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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Giants on the Danube River

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

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

Starting in May 2019, there will be 2 double size river cruise ships on the Danube.  The Crystal Mozart is already sailing and the AmaMagna will debut in May 2019.

For many seasoned river cruisers, this may be the next step in luxury river cruising.  For others, this may be an unnecessary use of space and extra costs.

With full disclosure, this blog is based on research only (I have never sailed on either ship), and I will try to tackle this new concept so you can be updated on news of these two unique offerings for river cruise guests.

Some Basics About these Giants

Traditional river cruise ships have been constrained by lock size—the max size is about 38 ft wide and 443 feet long.  The main rivers of Europe can handle these longships, but a portion of the Danube before the Main-Danube Canal can handle wider ships.  Two companies have used this area to build river cruise ships that are twice as wide as ordinary river cruise ships.

Schonbuhl Castle Watermarked
Schonbuhl Castle–the Watchman of the Wachau–one sight you will see on either ship

The Crystal Mozart was originally constructed in 1987.  Crystal acquired the ship, stripped it down to its hull and rebuilt the entire ship.  It entered service in 2016.

The AmaMagna has been built as a new river ship.  It will start sailing with guests in May of 2019.

With more space due to the doubled width of the ship, each of the giants of the Danube are designed to offer its guest more choices on a bigger river ship.  It clearly is aimed for luxury guests who like more space and expect more venues onboard.

The AmaMagna

The AmaMagna will still be 443 feet long but 72 feet wide—double the width of most longships.  It will hold 196 passengers in 98 staterooms.  By comparison, other AmaWaterways longships have 78 staterooms for 156 passengers.

Ship_37_AmaMagna_Exterior_rend_04_FULL
AmaMagna Photo AmaWaterways

The two key changes to the AmaMagna are larger staterooms and the addition of a Wine Bar/Restaurant.  There also will be an Al Fresco Dining area on the bow (front) of the ship.  It still will retain the normal features of AmaWaterways ships— a main lounge, fitness room, hair salon, massage rooms (there are two on the AmaMagna compared to one on the other longships in the AmaWaterways fleet), main restaurant, a reception area and the hugely successful feature, The Chef’s Table Restaurant.

So let’s talk stateroom size—here is the rundown: There will be one suite at 710 square feet with a full balcony; 6 suites at 474 square feet with full balcony; 46 suites at 355 square feet with a full balcony; 34 staterooms at 252 square feet with full balcony and 11 staterooms at 205 square feet with fixed windows—I affectionately call this area the swan deck, as part of the room is at the waterline and the swans often swim by for a unique view of them above and below the waterline from the window.

Ship_37_stateroom_4_gallery
355 sq. ft. suite on the AmaMagna. Photo AmaWaterways

The AmaMagna will sail two 7 day itineraries on the Danube.  They are the Romantic Danube (Vilshofen to Budapest) and the Melodies of the Danube (Budapest to Vilshofen).  For those of us who have sailed the upper Danube before, the ports are similar to previous AmaWaterways itineraries with some minor adjustments.

The Crystal Mozart

Mozart_Night-400x200
The Crystal Mozart in Budapest. Photo Crystal River Cruises

The Crystal Mozart is 395 feet long and 75 feet wide.  It holds 154 guests in 79 staterooms according to the brochure, but I keep coming up with a passenger count of 158 based on two to a stateroom (79 x 2)—some publications list the passenger count as 160.  41 cabins have fixed windows on the first deck, which is known as the Harmony deck.  They are all 219 square feet. 

Mozart_Suite_Fixed_Window-300x200
Fixed Window Suite on the Crystal Mozart. Photo Crystal River Cruises

The remaining cabins are on the Seahorse deck, on deck 2.  On this deck there are 24 French balcony cabins—23 are 219 square feet and one is 209 square feet. The 14 remaining cabins are considered penthouses.  There are two 883 square foot suites with 2 beds; and 12 staterooms of 330 square feet.  None have outside balconies—there are only French balconies on the Mozart.  The twelve 330 square feet staterooms have bathtubs, but the two larger stateroom only have showers—seems odd to me, as a bathtub is often a desired luxury feature. 

Mozart_Penthouse-1-300x200
330 sq. ft. Penthouse Suite on the Crystal Mozart. Photo Crystal River Cruise

Each stateroom on the Mozart has a butler; a stocked mini-refrigerator and a welcome bottle of champagne and two bottles of wine in suite. 

On deck 3, the Crystal deck, Crystal Ocean cruisers will recognize many of the venue names.  Venues include the Blue Bar and Grill, Connoisseur Club, Palm Court, the Cove Piano Bar, the Vintage Room, the Waterside Restaurant and the Bistro Mozart.  The deck has a wrap-around Promenade.

