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
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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

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 Rhine and the Danube River Cruises

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

Do you love flowers?  Do you like wine and food?  Do you want to see historic sites?  Do you like luxury accommodations?  Do you like traveling with a small group instead of a mega ocean liner?  Would you like to be active?  Do you like easy travel, with the details handled for you?  Then, a Europe river cruise is the answer!  This the first of a two part blog.  Today, I will cover the Rhine and the Danube.  Next week, I will cover French River Cruising and the Douro and some of the lesser known river routes of the Elbe and the Po. 

The river cruise season in Europe is March to December (some extend into the first week of January). With the exception of Tulip Time cruises (they are only in the spring), you can enjoy any of these routes during the whole sailing season.  If you can swing it, the best time to visit Europe and take a river cruise is either spring or fall (or both)–prices are better and there are less crowds.

We are often asked “What is the best Europe river cruise route?”  My short answer is “I would sail on all of them!”  While this is a great response, it really does not answer the question, since most folks want to know what the best river to sail as a first time cruiser on a river in Europe.  So for new river cruisers, by far, the two most popular rivers are the Rhine (Amsterdam to Basel or reverse) and the Upper Danube Rivers.  Before you just chose one of these routes, let’s explore together what the rivers of the Rhine and Danube offer.

So where are the typical 7 day river cruises on these rivers?  Here goes–

The Rhine

Much of western European civilization developed around the Rhine River and its tributaries.  The Rhine is the busiest commercial river in Europe, yet it is also famous for castles, and vineyards.  The commercial boats, along with the local ferries and other boats all seem to work well with river cruise ships and do not detract from the iconic sites along the river, as the best stretches are often protected from commercial activity that could spoil the sights.  The 820 mile Rhine actually passes through 6 countries, but many folks consider it a German River, since so much of its banks are on German soil.  There are three main routes on the Rhine.  They are the lower Rhine Tulip Time, the Amsterdam to Basel route and the middle Rhine and the Main route.  The middle Rhine and especially the Rhine River Gorge, has the greatest concentration of scenic banks and castles in all Europe and can be seen on most Rhine River cruises except the Tulip Time route.

picture14
Tulips at Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands

The first route is the Spring Tulip Time route on the lower Rhine and canals in the Netherlands and Belgium.  We have visited the Netherlands in the springtime, when spectacular carpets of colorful tulips are in full bloom, on a Tulip Time River Cruise.  Throw in lush green countryside adorned with picturesque windmills and add delicious cheeses and already the trip sounds awesome-but that is just the start.  Also this route can include the Belgium towns of Ghent, Arnhem, Antwerp and our personal favorite Brugge.  If you like flowers, cheese or want to visit two of the Benelux countries (Netherlands and Belgium), this is the route for you. Learn More About this Cruise

The second route is usually from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Basel, Switzerland on the Rhine, (or the reverse route), using both the lower Rhine and parts of the middle and upper Rhine (the upper Rhine section is defined as from past the town of Mainz, Germany when the river turns south to its source in Lake Constance, Switzerland). This cruise begins with legendary canals and the colorful surroundings of Amsterdam, past the majestic Cologne Cathedral and on to the Black Forest region of Germany.  You will also see the castles along the Rhine River Gorge, a chance to see Heidelberg, and Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of France.  It is a great route to visit 4 western European countries, see the Rhine River Gorge and learn about the German–France region of the Alsace.  It is easy to see why this is one of the two most popular routes for first time European river cruisers.  Learn More About this Cruise Route

 

