Our New 2018-19 Europe River Cruise Comparisons


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


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:


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

Europe River Cruise Partnerships Will Enhance Your Travel Options

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

One way Europe River Cruising is changing is the trend of some companies to partner with other companies or individuals to enhance the options for more specialized experiences for their guests.  To me, it is no surprise that our two favorite river cruise lines, AmaWaterways and Scenic, are at the forefront of this trend.  A word of warning—these cruises sell out quickly (many are already gone for the 2018 season), so if you are interested, do not hesitate to contact us to get your cruise. 

So, let’s explore these new partnerships and how they can enhance your river cruise vacation.

3 Great AmaWaterways Partnerships

AmaWaterways has partnered with Adventures by Disney, Backroads and a celebrity chef, Joanne Weir.

Adventures by Disney 2018 & 2019

These awesome companies have partnered together to provide some unique river cruise trips on the two most popular river cruise routes in Europe—the Danube and the Rhine.  Most sailings are during the summer months, but there is also a special Christmas sailing on the Danube departing on December 23, 2018.  The 2018 sailings are now available for booking and we are happy to help you send your family on an adventure they will never forget.

Adventures by Disney will offer eight Danube sailings aboard the AmaViola.  Four of these sailings are already sold out! The route is from Vishofen, Germany to Budapest, Hungary, or the reverse.  Along with the chance to visit 4 countries (Austria, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia), the cruise sails through the Wachau Valley, one of the most picturesque parts of the Danube River.

Schonbuhl Castle
Schonbuhl Castle on the Danube River at the entrance of the Wachau Valley

On the Rhine, they will sail eight special Beauty and the Beast” itineraries aboard the AmaKristina in 2018.  One of these eight sailings is already sold out.  This cruise sails from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands (we sailed this route in December 2016) and also visits France and Germany—4 great Europe countries on one trip.  It also sails in the reverse direction.  The “Beauty and the Beast” theme will dominate the cruise with a special film screening and activities, but the highlight may well be a visit to Riquewihr, the inspiration for Belle’s hometown in the animated film.  

A special feature of both of these Ama ships is connecting cabins.

For these family oriented cruises, there are only 140 spaces per sailing—Disney extra guides take up some cabins—instead of the normal 156 passengers.

There is a big advantage with the pairing of Disney and Ama—both provide wonderful experiences: Disney on land and sea and now both on the great rivers of Europe.  And with the Disney touches, it isn’t hard to imagine that any Disney aficionado would enjoy these themed cruises.

Adventures by Disney in 2019

In 2019, a new route will be added.  The cruise will be on the Seine.  According to Travel Market Report, “The new itinerary will include two summer 2019 departures and two adults-only epicurean sailings in the fall, which will offer a wide range of special food and wine-themed experiences.”  It sounds like another great addition to the lineup to us.

Disney for Adults

There are also an increased number of adult only adventures.  These special cruises were inspired by the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  The special events on these sailings include culinary experiences both onboard and onshore, wine tastings, culinary walking tours and a French patisserie class.  There are 2 sailing on the Rhine (September and October) and one special Octoberfest sailing on the Danube departing on September 30, 2018—you guessed it, it will feature beer!

Bookings for these cruises must be done directly with Adventures by Disney.  Here is the link:  https://www.adventuresbydisney.com/trip-selector/river-cruise/  Please when booking these trips, include us as your travel consultants. 


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 Vice 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.”

On our AmaWaterways Tulip Time Cruise
Anne and Hank with Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner of AmaWaterways

The company has taken over entire boats on the Danube in 2017 and 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 156 passengers are part of a regular cruise.  Currently 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 Ama).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.

Celebrity Chef Joanne Weir

AmaWaterways also has partnered with celebrity chef, Joanne Weir.  Weir has written 18 cookbooks and in 2017 recorded 2 cooking demonstrations onboard an AmaWaterways ship.  These will be featured on her PBS show “Plates and Places with Joanne Weir.”  The collaboration will continue with a special theme cruise on July 26, 2018. The seven-night Taste of Bordeaux – Culinary Cruise Hosted by Joanne Weir on the AmaDolce will traverse the Bordeaux region along the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.  We sailed on the AmaDolce in November of 2017 on this route and it was an excellent wine and food experience, so this extra addition will make it even more special.

On this sailing, guests will have the opportunity to interact with Chef Weir on the ship and during shore excursions, especial on tours that feature local foods and wines.  Chef Weir will also be on hand for culinary presentations available to all passengers.

Again, AmaWaterways just continues to add more and more value to their cruise lineups.


Scenic Opal
TV Area on the Scenic Opal from our 2015 Cruise

Scenic has partnered with National Geographic to provide more in-depth excursions on some of their voyages.  According to their November 2, 2017 Press Release, here is an overview of the partnership:

 “National Geographic Expeditions and award-winning operator Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours have teamed up to launch a new line of National Geographic River Cruises.  These new offerings will combine Scenic’s truly all-inclusive luxury river cruise experience with National Geographic’s 129-year legacy of science, conservation and exploration to create an unforgettable experience for travelers.

Scenic already had great tours and this is only going to enhance the options for guests.  On each of these special cruises, there will be lecturer and photographer from National Geographic.  The concept is to provide a more in-depth understanding of the area and to enhance your knowledge of how to capture your experiences by learning better photography techniques.

Here are the 5 different sailings options in Europe for 2018:  Beautiful Bordeaux on August 26 and September 15; Rhine Highlights on July 30 and September 26; Gems of the Danube on July 19 and October 11; the 15 day Jewels of Europe (sails from Amsterdam to Budapest) on July 19 and October 16; and a Danube Christmas Markets sailing on December 2.  It is quite a good line up and should be a great partnership.

We have sailed on Scenic and it is an awesome river cruise line—we enjoyed it and so did the guests we helped experience this good river cruise company.

Carriage in Palais Liechtenstien, Vienna
Carriage on display in Palais Liechtenstien, Vienna on our enrich Scenic tour classical concert

Some Limited Partnerships

While AmaWaterways and Scenic seem to be the leaders in the partnership trend, other cruise lines are making smaller partnerships that deserve mention.

Emerald has partnered with one of the region’s top chefs, Fabien Morreale.  He will come onboard the Emerald Liberté one night to cook a special meal featuring his favorite and most famous dishes during a three-course serving.  This partnership will happen on their Sensations of Southern France river cruise, aboard the newest Star-Ship, the Emerald Liberté, where guests will sail the Rhône River.  We have sailed the Rhône River several times and it is a great vacation option.  We also have spent time on an Emerald Star ship and we really liked their product, so this partnership will enhance their vacation experience for guests, in our opinion. 

Pont du Gard
Pont du Gard–one of the sights you might see on a Rhône River Cruise

Our Last Thoughts

Europe river cruising is constantly changing and in most cases, the winners are the cruisers.  These new programs have brought the wonders of Europe together in a way that is much more appealing to kids and still allows the entire family to have a wonderful vacation or allows you to experience a specialized tour.  The usual benefits of unpack once, see multiple sights, all meals provided and interesting things to do and see, are now more tailored to your specific interests, and have taken Europe river cruising to a new level.  As always we want to help you with your travel dreams, whatever they may be, and hope some of you will want to take part of these partnership on Europe river cruises.  Please call Hank (713-397-0188) or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can 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