It is always about what is best for you.  Here is the link to our 2018-19 Europe River Cruise Company Comparisons.

U by Uniworld
The A U by Uniworld–it would not be the right choice for a Europe River Cruise for all–you can trust us to help you decide if this is the right line for you!

Communicating With Vendors Prior to Your Vacation

One reason we think we earn your trust is our effort to reach out to every hotel or vendor prior to your vacation to let them know you our client and to ask them to provide any extra perk to help you have a more pleasant stay or experience.  It always seems to works—at the very least they know we expect their best—and it often results in an upgrade or a freebie. 

Hotel Des Alps
Hotel Des Alps–A Wonderful Hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland–Anne always communicates before our clients arrive to insure their stay is the best possible!

If you think all travel agents do this, you are mistaken—very few do.  Sometimes we never get a reply but most times we are successful—we feel you trusted us to provide a great venue or experience and it is our duty to try and make it special.

I must single our Anne for this—she is relentless following up with the vendors—you can trust her!  Well done, Dear!

We Build Relationships With You

Trust is a two way street.  You can trust us to provide you with honest, accurate and comprehensive information.  We must trust you to tell us exactly what you want, when you want to go and what the limitations are.  We also need to know what you don’t want.  As long as we both provide accurate info, chances are we will provide you exactly what you want, if it is possible, for your trip.

There is also a lot of sensitive information you provide us with—your passport info, and your credit card info are the two that immediately come to mind.  We must safeguard this info so it cannot be improperly used.  One thing we always try to do is to get credit card information over the phone—it is much more secure than you providing it to us by email.

Keeping Your Trust—Can You Trust Us?

Trust and integrity are valuable traits and, in my judgement, in short supply in our country.   Too many make promises they can’t or won’t keep.  My whole life has been devoted to service after graduating from West Point—20 years as a US Army Officer, 20 years as a coach and teacher and 23+ years helping others travel to the right location.  At West Point, our motto is Duty Honor Country.  Honor was a way of life–a cadet will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.  I lived those same principles as an Army Officer and coach and now as a travel advisor.  After living those principles for almost all my life (OK almost 69 years if you must know), I don’t think it is hard to see how they always carry over to all we do.

Hank Schrader Graduation
My West Point Graduation Photo 9 June 1971

Anne is equally dedicated to trust and integrity—she always thinks about what is best for our clients, every single time.  She always goes the extra mile to look for the best travel values in her research–if you really know her, you would say she is unrelenting–most others would not go to the lengths she does to get a trip right.

We think trust is the cornerstone of our relationship with you.  We try to under promise and over deliver a great travel experience for you. 

We strive to make your travel experience better by helping you make wise choices, eliminate any possible hassles, and help you get the best value for your money.  In short, while working with us, we want to provide a trip that will exceed your expectations.  I guess the best thing we can provide you is some comments by several of our clients.  To read A Few Words From Our Clients, Please click here

My Final Thoughts

Do you trust us?—we certainly hope so.  We are only as good as our last dealing or conversation with you—did we provide you what was best for you, not us?

Making sound decisions are critical to the travel planning process.  Time and money issues are complex—we all want the best at the least possible price.  We help you solve those complex issues, saving you hassles, time and worry.  We solve them with honest answers, comprehensive information and we are not afraid to tell you when we do not know but will find out.  We are also not afraid to tell you if we cannot help you—it all boils down to trust—we always try do what is right when no one is looking.

We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

Our New 2018-19 Europe River Cruise Comparisons

 

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

As many of you know, we have one of the best, in-depth, Europe River Cruise Comparisons available anywhere on our website.  We have updated our 2016 version to provide even more accurate information on the ever changing Europe river cruise scene.

We want to emphasize all of these river cruise lines are good values and special trips.  Many have won awards and there is really no official ranking system to provide you a valid comparison method. 

To help overcome the lack of an official ranking system, we have found that The Berlitz River Cruising in Europe & the USA Guide to be as fair an evaluation as presently available to the public.  This book evaluates individual ships in its rating system instead of entire companies, so we have decided to compare the best rivership from each company to determine a ranking system as our method of comparison.

We have also provided our own personal rankings of each line with comments.

So, let’s explore these ranking together, or if you like, just go directly to our full PDF presentation at this link:

READ OUR COMPLETE 86 SLIDE PRESENTATION

What Cruise Lines are We Comparing?

There are 8 major river cruise lines that market to US consumers.  The 8 lines we are comparing are: AmaWaterways, Avalon, Crystal River Cruises, Emerald Waterways, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld and Viking.  We provide a good look at the advantages and disadvantages of each company, so you can determine if they might be a good match for your vacation.

Here are some of our photos of the actual riverships in action or in port:

AmaWaterways
AmaWaterways AmaCerto
Avalon
Avalon Impression
Emerald
Emerald Sun
Tauck
Tauck Treasures
U by Uniworld
The A–U by Uniworld
Uniworld
Uniworld River Royale
Viking
Viking Jarl

Why Should You Trust Our Comparisons?

Our ratings are based on sailing on 15 Europe river cruises, selling river cruises on most river cruise lines, personal research and earning specialty designations from almost all major river cruise lines.  We have tried to present the best factual information possible and if the data is our personal opinion, clearly state this. 

What are the Biggest Changes from the 2016 to 2018-19 Comparisons?

There are several changes to our previous 73 slide PowerPoint presentation. 

The first change is the addition of our photos of all the river cruise lines except Crystal.  We feel the reason this is significant, is that it gives you proof we have actually sailed on or seen these cruise lines in action.

