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