937

Strasbourg, France

The third route is usually from Trier, Germany to Nuremberg, Germany or the reverse route, using the Mosel (covers about 150 miles of the 340 miles of this span of the river), the Rhine and the Main tributary and part of the Main Canal from Bamberg to Nuremberg.  On the Mosel, the German villages of Bernkastel, Zell and Cochem are the highlights—especially Reichsburg Castle at Cochem.  At Koblenz, you will sail briefly on the Rhine and pass onto the Main River, a tributary of the Rhine.  This is vineyard and castle country on the most beautiful stretch of the Rhine River dotted with picturesque castles—the Rhine River Gorge.  The German towns of Wertheim, Wurzburg, Kitzingen and Bamberg, with their half-timbered buildings, palaces, impressive churches, and unique old town areas, make this a memorable trip.  For those seeking a southern German adventure, castles and quaint German villages, this is the ideal route. Learn More About this Cruise

Picture33
Reichsberg Castle, Cochem

 

marksburg_z_550[1]
Marksburg Castle on the Rhine River Gorge
Picture12
Bamberg Town Hall

We have sailed all three routes and each is awesome—we would do any again!

Danube and Main-Danube Canal

The Danube is 1,170 miles, making it the second longest river in Europe after the Volga River in Russia.  This is a river of legends, serves a borderline between countries, has four capital cities on or near its banks and romantic sights of medieval castles, baroque churches and abbeys and rococo palaces.  There are 2 routes here.  The upper portion is primarily in Austria and Hungry.  The lower segment is in the Balkans.

The first route is from Nuremberg or Passau to Budapest, Hungary (or the reverse route), using the Main-Danube Canal (106 miles long with 16 locks) and the upper Danube.  This area has rolling hillsides, lush vineyards, and medieval castles, as the cruise allows you to visit four different countries.  You will get to visit 4 countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungry), 2 or 3 capital cities (Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest), castles, abbeys, wine-sloped terraces and even quaint villages-it is a great voyage.  Along with the capital cities, other high lights include sailing the Wachau Valley, perhaps a visit to Salzburg, Austria and the 900 year old Melk Abbey.  This is the other most popular Europe river cruise route for first time river cruisers—we have done it 4 times and would sail it again—it is just the right mix of large cities, quaint villages, with castles and abbeys appearing suddenly among the vineyards or forests.  Along with these sights, the night time cruise in Budapest with its lights is an experience of a lifetime! Here is a blog I wrote about this awesome route Gems of the Danube on the Scenic Opal

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The second segment is from Budapest to near the Black Sea. This segment begins with the rolling hills and vine-clad slopes of the Pecs in Hungary; then moves to the boundary waters that separate Serbia and Croatia; then traverses the narrow gorges of the Iron Gates, a stunning passage that divides the Balkan and Carpathian Mountains and either ends in Bucharest, Romania or at the Black Sea (or the reverse route).  You will see mighty fortresses, perhaps two or three capital cities (Budapest, Belgrade, and Bucharest), and usually visit 5 unique countries (Hungry, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania).  This is an under explored, exotic region for many and deserves a visit.  Learn More

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Kalemegdan Fortress, Belgrade, Serbia

Bucharest, Romania

The Iron Gates

We have sailed both routes (the upper route 4 times) and would highly recommend either.

Our Final Thoughts

While there are some variations, many lines cruise essentially cruise the same routes on the most popular European rivers.  The river routes may be very short or may cover larger distances, depending upon the route you select.  While I have covered only 7 day cruises, many of these routes can be combined for longer cruises of 14 or 21 days or more.  River cruising is about the destinations, in my opinion, so the correct itinerary is critical to provide you the river cruise experience you desire for these special trips.  We hope this quick summary will provide you a good overview of what is possible in Europe river cruising.

Every major cruise company also offers pre/post stays so along with the river cruise you can get some extended time in some of the best of Europe’s cities.  We have been to almost all major cities in Europe and have developed our own guides for 49 top cities, so not only can we provide information on pre/post stays, we can also plan your stays to customize your trip.

With all this variety, does it make you want to go?   It sure does for me—why not give us a call (Hank at 713-397-0188) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you plan a great European river cruise by matching you to the right river cruise for you.  There is a lot to know and we are the experts who can answer your questions from which route, to which river cruise company and what to see on the pre/post stays.  We will help you find the right river cruise in Europe to help you: Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!