The second change is to add rankings to the scores form the Berlitz guide.  This should help you quickly distinguish the differences between lines instead of having to compare the number scores. 

The third change is enhanced information on Crystal River Cruises.  In our original guide, there was only one river cruise ship, the Mozart, a double wide rivership.  Now Crystal has 5 ships sailing in Europe with the addition of 4 longships.  We have updated all our information on Crystal.

The forth change was to provide information about U by Uniworld—their new 2 boat venture that is radically different than others approach to Europe river cruising.

The last major change is to delete the pricing information chart, as the 2016 chart was a snapshot, not a real comparison.  Also, some lines do not publish their fares—you must directly contact the company to get accurate pricing.  Another factor is the air add-ons and other special incentives that many lines are offering.

Berlitz Overall Ratings

From the book, River Cruising in Europe & the USA, we selected the best rated rivership of each company to create this comparison chart.  Here are their rankings using this methodology:

Ward Ratings

Our Overall Ratings

Here are our rankings of the 8 cruise lines:

My Ratings

My Final Thoughts

Please share this information with anyone who might want to learn more about Europe River cruising or have them call us—we will be delighted to help!

Getting unbiased information about the various river cruise companies is difficult.  There is no one company that is right for everyone.  We do believe we know enough to guide you to the right river cruise company that matches your travel style.  We can provide comparisons that will provide you significant information to make sound travel decisions about which company to use for your river cruise vacation.

We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

3 Great Days in the Cotswolds Area of England

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

If there ever was a real fairy-tale part of England, the Cotswolds would get my vote.  This 25 by 90 mile part of Gloucestershire once was rich due the wool industry—in medieval times, wool was a huge industry, and it is said the best wool in Europe came from the Cotswolds.  The area prospered until the Industrial Revolution and a preference for cotton caused the wool industry to collapse.  So, like many great places in Europe, when the money dried up, these once prosperous areas fell into a time warp of neglect.  The result for us today is a glimpse of the past of thatched roof homes, limestone villages designed to market wool and a peaceful countryside that has great walking paths over rolling hills.

Chipping Campden Colors
Chipping Campden Colors

So, let’s explore some of the best of this area, Chipping Campden, and Blenheim Palace and consider a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick.  As almost always in our blogs, all the pictures are ours–Anne Schrader took most, but occasionally I take a few.

Chipping Campden

Chipping Campden is our favorite town in the Cotswolds.  It really looks like a village lost in a time warp.  The highlight for me are the incredible thatched roofs of some of the homes.  This town was home to the most wealthy wool merchants of the Cotswolds.  It has an impressive high street (high streets were the wide streets so livestock and wagons and pack horses full of shorn wool fleece could be brought to market).  Some historians say this is best high street in all of England. 

High Street in Chipping Campden
High Street in Chipping Campden

The street is lined with yellow limestone buildings—a distinctive stone called aptly Cotswold stone—it is the only stone allowed on this street to preserve the character of Chipping Campden.  This high street does not have house numbers—folks who live here just knew the name of the house or establishment they were looking to visit.

Chipping Campden
Town Hall and WW I Memorial on High Street

As a wool market and distribution center, it is no surprise it has a really interesting and distinctive Market Hall. 

Market Hall
Market Hall in Chipping Campden

It was built in 1627.  Signs in the market’s area provide a good explanation of the construction techniques used to build this hall.

Inside View of the Market Hall Roof
Inside View of the Market Hall Roof

Just off to the south of the western part of High Street, are the thatched homes.  Here are 2 of our photos:

 

Thatched Roof Home in Chipping Campden
Thatched Roof Home in Chipping Campden
Thatched Roof in Chipping Campden
Thatched Roof in Chipping Campden

While there are other neat sights in the town, a unique aspect of Chipping Campden is that it serves as the end of the 102 mile Cotswolds Way—a hiking trail that starts in Bath and winds up in this small town of less than 6000. 

Anne on the Cotswolds Way Trail
Anne on the Cotswolds Way Trail

A visit to the Cotswolds is a chance to relax, slow down, or maybe take a hike.  Here are some pictures of the Cotswolds House, our favorite place to stay in Chipping Campden. 

Cotswolds House
Our bedroom in the Cotswolds House in Chipping Campden
Garden Outside Our Room in the Cotswolds House
Garden Outside Our Room in the Cotswolds House

To learn more about Chipping Campden, here is the link to our website:

LEARN MORE

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough, who are better known by their actual names—the Churchills; is a place that is a must see for me when visiting the Cotswolds.  This palace has huge significant for the English—its function, as described in the pamphlet I purchased during our visit, “was to be monument, castle, citadel and private house—in that order.”  To my mind, it delivers! 

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace

So, a little history is in order to understand why Blenheim Place was built.  In 1704, English forces under the command of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, decisively defeated the French and Bavarians at Blenheim on the Danube River in Bavaria, Germany during the War of Spanish Succession.  This victory stopped Louis XIV’s (he is better known as the Sun King) quest to rule all of Europe.  As a reward for this historic victory, the English Queen, Queen Anne, granted to the Duke land to build a monument and palace home.  The final result (despite many funding issues and political problems that lasted over 30+ years) is Blenheim Palace, a present day World Heritage Site. 

Once you have your entrance tickets, there is a 45 minute tour of the palace that leaves every 10 minutes, but you could wander on your own and talk with the docents positioned in each room.  There is also a multimedia presentation called The Untold Story that takes 45 minutes.  And if you still have not had enough of this grand place, there is a 30 minute guided walk through the private apartments, if available, since the 12th duke still resides at Blenheim.