Mozart_Palm_Court-1-300x200
Palm Court on the Crystal Mozart. Photo Crystal River Cruises

The Crystal Mozart has 4 itineraries for 2018.  These include the Treasures of the Danube, a 10 day loop that starts and ends in Vienna (fares start at $4078 per person); the Danube Serenade a 7 day eastbound starting in Vienna and first sails west through Austria and then sails east to Budapest (fares start at $2,803); another 7 day Danube Serenade that sails west from Budapest to Melk and then loops back to Vienna (again the fare starts at $2,803); and finally a 11 day Eastern Danube Discovery that sails from Vienna eastward to Belgrade and then back to Vienna (fares start at $5,525).  For 2019 they have added a trip called Danube Dreams and Discovery for 7 days, which is a modified loop from Vienna (fares start at $2,805).  It also will sail a special Christmas cruise, one time only, starting on 20 December for 13 days (fares start at $5,415)—it is available for 2018 and 2019. 

Media Coverage

While almost all the press lauds the Crystal Mozart as a true luxury ship, there are just some nagging coverage items.  Some note the king size beds limit space in some cabins, negating the extra space of the double wide boat.  The Mozart does not have an elevator.  The Vintage Dining Room is an additional cost and depending upon the wines selected runs from about $300 up to $2000 per person.  Some have complained there is a run on this room and all passengers do not have access.  For an all-inclusive line, there sure seems to be a lot of extras to spend your money on—optional tours, watercraft, Michelin Star dining on shore are not included.

With a ship yet to launch, it is really unfair to make comparisons with the Crystal Mozart.  There are some differences, however, that leap out at me.  Here they are:

  • No elevator on the Mozart; there is one on the AmaMagna.
  • No outside balconies on the Mozart; many outside balconies on the AmaMagna.
  • Extra charge for the Vintage Dining Room on the Crystal Mozart (as I noted earlier $300—$2,000 depending on the wines selected per person); Jimmy’s Wine Bar is included on the AmaMagna.
  • A one hour limit on Wi-Fi on the Mozart (there is an extra charge for more than one hour); unlimited on the AmaMagna.
  • The Mozart is all-inclusive and has butler service; the AmaMagna has included wine, beer and beverages with meals and a one hour Sip and Sail free cocktail hour but has no butler service.
  • Both have unique water sports boats and extras. At present the AmaMagna items are free; there sometimes is an extra charge for items on the Crystal Mozart.

I will be very interested in the 3rd Edition of the Berlitz River Cruising in Europe that is due out in early July 2018—I will report and update this blog once I can get the new edition.  The author, Douglas Ward,  is about as impartial as it comes when reviewing river cruising in Europe, so I try to use him when possible to help my evaluations.

My Final Thoughts

Giants on the Danube—it is a way to get an ocean cruise sized cabin on a rivership.  Are the limitations in size and extra offerings of these giant riverships worth it?  I’m really not sure yet—both carry an extra price tag that seems pretty steep to me. 

On the AmaMagna, a swan deck cabin starts at $3799 per person and main and upper deck cabins are an additional $1799 (raises the price to $5,598 per person) to $9,999 (raises the price to $13,798 per person) depending upon the cabin selected.  By comparison, you can book a lower category French balcony cabin for about $4200 per person on an AmaWaterways longship—that’s a difference of $1,398 per person ($5,598-$4,200=$1,398).

On the Crystal Mozart, it is really hard to get an exact fare without calling the company for a quote.  The brochure only lists starting fares (I listed them earlier in this blog); AmaWaterways is upfront about the stateroom costs.  On one booking site (Affordable tours), I found some crossed out prices for a June 30—July 10, 2018 sailing on the Treasures of the Danube by category for the Mozart (the brochure states the fares start from $4,070 but it includes prices for 3 possible Crystal river ships), so here goes:  Fixed window stateroom $7,290–&7,655 per person; a French Balcony was $9,250 per person; the Penthouse suite was $16, 235 per person and the 2 room Suite was $37,305 per person.  The website claims these are brochure rates, per person in US dollars, but I have no way to verify if these are accurate.

There is a market for this type of river cruise—those who want more personal space and are willing to pay for it.  It answers the one problem some river cruise clients’ voice—they want a bigger stateroom, similar to the staterooms they have experienced on an ocean cruise liner.  For folks who love Crystal Ocean cruises and expect the same level of service and amenities, they should also be good matches for a Crystal River Cruise.

My guess is that when the AmaMagna starts sailing, the press will call it a draw when comparing the Crystal Mozart and the AmaMagna.  It will be interesting to see if I’m correct on this prediction.

Should you go one of these giants?  It will be right for some, but do not fear–we are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts who can guide you through these decisions and help you determine if the increased space and amenities are worth the extra cost.  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