By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
We have planned almost every type of vacation you might want to take. However, no matter how many we plan, we just keep realizing more and more the exceptional value you get when you take a river cruise, especially in Europe. We travel to Europe 2-4 times a year (just like you, we are limited by travel costs) and are taking river cruise number 14 later this year, and I think that really makes our thoughts about river cruising even more important—we speak from experience. Our experience is that for most trips, it’s hard to beat the features of a river cruise, especially if you take a pre and post land option along with the cruise. So, let’s explore the value of a Europe river cruise!
Single Words to Describe a River Cruise
Friendly. Memorable. Relaxing. Organized. Efficient. Luxurious. Fun. Right-sized. Cozy. Effortless. Enjoyable. Inclusive. Cool. Entertaining. Pampered. Recognized.
7 Good Reasons to Take a Europe River Cruise
- A river cruise is almost completely hassle free. On the right lines (AmaWaterways and Scenic, are our 2 favorites), you get a luxury floating hotel, great food and wine and experiences that you will remember for a lifetime. The atmosphere is friendly, the dress code is casual and they deal in one currency. You pack and unpack once—no changing hotels or long bus rides. The river scenery is usually very interesting. Think about this—would you rather be crammed in a bus, or wandering the decks of a riverboat with a glass of wine in your hand, or better yet, lounging in a small pool in the summer watching the world go by as you are propelled to you next exciting port? You don’t have to ask my choice—where’s my wine glass?
- You will see so much in so little time. River cruising is all about the destinations. Even though I have been traveling to Europe for over 45 years and led several group tours, I could not do what the river cruise companies do in one week—these folks are experts in showing you the best sights in the least amount of time. It is truly a unique way to see the interior of a country. It is different from a land based tour and different from an ocean cruise. One of the best advantages is that most often your riverboat will dock near or in the center of the city, town or village you are about to explore. In five minutes all guest are off the boat and seeing the sights. Most lines also offer different groups during the tours—regular, active walkers or gentle walkers, so your desired way to see the destination is matched with your tour. Even while on board there is always something to see on the banks, as you cruise along to the next destination.
- It is easy to do the activities that appeal to you. Maybe the best part of a river cruise is the flexibility. Want to skip the tour—no problem! We often go off on our own, love walking the quaint towns, using the provided map or even a GPS device. In the larger ports, it is easy to really go off on your own using subways or buses or even a taxi if time is the critical factor. How about a bike ride? Many of the better lines feature escorted bike rides or you can go on your own. Want a special excursion? Again, the better lines have good limited tour options. Some are extra but many lines include the tours in your cruise price. Each year we see different options available and they are getting better and better. Add to this list is the theme cruises—we especially like the wine cruises on AmaWaterways and often take them, as the wine is provided by the wine host at no extra charge—what a value!
- Almost all is included in your trip. On river cruise lines, your food, meals with wine or beer at lunch and dinner, your cabin and even occasional entertainment is included in the fare. There is even champagne or sparkling wine at breakfast on many lines. The clear, upfront pricing helps make it easier to budget for your vacation. River boats are small (only 100 to 190 passengers) friendly and comfortable. Food is generally good but some lines are better than others.
- Your cabin will have a view. At the very least, you will have a window, but every line we recommend has at least a French balcony, or a balcony or both on their riverships. While cabins are smaller than ocean cruise lines, they often are quite luxurious. Some lines even talk about their bed placement to take advantage of the views, but most folks do not spend a lot of time in their cabins except to sleep or take a short break.
- There are a lot of choices to find a river cruise that is right for you. Some cruise lines (Scenic, Uniworld, Tauck and newcomer, Crystal) are completely inclusive (all liquor, gratuities and even optional tours), but cost more than other companies. Viking, Emerald and Avalon offer more optional choices, but usually have lower starting prices. Our favorite river cruise company, AmaWaterways does not include gratuities, liquor outside of meals (but they are adding a free cocktail hour prior to dinner for 2018). On AmaWaterways, there may be an extra charge for some optional tours although there is at least one tour included at every port at no charge (many times there are 2 or more at no charge). This is important, as you may visit more than one port on a given day and some lines only offer only one tour per day, not a tour at ever port stop. There are a lot of differences between lines (I have written a blog about this and we have a great comparison PowerPoint on our website LEARN MORE) but the bottom line is clear: RIVER CRUISING IS A GREAT VALUE!
- There are so many great routes and even repeating the same itinerary again is fun. We have seen a lot of Europe (13 countries) while on river cruises. Your floating luxury hotel is an awesome way to see some of the great sights of Europe. There are many themed cruises that could add to your trip and make the cruise even better for you. Most lines offer 2 tours at each port stop, so even taking the same route twice or more is not boring—it is fun and each trip is different. We have been 5 times on the Danube and 4 times on the Rhine and 3 times on the Rhone and would not hesitate to go on any of these routes again. There is so much to see in Europe on, or near the rivers, that repeat trips are not a waste of time or money. With all the choices, we can find the right match for you.
Our Final Thoughts
For us, river cruising helps you escape the fast pace world we live in and have an experience you will always remember. There is a good balance of public and private space on the ship. You will usually be wined and dined in style. You will see sights you never knew existed. And most importantly, you will get a glimpse of the culture of the area you are sailing through. Why not join us in the future on a river cruise or let us plan one for you? Please reach out to us by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or better yet, call me at 713-397-0188. We want to be your trusted travel advisors. We want to help you: Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
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