Another great feature are the extensive gardens.  Among the grounds are the Water Terraces, the Italian Garden, the Secret Garden, the Arboretum, the Rose Garden and the Grand Cascade.  However, most folks find the bridges that cross the man-made lake in the approach to the palace are the most stunning views on the estate. 

The Grand Bridge
Chambers’ New Bridge in the Mist

Sadly our visit didn’t include a visit to the gardens since we visited in March and were on a tight schedule, so we definitely need to return with more time during our next visit to the Cotswolds.

Since this is Winston Churchill’s birthplace, there are interesting displays about his childhood, including his birth room and a Churchill Exhibition.  I really liked both—it gave me a little more insight to the man voted the “Greatest Briton of All Time” in a BBC Television survey. 

When we visited, you were not allowed to take pictures inside, but now on the official palace website, its says pictures are allowed.  These rooms are so stunning, I would recommend you take some photos inside the palace.

Stratford-upon-Avon

If the author William Shakespeare holds interest for you, his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon is a must for you.  Among the sights are a Shakespeare museum/home complex (this is a multimedia exhibit that explains Shakespeare’s life) and then you get to explore his small home, Nash’s House and the cottage of his wife, Anne Hathaway in nearby Shottery (which I found to be the most interesting of all these sites—it was a look at a 1570’s, 12 room thatched cottage).  Here are some photos:

Shakespeare's Birthplace
Shakespeare’s Birthplace
sam_0376.jpg
Nash House Gardens. In the background on the left is the Nash House.
Anne Hathaway's Cotage
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage with a school group ready to tour the cottage

To be clear, if you want to see a Shakespeare play, it is best to spend a night here and take in a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Check out their website (www.rsc.org.uk) for play information.

I also liked the Avon Riverfront with the swans and canal boats.

SAM_0365
Norma Jean Canal Boat Stratford-upon-Avon

Warwick

Warwick is about 18 miles from Chipping Campden (about a 30 minute drive), so it is an easy day trip.  The key site is Warwick Castle, which many consider the best medieval castle in England. 

Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle

Although touristy, this massive place is really quite interesting.  It starts with the moat entrance and leads to huge courtyard. 

Anne at Moat Entrance Warwick Castle
Anne at the Moat Entrance to Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle

There is a good collection of royal residences inside these fortified walls, towers and ramparts.  The most important are the Great Hall and 5 lavish staterooms and a chapel.  You could also pay extra to visit the Castle Dungeon (we didn’t) and other events or shows.  The grounds are well-kept and add to the splendor of this castle.

Here are some other photos from our visit:

Great Hall of Warwick Castle
Great Hall of Warwick Castle
SAM_0408
Dining Room Warwick Castle
Fortifications of Warwick Castle
Fortifications of Warwick Castle

My Final Thoughts

The Cotswolds are an often overlooked part of England.  But, for me it is a true gem.  You will seldom find a more peaceful and relaxing place in all of Europe.  So, how would I spend 3 days in this region?  1 day devoted to just Chipping Campden.  ½ day at Blenheim, maybe more and maybe combined with Warwick.  A day to Stafford-upon-Avon (great for Shakespeare buffs, but if you are that into his works, relocate and stay for a play), or maybe better yet, a walk on the Cotswold Way and another day relaxing in Chipping Campden.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

Why You Need a River Cruise Expert to Plan Your River Cruise Vacation

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

We recently helped two couples plan a European river cruise for the 2019 cruise season.  Neither had been on a river cruise.  It got me to thinking—what questions would I have about taking a river cruise for a travel advisor that might be different from another type of vacation?  The more we talked and emailed each other, it became evident to me that both really wanted to go, but they wanted the best possible experience for their money and had a lot of questions.  We finally got them booked on a line neither had previously knew about but was the best option for them–I am quite confident they will have a great vacation.

Emerald Sun Watermarked
The Emerald Sun–a great option many Americans do not know about

I guess it is really not surprising they had so many questions—I read recently that about 526,000 Americans took a river cruise in 2016 compared to 11.5 million who took an ocean cruise (sources Seatrade Cruise News and Cruise Lines International Organization (CLIA)).  In other words, only about 4.5% of all American cruisers took a river cruise in 2016.  No wonder, so many have questions about river cruising!

So, here are some facts about vacations as compared to cruise vacations and the questions I would ask us if I wanted to go on a river cruise.

Reasons People Take Vacations

It might seem strange to start with this information, but to my way of thinking, the purpose or why of the vacation is the central question that needs to be answered.  It really determines if a river cruise is right for your travels.  Here are 3 of the top 4 reasons folks take a vacation (I omitted spend time with family which was number 3 reason to take a vacation) and how a certain type of vacation rates with respondents of a J. D, Power survey conducted for CLIA:

Reasons to Take a Vacation by Vacation Type Any Vacation Ocean Cruise River Cruise
# 1 To see & do new things 42% 45% 54%
#2 To relax & get rid of stress 33% 32% 19%
# 4 To gain knowledge of history & other cultures 6% 8% 13%

 

So for me, this brings up my first 3 questions:  1) Will I get to see and do new things?; 2) Will I get to relax and get rid of stress?; and 3) Will I gain knowledge of history and other cultures?

So, now if my responses match 2 of the 3 general questions of why I want to go on the vacation, I am probably a pretty good match for a river cruise.  If the object is to relax, and get rid of stress, a river cruise may not be my best option.  The reason is simple—the river boats often port near or in the city centers and with the included tours, it is more active than just lounging around a swimming pool or spending a day relaxing in a hammock by the beach.  It doesn’t mean you can’t relax on a river cruise—Anne often takes a day off from the sightseeing and just enjoys a short walk on her own or stays onboard.  While these are basic questions, there must be follow on—what sights, what type of new things, how much history, how much mixing with people and their cultures.

Durstein Shuttle Train
Even though the port of Durstein is a pleasant walk half mile walk, there is even a shuttle train to help some river cruise guests with mobility problems

Next Comes the river in Europe

I have written several blogs about what you can expect to see on Europe’s rivers while on a river cruise.  Most river cruisers select either the upper Danube (38.1 % according to Seatrade Cruise News) or the Rhine (31.1%, again Seatrade Cruise news)—that’s 69.2 % of all river cruisers.  While these are great options, by no means are the only options.

Picture6
The Main River is a great cruise route–picture is from AmaWaterways

The type of cruise experience is the central theme here.  My questions would be—What will I get to see on my cruise?  Why should I go on this river?  Are there any problems I might experience on this river?  When is the best time to go?  Here is the link to my blog about the reasons to sail on a particular Europe River: What is the Best Europe River Cruise Route?

Now, What Cruise Line

Perhaps this is the hardest set of questions—not everyone has the same tastes.  I tried to capture some of the differences in my River Cruise Vibes blog.  Level of service, inclusions, ship facilities, food and wine and cruise atmosphere all are part of this set of questions.  Here is the link to my River Cruise Vibes blog: River Cruise Vibes

Next, What Cabin Type?

Although river ships are small compared to ocean liners and the staterooms are usually smaller, there is a large range of options for your cabin.  They all come a different price points and options, like balconies, bed size and bathroom configuration and features.  While this is an important set of questions, the typical river cruiser does not spend that much time in their cabin except to sleep and get ready for their next excursion and meal, so to some, this may not be as important as it is to others. 

 

AmaCerto Stateroom
Our Stateroom on the AmaCerto–pretty nice!

Still, the stateroom can make or break the experience for some river cruisers, especially a seasoned ocean cruiser who prefers a huge suite—river cruise staterooms may be just too small for them or they may need to have a larger stateroom on one of the two Giants of the Danube (another blog I recently wrote).  Is it getting a little complicated?—add in 8 river cruise lines with different features and you can see it really does require a special knowledge of each line to choose the right stateroom for your cruise.

When Should I go?

There are certain times of the year river cruising is less expensive.  If my plans are flexible, I would want to know if I can save some money and still get a great vacation.  One of our favorite times is late October thru November, as the weather is still generally mild, there are less crowds and prices seem generally lower.

Rhine River Gorge
The Rhine River Gorge is fabulous in October

Pre and Post Stays

Most Americans do not want to fly to Europe for only 7 days—due the distance and cost involved in this type of vacation, it often makes sense to extend with a land package.  This creates a new set of questions—among them, what do the cruise lines offer, should my travel advisor create a special add-on package with another vendor, what will I see and do, and how much extra does it cost?

Flights and Transfers

Most river cruise lines offer good deals for flights to help you get to Europe.  However, these can be great experience or a computer generated 3 leg flight that saves the cruise line some money while you suffer a 24 hour ordeal.  This is a tricky feature that really requires the help of a travel professional, in my opinion.  What is included?  Transfers—yes or no?  How much to upgrade?  Can I use my airline mileage?  Just reading some of the consumer complaints about river cruising, it often seems to me the air offers are among the most complained about feature of river cruising.

Entertainment and Night Life

River cruise ships do not have big production shows or casinos (sorry Anne) and if you are a night owl, most river cruise lines won’t meet your expectations.  However, U by Uniworld has a cruise more oriented to the night life.  If you like more cultural small groups or glass blowing demonstrations or cooking classes or themed cruise (our favorite is wine cruises), then river cruising is a good match.  You can bet, I would ask these types of questions.

The Uniworld A 2018
The A–U by Uniworld  in 2018–a different river cruise experience

 My Final set of Questions—what is the Value I will get for my Money?

You might seem surprised that money is my last set of questions.  Value is really taking all the desires you have for the vacation (the above questions) and selecting the line that best matches what you expect for the vacation.  Once you are comfortable you will get a great vacation, and realize all that is included, the cost often seems justified.  Here is a link I wrote earlier about the Great Value of a River Cruise: The Great Value of a Europe River Cruise

Do you see now why you need a River Cruise Expert to help you through this Process?

There are so many things you really need to know to get the puzzle of river cruising right.  I study this all the time and it is hard for me to know everything—I learn something new almost every day.  There is no way you can have all the answers, especially when each cruise line only puts their best foot forward in their brochures and advertisements. 

My Final Thoughts

As you can see, asking a lot of questions about river cruising and then making wise travel choices, is more complex than you may have thought.  Trip planning is not easy.  Making sound decisions are critical to the travel planning process.  Time and money issues are complex—we all want the best at the least possible price.  We help you solve those complex issues, saving you hassles, time and worry.  We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

So, Where Should I Go?

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

One of the biggest problems Anne & I face in making our personal travel decisions is “Where Should We Go?”  You might think this is an easy problem for a destination specialist like us, but in reality, the more you travel to one area of the world, like Europe, the more difficult it becomes.  Why?  It seems so simple—do you revisit places you have been, look for new places, combine the two, emphasize cities, or peaceful stays in the countryside.  There are so many choices—what should I do?  And when all choices are great options, it becomes even harder.

We are facing this exact problem on our upcoming river cruise adventure in December of this year–what should we do after the river cruise and where should we go?

Brugge Bridge
Brugge Bridge–Should We Go Here?

So, let’s explore this dilemma together and see if we can come up with a logical process that will make your decision-making easier and, more importantly, provide you a way to maximize your travel time.  And you will get to learn our decision about our upcoming post cruise stay.

Travel Decision Making

In my opinion, there are 5 steps in the travel decision-making process.  First, you want to go on a vacation somewhere.  Second, you begin a search process, looking for some type of inspiration.  Next come comparisons—what will I do or see while on my vacation.  Now comes the suppliers and vendors–will their product or service that I select provide me the vacation I desire?  Last, you evaluate the decision—did I make the right choices? 

Vacation Time—I want to Go Somewhere

The first step in this process is a decision to go somewhere.  During this phase, you have to decide how long you can go, develop some type of budget and select a general destination.  During this phase, you should ask yourself–why am I going?  Once you know the why, the rest of the decisions become easier.  They always have for us.

The Search Process–Inspiration and Destination Knowledge

infographic-for-blog
We can save you a lot of hassle and time–let us do this for you!

There are lots of ways you can begin your destination search.  Usually it is a cool picture, maybe a book description, maybe a TV show or Movie or Video posted on the internet—it doesn’t really matter how it starts.  You begin to see yourself experiencing something new, or perhaps returning to a familiar place where you can relax or be stimulated.  Or maybe you just don’t know enough but want to try something new or different.  Maybe you went to our website and researched some of the pages to learn about trip ideas or went to our Pinterest site and looked at the over 5000 photos we have taken during our travels or requested one of our 50 Europe City Guides. 

Now that you have been inspired, you next need to learn about where you want to go.  Destination knowledge is the combination of 3 types of knowledge–objective knowledge, subjective knowledge and experience knowledge.  We use all three when planning your trips and, even if you don’t realize it, you do the same when thinking about (or better yet dreaming about) your upcoming trip.   I wrote a recent blog about this subject—it’s called the Power of Knowledge—Our Gift to You.  Here is the link  READ THE BLOG

Travel Planning 101—Comparing What is Available for Your Travel

I think there are 3 main ways to make travel decisions.  They are 1) advantages and disadvantages method (most common), 2) simple prioritization (best opportunity) and 3) to acquiesce to us. I also wrote a blog about this called Making Wise Travel Choices.  Here is the link:  READ THE BLOG

In the military, during our formal decision-making process, we used to call this phase evaluating the course of actions.  We would decide on what to do and decide on the advantages and disadvantages of each course of action.  While this was a more formalized process than is necessary for planning travel, it is essentially the same process you use to plan your trips.  Each traveler makes a series of choices (courses of actions in military terminology) and then compares the advantages and disadvantages of each part of the trip to each destination.

Already this is sounding overwhelming, but we have a good solution for you—this is part of an earlier blog I wrote about the search process.  Here is a chart I developed, addressing some common travel problems and our solutions to help you. 

Trip planning does require a lot of work to get it right, and it is a hassle.  Wouldn’t it be better to let us solve the trip research for you?  Here are 7 Benefits to you if you let us plan your trip:

Problem Benefit to You Our Solution
Will I get the best value for my money? Spend your money wisely We match the right vendor(s) to provide a trip that will exceed your expectations
Will I get the right trip? A better vacation We learn your dreams and turn them into a reality
Will I make wise choices? A better vacation and no fear of missing out on great experiences Our 23 years of experience in the travel industry coupled with our first-hand knowledge and numerous professional certifications will help us provide you with the best options available
Will I remember all the details? No unforgotten trip details We check all the details so you do not have any missteps or forgotten arrangements
Will I spend too much time researching my trip? Saves you time & eliminates hassles Once we know what you want, we do research to get you the highest quality, expertly planned trip
How can I best protect my vacation? Peace of Mind We can help lead you to the right people to answer your questions about insurance options
How do I know I can trust my advisor to do the best for me? Someone thinking of your best interests We are members of several professional organizations and we have earned the trust of hundreds of clients.  We encourage you to read their comments about our service

LEARN MORE

 

Trade Offs—What Can I Afford and What Will I Get?

I always tell folks we travel to Europe as many times as we can during a year until we run out of money—most all of us have constraints of some sort—time, travel costs, work demands, family situations—all can affect the desired outcome of your vacation.  Here is simple advice–pick the level of products and services that will provide you the best value.  Don’t let money drive the decision–every time we cut a corner on a vacation to save a couple of bucks, we regretted it.  It always led to poor experiences.  There almost always is the “sweet spot”–great value but not too expensive to bust the budget.  Let us help you find it.

So, Where Do I Go?

The real answer is that there are usually no perfect choices. I do think it becomes easier if we help you, as you can see by the 7 problems we can solve for you in planning and taking your vacation.

For our upcoming vacation in December, we had to make a lot of choices on the pre and post river cruise part of our trip.  Our travel buddies decided to go to Iceland; we opted out and decided to stay in Brugge for a longer stay.  We choose that option primarily for a little more relaxing time in Brugge—familiar, great sights, good food and a chance to slow down.  We found the right air at the right price after 3 weeks of searching and decided a longer stay was best.  I’ll let you know in a blog in early 2019 about how the trip turned out  (spoiler alert–I think it will be great!).

Bruges
Here is the view from the room we will stay in on the upcoming trip–pretty cool!

My Final Thoughts

As you can see, making wise travel choices, is more complex than you may have thought.  Trip planning is not easy.  Making sound decisions are critical to the travel planning process.  Time and money issues are complex—we all want the best at the least possible price.  We help you solve those complex issues, saving you hassles, time and worry.  We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

Active River Cruises–Great Bike Opportunites

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

One of the most interesting changes to Europe river cruises, since we first started cruising in 2009, is the emphasis on bike rides by several river cruise lines.  At first, the bikes seemed almost an afterthought—you could use them but there were few organized tours and they were mostly available for the few brave souls who would venture out on their own.

Fast forward to 2018 and the scene has completely changed.  Not only are there many more opportunities to use the onboard bikes, there are now cruise lines that have partnered with bike companies to provide bike themed cruises for real ride enthusiasts. 

By far, the river cruise company that is really pushing bike tours is AmaWaterways.  Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours has added 11 special bike sailings, and Uniworld has also added 10 bike tours to their 2018 sailings.  These 3 really good lines have partnered with different bike tour companies to offer their guests some premium pedaling experiences. 

So, let’s learn what the 8 major river cruise lines offer their guests for bike riding experiences during their river cruises.

AmaWaterways

Always, it seems to us, AmaWaterways has been the leader in almost all new trends in river cruising.  It is no surprise that active river cruising is so important to them.  They offer guided bike tours on all voyages at no extra charge and it is our experience there are usually at least three per cruise.  On our first cruise in 2009, Anne and I rode the onboard bikes a short way into Wurzburg from our port.  It was fun and the bikes were easy to use. 

Ama Bikes
AmaWaterways bikes ready for Guests 2018

We have several clients that ride on their own while in port or take the included guided tours.  All the feedback has been very good.

Ama Bike Riders in the Wachau Valley
AmaWaterways Bike Riders in the Wachau Valley 2018
AmaWaterways Bike Ride
Our Clients Jane with Len Ready for a bike ride near Cochem, Germany

AmaWaterways also has partnered for some awesome bike tours with Backroads.  Backroads has been in partnership with AmaWaterways since 2015 and it has been quite a success story.  According to an interview I read in Travel Professional News, Kristin Karst, Executive President and Co-Owner of AmaWaterways, is quite proud of this partnership.  Here is what she had to say in 2017: “Providing best-in-class service and authentic upscale travel experiences, we’re bringing more active adventure biking, walking and hiking journeys to the world’s most renowned European river cruise destinations.  We’ve expanded our 2017 line-up of active river cruise departures in partnership with Backroads – the world’s #1 active travel company –by offering more the 50 sailings along the Danube, Douro, Rhine or Seine rivers.”

The company has taken over entire boats on the Danube in 2017and plans to do so again in 2018 and 2019.  And an AmaWaterways vessel will be exclusively reserved for roughly 100 Backroads cruisers on the Douro River in Portugal in 2019.

They also offer smaller group tours.  Typically on these special tours, only 20 to 30 of the total 156 passengers are in the special bike group. The two most popular routes are on the upper Danube and along the Rhine.  These tours feature specialized titanium bikes provided by Backroads.  Currently there are 58 tours scheduled for 2018, including a chartered Danube sailing for Backroads guests only.

I reached out to Backroads and Liz Einbinder, their PR director, provided me some great information about this partnership.  Among the items she pointed out to me were how good the bikes that Backroads uses for their tours.  Here is her description “On all our active river cruise trips we use Backroads state of the art custom titanium bikes.  Our bikes are best in class, lightweight, comfortable and designed for a day of cycling.”  She also told me how folks can book these tours—here is their contact information—“People who want to book one of our active river cruises book directly through Backroads (not through AmaWaterways).Call 800-462-2848 or +1-510-527-1555 or www.Backroads.com.”  Please just remember to include us as your travel consultants when making the booking.

Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

Scenic has 25 electric bikes onboard their ships.  They are available at no extra charge (it’s hard to buy anything extra on Scenic—maybe only a massage or in the beauty or barber shop). 

Scenic has partnered with cycling outfitter Trek Travel to offer themed bike tours to their guests.  For 2018 there are 11 cruises that can be booked with Trek Travel (again the booking must be made directly with Trek not with Scenic).  The tours are on the Danube and the Rhine.  Tour size is limited to 20.  Trek Travel uses three types of high tech bikes—one is even electric assisted.  The electric bikes provided by Trek Travel are high tech and an upgrade compare to the good bikes that Scenic provides to all guests. 

I had a chance to talk to Lindsay Juley about what guests could expect upon booking a Trek Travel cruise.  She emphasized a couple of key points—first, these trips are a perfect vacation for a couple where one person is a serious bike rider, and the other is not—both will have exactly the vacation they want.  Second, she emphasized how flexible Trek Travel is during the cruise—lingering to take photos, or adding extra miles works well with the staff—the group guide from Trek Travel and the support vehicle allow the riders to travel at their own pace.  Another bonus of the program is that all guests are booked in the Diamond (upper deck) and that means more butler services and a chance to dine at the Table La Rive—it is a six-course degustation menu with sommelier paired wines.  The deposit for one of their tours is $2,000 per person and is non-refundable.  We will be glad to help you book any of these Trek Travel bike tours.  You can learn more at www.trektravel.com

Avalon

Avalon has 10 bikes on its ships, which can be used for free.  We recently saw the bikes while docked at Vienna, so here are 2018 pictures of one of their bikes and the storage area on their riverships. 

Avalon Bike
An Avalon bike ready for use
Avalon Bike Storage Area
Avalon Bike Storage Area

Avalon offers optional bike tours on some its cruises.  It is part of their Active Discovery program started in 2017.  They use local bike companies for the program.  The optional tours are not included in the cruise fare and require an additional fee.  There are 4 tours available on their cruises.  You can cycle in the Netherlands while docked in Amsterdam in the Dutch countryside, or on the Danube starting from Durnstein in the scenic Wachau Valley, or on the Rhine starting in Breisach and finally on the Moselle starting at Bernkastel.

Crystal River Cruises

Crystal has 30 eBikes on their double wide Crystal Mozart. 

On the Crystal’s other 4 riverships, there are bikes available for use by guests who want to explore on their own.  These bikes are also used for organized, guided bike tours.  According to their brochure, the onboard Fitness Director leads the active biking excursions. 

Emerald Waterways

Emerald has 20 on board bikes and their use is complimentary. 

Emerald offers group bike tours, at no additional charge.  It is part of their EmeraldACTIVE program.  The tours include a guided nature tour in the Amsterdam area; a guided bike tour in Colmar, France; a biking tour between Melk and Durnstein; a biking tour of Vienna; a guided bike tour in Belgrade; and a bike excursion from Tournon to Glun, France. 

Tauck

Tauck has 12 Jan Janssen bikes on its ship—these are popular Dutch bikes—and if anyone knows bikes, it is the Dutch!

While researching this article, it appears most guests use the bikes for independent rides, but I found out that one of the 4 onboard tour directors may lead one or two organized bike excursions during a 7 day cruise.  All bike excursions are included and they do include family oriented bike rides in their Tauck Bridges program.

Uniworld

Uniworld has a fleet of free bikes for self-guided or escorted group excursions at no extra charge.  The bike tours are part of their “Go Active” excursions.  They have bike rides on the Rhine River, on the Main River, on the Danube River, on the Moselle River, in Paris, in Lyon, in Bordeaux, in Frankfurt, in the Chioggia (Italy) beach area, in Budapest, and in Belgrade.  Basically, there is at least one “Go Active” bike ride on each of their European river cruises

In 2016, Uniworld added a partnership with upscale tour operator Butterfield & Robinson (a Canadian firm) to offer enhanced bike tours.  On the Uniworld website, I found that Uniworld was offering 10 themed biking tours in 2018.  Their tours are on the Danube (4), the Rhone (3), and the Rhine (3).  The tours are on customized bicycles, with detailed maps, and expert bike guides.  Bicycles include a handlebar-mounted Samsung Galaxy tablet with preloaded route maps via RideWithGPS.  Booking is done directly with Butterfield & Robinson.  Here is their contact info:  www.butterfield.com or 1-866-551-9090.  Again, be sure to include us as your travel agents when making the booking.

I got to talk with a representative of Butterfield & Robinson.  They are very excited about this partnership and are adding a Seine bike tour for 2019 and will retain the 10 themed biking tours they scheduled for 2018. 

Viking

Viking does not offer any onboard bikes.  They do have some limited guided bike tours which are new for 2018.  These tours require an extra fee.

My Final Thoughts

There certainly are some differences between the cycling opportunities offered by these eight river cruise lines.  3 offer enhanced options with their partnerships.  7 of the 8 have onboard bikes that do not have an extra charge.  As with any aspect of Europe River cruises, we can answer your questions and concerns and help you match the right river cruise to your needs and travel style. 

We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

The Capitals of Scandinavia

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

Scandinavia, the land of the midnight sun in summer, instantly brings to me images of fjords, castles, marauding Vikings and beautiful blond Nordic women.  It is a land of spectacular sights.  During the summer, Scandinavia is a great place to visit.  These northern European countries have splendid weather for about 3 months or so, and there is almost always some type of festival during the summer months in each of these capital cities.

Oslo, Norway Harbor Festival
Oslo, Norway Harbor Festival

The Scandinavia region, however, is not clearly defined by all geographers.  Some include only Denmark, Norway and Sweden.  Others add Iceland and Finland and define these 5 countries as the Nordic countries.  A lot of the confusion is over Finland, as large portions were once part of Sweden and Russia, and this also has influenced its culture.  The island nation of Iceland also has some of the traits of Scandinavia but is more isolated from the rest of the Nordic countries. 

Despite these geographic differences, I will include Finland in my Scandinavia blog, as its culture best fits in with the Scandinavia region in my mind and omit Iceland—it is just so physically distant from the other four countries, I have a hard time including it as part of Scandinavia.  All four countries included in my definition of Scandinavia, speak a language based on a northern Germanic dialect, have great seagoing traditions and have adapted well to their cold climates.  While distinct countries, they share more similarities than differences, in my opinion. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t let you know that we have written guides to all these capital cities.  Just go to our website at this link and we will send you the guides you request.  Here is the link on our Northern Europe page of our website:  https://www.dreamdestinations.com/northern-europe/ .  The guides are free and there is no obligation, it is just a service we provide to help you have better travels when visiting this region (this is only part of the 50 cities guides we have for key European cities.)

So, let’s learn more about the capital cities of Denmark, Finland (technically a Nordic country), Norway and Sweden.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Located on the Jutland Peninsula, Copenhagen is a city of just over 750,000 people.  The city is built on two main islands and connected by many drawbridges.  Danes are famous for being seafaring people—the Vikings used to raid from here.  The Danes are considered to have one of the highest qualities of life in the world. 

Copenhagen is sometimes known as the city of spires. 

Borsen Stock Exchange
Borsen Stock Exchange–the twisted tails of 4 dragons form this spire

Among some of the great sites to visit in this city, are the City Hall Square and City Hall (Radhuspladsen), Tivoli Gardens (Europe’s oldest amusement park), the Stronget shopping street area (Europe’s first pedestrian street that goes through the old merchants’ (koben) harbor (havn), Amalienborg Palace and Square (the monarchs palace) and the National Museum, complete with Viking displays to include a Viking longship—I really enjoyed a visit to this museum in 2008. 

Town Hall Square, Copenhagen, Denmark
Town Hall Square, Copenhagen, Denmark
Tivoli
Tivoli

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki grew up around its harbor.  Helsinki and Finland also have one of the world’s highest standards of living.  Key sites are the market square harbor, the Esplanade (a great pedestrian walkway and boulevard), and the Senate Square.  We have visited twice and really like Helsinki—our favorites are the waterfront market square area and the Esplanade.

Esplande, Helsinki Finland
Esplanade, Helsinki Finland
Harbor Market Helsinki
Harbor Market Helsinki

Helsinki is rated as the capital city with the 8th cleanest air in the world by the World Health Organization.  A huge emphasis on public transportation, may be one reason, Helsinki makes the list.  This city wants to make cars obsolete by developing an on-demand-public transportation system.  The current diverse public transportation system consists of trams, commuter rail, bus lines, 2 ferry lines, and some on-demand minibuses.  There is also a big emphasis on bikes and developing bike paths.  One third of the city is green spaces. 

A Tram in Helsinki
A Tram in Helsinki

Oslo, Norway

The port city of Oslo is a fun place to visit.  It is located on the northeast part of the Oslo Fjord.  We sailed into Oslo on an ocean cruise ship and it was a delightful experience. 

Oslo Fjord
Oslo Fjord

Some of the key sights of Oslo are located right on the harbor.  These include the 700 year old Akerhus Castle fort complex, the city hall and the Nobel Peace Museum. 

Akershus Castle
Akershus Castle
Town Hall Oslo, Norway
Town Hall Oslo, Norway
Nobel Peace Center
Nobel Peace Center

A few streets in from the harbor, Karls Johans Gate, is the main shopping street of Oslo.  On this street, there is the Royal Palace at one end of Karls Johans Gate, along with the National Theater, the National Gallery, Oslo Cathedral and ending at the Parliament—all contained within about a mile or so distance.  On the Bygdoy Peninsula area of Oslo (about a mile from the harbor area), the Viking Ship Museum has 3 Viking boats over a 1000 years old and other Viking artifacts.  Bygdoy also has 3 other maritime museums.  The Fram museum is about polar explorations, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki raft museum is also here and their maritime museum that explains Norway’s long history with the sea.  Also located in the Bygdoy Peninsula, is the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History—an outdoor museum that has an old wooden stave church from around the year 1200.  There are 160 buildings reassembled and brought in from all over Norway.  For art lovers, Fronger Park (on the outskirts of Oslo) holds the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland and the Edward Munich Museum has all his art work (his most famous painting is the scream). 

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is built on a series of 14 islands connected by bridges.  This is a town of great old sites and really new modern places.  The old town is really good and one of my favorite sites to explore on foot.  The Gamla Stan (old city) was a part of the Hanseatic League trade network and the resulting trade helped the city grow and prosper.  You will enjoy wandering in the old town. 

Old Town Stockholm
Old Town Stockholm
Old Phone Booth Stockholm Old Town
Old Phone Booth Stockholm Old Town

Very near the old town area is the very large Royal Palace, complete with uniformed guards and a colorful changing of the guard ceremony at noon.  Also in this area is the Parliament building. 

Royal Palace Stockholm
Royal Palace Stockholm

On Deer Island (Djurgarden), there is an amusement park, an outdoor museum of reassembled buildings from all over Sweden and the Vasa museum, the 17th century warship that sank during its maiden voyage.  It also has the ABBA music experience for you pop culture music fans. 

Amusement Park
Amusement Park on Deer Island Stockholm

In the more modern part of town, we even went to an ice bar for a drink—pretty cool to say the least!  

 

Ice Bar in Stockholm
Ice Bar in Stockholm
Anne in the Icebar
Anne in the Ice bar

Stockholm is also on the list of the ten capital cities with the cleanest air (according to the World Health Organization), coming in at number 1.  It was the 2010 Green Capital of the World, and Stockholm wants to be fossil fuel free by 2050.  During the 1990s, Stockholm was able to reduce carbon emissions by 25%, so you can see they are serious about cleaning up the air they breathe.  Development is strictly monitored—even cars must pay a tax to enter the city.  It also has an extensive public transportation system.  85% of the population work in service industries and there are hardly any heavy industrial factories, so this is one reason Stockholm has such clean air.  30% of Stockholm’s area is green spaces; and it has over 1,000 parks. 

My Final Thoughts

Scandinavia, if you have not visited this region, should be on your list of places to visit in Europe.  Go in the summer months—many sights are closed during the winter months, especially the amusement parks and the outdoor reassembled buildings.  The other great advantage are the long days—the sun sets very late at night in these four capital cities which helps inspires their many festivals.  Solid reasons to visit this region in my mind. 

We can help you plan and book a trip to Scandinavia—to any or all these four great countries.  We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent