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

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. 

Backroads

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

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

 

The Great Value of a Europe River Cruise

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

  1. 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?
    Wine on AmaWaterways
    Wine on AmaWaterways

    AmaWaterways Pool
    AmaWaterways Pool
  2. 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.

    Schonbuhl Castle
    Schonbuhl Castle on the Danube River
  3. 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!
    AmaWaterways Bike Ride
    Our clients Jane & Len ready for a bike ride near Cochem, Germany

    Wine Cruise
    Provence Wine Cruise
  4. 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. 

    AmaWaterways Cuisine
    AmaWaterways Cuisine
  5. 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.

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    Budapest Parliament at night–the view from our cabin on a Scenic River Cruise
  6. 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!

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    Melk Abby–a great tour!
  7. 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.
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Rheinstein Castle on the Rhine River–Never gets old to see the Rhine River Gorge

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 hschrader@dreamdestinations.com 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 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.

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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

 

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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

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Reichsberg Castle, Cochem

 

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Marksburg Castle on the Rhine River Gorge
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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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Christmas Market Rathhaus 2012 507 (5)

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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!

Magnificent Europe 14 Day River Cruise

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

If you could get the absolute best of European Rivers on one cruise, my choice would be the Magnificent Europe 14 day river cruise on AmaWaterways.  This voyage goes from Amsterdam to Budapest along the Rhine to the Main River, then to the Main-Danube Canal, and finishes on the upper Danube.  The cruise combines the best of the two most popular river cruises in Europe—the 7 day upper Danube and the 7 day Rhine.  We have never sailed this exact route but have sailed to every destination on this cruise.  14 day cruises are awesome—we have taken one that we designed ourselves.  We created our own special cruise by combining two back-to-back cruises on the same rivership—we did this in 2015 while escorting two different groups.  The point is that 14 day river cruises are very good and an experience we would highly recommend from personal experience.  So, let’s learn more about the best 14 days on Europe’s rivers—the Magnificent Europe 14 Day River Cruise!

Overview

The route starts in Amsterdam and ends in Budapest or starts from Budapest to Amsterdam.  Cruises start in May and end in August—there are 6 scheduled for 2018 along with a special Christmas cruise starting December 21, 2018.  Here are the ports, highlighted by our photos.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

This capital city is ringed by canals, has famed gabled buildings, there are more bicycles than you can even imagine—it is one unique place.  Combine this with a free spirit of the residents and you will long remember this special town.

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Gabled Roofs, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cologne, Germany

Cologne has been a town for over 2,000 years (it used to be a Roman outpost), is the 4th largest city in Germany and is famous for its cathedral.  The two 510 foot high spires dominate the skyline of Cologne and it holds the relics of the Magi.  Cologne Cathedral is Germany’s most visited building.  We also liked the town squares, where some of Germany’s best Christmas markets fill the squares during the Advent season. 

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Cologne, Germany

Rhine Gorge & Rüdesheim, Germany

The 65 kilometer Middle Rhine Valley on the Rhine River is the best sailing route you will ever find in Europe.  There are 30 or so castles, steep river banks and it is simply breathtaking! 

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Rhine Gorge Castles

After that most scenic stretch, you will visit Rüdesheim, famed for its coffee drink flavored with Asbach brandy, the winding, narrow, Drosselgasse Lane, its fine Riesling wines and a generally friendly, welcoming village.

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Drosselgasse Lane, Rudesheim, Germany

Miltenberg & Wertheim, Germany

Miltenberg is one of the best preserved medieval cites on the Main River.  The colorful half-timbered houses are magnificent.  A walk to the town square is a wonderful experience. 

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Miltenberg, Germany

Later that day, you will visit Wertheim, known by its nickname as “Little Heidelberg”, and get to see the narrow lanes of this village.  Wertheim is located at the confluence of the Tauber and Main Rivers.  The two top attractions are the castle and its medieval town square.

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Wertheim, Germany

Wurzburg, Germany

Wurzburg has several unique architectural buildings, but is most famous for the Residenz Palace.  The gardens of this palace and interiors are magnificent.  This Bavarian town also is a famous wine region.

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Residenz Palace, Wurzburg, Germany

Bamberg, Germany

Bamberg is a 1,000 year old town with really interesting buildings.  The most famous are the town hall, built in the middle of a river and its beautiful cathedral.  It is built on seven hills and is located where the Regnitz and Main rivers meet.  It is also home to a smoky flavored beer. 

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Town Hall, Bamberg, Germany

Nuremberg, Germany

The old walled city of Nuremberg is one of my favorite places in all Germany.  It has an impressive castle, is crisscrossed by a river and has some cool old buildings.  The central market square, with its, beautiful fountain, is another great place to see.  It is also famous for its Christmas markets.

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Walls of Nuremberg, Germany

Regensburg, Germany

The town of Regensburg is located on the northern most point of the Danube River.  It started out as a Roman town, has a medieval bridge the crusaders crossed on their way to the Holy Wars (which is guarded by an impressive watch tower), and has a good old town area.  Anne’s favorite hat maker is here, so we find this one of our favorite Bavarian towns.

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Watch Tower over the Old Stone Bridge, Regensburg, Germany

Passau, Germany

Built on a tapering peninsula of land, the old town portion of Passau is right on the German and Austrian borders.  Three rivers join here—the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz.  On the high banks of the Danube, a fortress dating back to the 1400’s, overlooks the old city center.  There are several impressive churches worth a visit.

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The Veste Oberhaus (bishop’s fortress) overlooking Passau, Germany

 

Melk & Dürnstein, Austria

Melk is famous for its impressive, huge abbey.  It was built in the 11th century. 

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Melk Abbey, Melk, Austria

Later as you cruise through the other great scenic waterway of Europe, the Wachau Valley, you will arrive in the charming village of Durnstein. 

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Schonbuhel, Castle at the start of the Wachau Valley

The blue tower of the Abbey, the cute little shops and the castle ruins on the hillside, make this a favorite of many river cruisers. 

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 Durnstein, Austria

Vienna

The capital city of Austria, once the capital city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is a city of impressive palaces, great museums and good food.  It is also known as a town of great composers of classical music and many go to concerts in this city while on their cruise.

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Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria

Bratislava

The capital city of Slovakia is a fun place to visit.  Located at the border of Austria and Hungary, this is one of the newer countries of Europe (it declared independence in 1993). For much of its history it was either in the Austro-Hungarian Empire or a part of the Czechoslovakia.  The symbol of Bratislava is the fortress that overlooks the city.  It is also known for its whimsical bronze figures, which delight cruisers in the old town area.

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Man at Work, Bratislava, Slovakia

Budapest

By far the most impressive city on the Danube, Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is a town we love to visit.  It is really two towns—the high town of Buda that overlooks the banks of the Danube and Pest on the flat land.  They are united by several bridges but the Chain Bridge is the most important and is a symbol of the city.  Both have some awesome structures—among them Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion (Buda side) and the Parliament building (Pest side).  Once you visit, you will want to come back.

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Budapest Parliament at Night, Budapest, Hungry 

The Bottom Line

This is a great cruise—it will provide memories of a lifetime.  You will be amazed at how much there is to see in these five countries.  We hope this will inspire you to give us a call (Hank 713-397-0188) or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com) so we can help you visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

 

Some of the Ways River Cruising is Getting Better on AMAWaterways

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

We will have been on 11 river cruises in Europe by the time you read this and we love to cruise on AMAWaterways (AMA means love and there is a lot to love with this river cruise line, in our opinion).  There are many reasons why we like this company so much, but one key reason is there are improvements each year which just enhance the experience.  Among the best changes are an emphasis on being more active (AMA was selected as Cruise Critics 2015 Editors” Pick as the Best River Cruise Line for Active Cruisers); enhanced tour options (most are included in the cruise fare); and shipboard upgrades.  So here are some of these great changes:

  1. Explore on Two Wheels. AMAWaterways carries a fleet of bicycles on board (they are free of charge), so you can see Europe’s enchanting scenery on riverside pathways while getting some exercise.  They dock close to many city centers and small towns, where you can ride along the locals. Options are to ride on your own, which has always been available since we started cruising in 2009, or join one of our exclusive guided tours, like a trek along the beautiful Danube River in Austria’s Wachau Valley.  This guided tour concept is new and we have had clients who love these tours.  We have had clients take a ride along the scenic shores of the Inn River in Passau and along the banks of the Mosel around Cochem.  Both reported, it was fun and a great experience.  We also rode into Wurzburg on our own and really enjoyed our short ride—the bikes are very good and it was fun. 

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    Our Clients Jane & Len ready for a bike ride near Cochem, Germany
  2. Go for a Hike. The beauty of Europe doesn’t just lie in its architecture and landmarks – there are also great views to see and unique experiences when you venture out into nature.  AMA has designed special hikes that will take you a bit off the beaten path in some very beautiful destinations.  Examples include making your way up to Dürnstein Fortress (great views of the Wachau Velley), or walking the Philosopher’s Path in Heidelberg (an optional tour around the famous castle area).  We have talked with other cruisers who have hiked to the castle ruins in Dürnstein or up to the fortress in Bratislava and they really enjoyed these hikes. 

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    Great Hike to the Castle in Durnstein, Austria
  3. Limited Edition Tours. These tours are specially designed to give small groups an opportunity to be even more immersed in the places they are visiting.  Best of all, these tours are included in the cruise fare—there is no extra charge!  Popular options include a Belgian waffle and chocolate tasting in Antwerp, a beer and sausage tour in Nuremberg, or a chance to see Vienna’s hidden treasures, like the romantic Schönlaterngasse.  We have done the waffle tasting and the sausage and beer tour—both were awesome!  Anne also helped make a traditional soup in Bratislava—it was a fun experience.  We have had clients participate in the Vienna tour and they really liked it (one great benefit for us—we discovered a great schnitzel restaurant which we managed to eat at as a result of their tour—it was the largest schnitzel I’ve ever seen, and just melted in our mouths—a really neat experience!).  Limited Edition Tours are also a great option for a cruiser who is sailing on the same route a second or third time—it provides a new experience that enhances your trip. 
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    Our Belgian waffle on a Limited Edition Waffle and Chocolate Tasting in Antwerp, Belgium
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    Hank on Beer & Sausage Limited Edition Tour Nuremberg, Germany

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    Anne preparing a meal in Bratislava, Slovakia on a Limited Addition Tour
  4. The Chef’s Table. In Europe, each AMA ship has the chef’s table specialty restaurant.  This small dining venue (usually no more than 28 guests) features a kitchen where your meal is prepared right in front of you.  This unique menu is paired with carefully selected fine wines.  It is truly a great experience.  AMA spends more than most other river cruise lines on the food and wines and it shows, especially in this unique dining venue.  We always go during our cruises and always arrange for the groups we led to dine together—it’s always a superb experience!
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    Chef’s Table Desserts–Awesome!
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    Chef’s Table with Clients Photo Anne Schrader

     

  5. Ship Design Improvements. The newer designed long ships (135 meters) have 4 great new features.  First, the twin balconies have been added to some cabins—one is a French balcony with a sliding glass door and the other is an outside balcony to sit and watch the river glide by.  The second feature is an enhanced pool topside, that includes a swim up bar.  It is a nice upgrade from the hot tub on earlier riverboats.  The third is two separated larger tables that can seat 8 in the front of the main dining room.  These also serve as a wine storage area, so it’s like dining in a wine cellar.  The forth is the new lounge library area— a reading room complete with an electronic fireplace.
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    Twin Balcony AmaCerto Photo AMAWaterways
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    Swim Up Bar AMAPrima Photo Anne Schrader

     

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    Separated Wine Cellar AmaCerto Photo AMAWaterways

These are just a few of the reasons we like AMA so much—they are constantly improving their product.  We hope this will inspire you to give us a call (Hank 713-397-0188) or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com) so we can help you visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations . . . Your journey begins here!

A Wine Lover’s Route–Provence River Cruise

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, European Destination and River Cruise Expert  www.dreamdestinations.com
Imagine sailing on the Rhône River through the legendary wine growing regions of Provence, getting the chance to sample Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône! So let’s sail together on the Rhône from Arles to Lyon on the AMADagio—a cruise we have done twice and will sail again this April (2016)—it is that good!

While this description is from Arles to Lyon, you should realize that one week starts in Arles and the next week starts in Lyon and the sights and experiences remain almost identical regards of whether you sail north to Lyon or south to Arles.

Your First Day of the Cruise

Your wonderful cruise starts in Arles. First up is a visit by motor coach to the hilltop village of Les Baux de Provence. The town was founded by King Balthazar, one of the 3 wise men of the Bible. The village’s castle has a fascinating exhibit of medieval siege weaponry replicas. These big war machines are cool—it is said to be one of the best collections in the world—you will be surprised how large these weapons are! Les Baux has had a stormy past and because of an unsuccessful Protestant revolt, the castles and its wall were destroyed in 1632, but the ruins and views are magnificent! Great, old village—well worth the trip. Want to see more—we have 32 pictures on our Pinterest site board Les Baux de France.

Later, visit an olive farm, which is family run by a brother and sister, to learn about this age-old Provençal farming tradition. The tour includes tastings of olive oils made at the farm. Anne bought some olive oil here and really like the tour and olive farm. As an alternative, take the “Impressionist Experience” tour to the Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum, where Vincent Van Gogh painted such well-known works as The Irises and Starry Night. You will also visit the Carrieres de Lumieres, a stone quarry that projects European artwork on its walls, including many of Van Gogh’s famous paintings.


In the afternoon, there is a walking city tour of Arles. You will see the Romanesque cathedral and the Roman Amphitheater. The Roman Amphitheater is well preserved (it could hold about 25,000) and there are other Roman ruins in the town.

Avignon

Early in the evening, we cruised to Avignon, arriving late at night. We docked near a famous bridge that spans only half of the Rhone—it is the illuminated Avignon Bridge made famous by the French children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon” (“On the Bridge of Avignon”).


After docking overnight in Avignon, you have 2 great tour options. First, you can tour the Papal Palace, which is part of a city walking tour. The tour starts off by entering the town through the well-preserved medieval walls surrounding the historic center of town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Seven popes once resided in the magnificent Gothic Papal Palace. My favorite room was the huge banquet hall, where at one end is the fireplace used to communicate to the people outside a new Pope had been elected. Again, to see more about this interesting palace, we have 30 photos on the Pinterest site.

Palace of the Popes

 

 

Pont du Gard, the Roman aqueduct

 

Another cool alternative, is a motor coach ride to the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct that is a masterpiece of engineering and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking on the aqueduct was an experience I will never forget–it is huge and up close, you will really understand how talented the Romans were at building things—how did they get the water to flow with gravity alone by such minute changes in slope?. Your tour will also visit Uzes, a lovely Provencal town known for its castle (still occupied by the Duke of Uzes and his family), medieval streets and picturesque town square. There is free time for shopping in Uzes before returning to the ship.—I was there on market day and this is always a fun way to see how and what Europeans shop for, especially the food stalls.. I have done both tours and really enjoyed them—this is one of the many highlights of this cruise.
Although there are really good tours, Avignon also has some great shopping and Anne took advantage of this to buys some gifts for family back home. One of the great things about a river cruise is the chance to do what you want, since you dock right in the heart of the cities and can go off on your own easily since AMAWaterways provides port maps of each docking location with key sights clearly marked.

Day3

After sailing overnight to Viviers, you next adventure is a visit to Grignan, a magnificent hilltop village surrounded by lavender fields. The village’s Renaissance castle provides a commanding view of the area’s beautiful countryside. We enjoyed the free time to explore local shops for confections, home-made lavender soaps and other crafts—Anne bought a snappy beret. You also get to see a truffle dog in action—really cool! That dog really got after those truffles and he was a true favorite of our group.

The truffle dog in action!

Tournon

The ship sails to Tournon and there is a really good chocolate and red wine pairing in Tournon’s castle—we had 3 different chocolate candies paired with 3 different reds. I thought they were all good and went well together. Next morning, there is a visit to Cornas, Tournon’s “twin” town located across the Rhône River and linked by a 19th-century suspension bridge. The fertile soil and ideal climate of the region has made Cornas the premier producer of Côtes du Rhône wines. We stopped at a vineyard, and then the best part was sampling some good local wines. After lunch, the ship sails to Vienne, situated between the wine regions of Burgundy and Beaujolais, arriving early evening. The ship moors overnight in Vienne.

Our Wine Tasting in Tournon

Vienne

Next morning, I took a guided walking tour of Vienne (it starts with an open-air tourist train ride up a big hill for a good view of the Rhône) and then our group see the 1st-century Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia, the ruins of a Roman theater, and the medieval churches of St. Andre-Le-Bas and Abbey St. Pierre. For me, the best part was the Roman museum—there is a good collection of items used in this former Roman colony. As an alternative, you could choose to visit the Chateau Roussillion and Pottery but I have never been on this tour.

Roman Temple in Vienne

Lyon

It is then off to Lyon. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. There is a visit by bus to the historic section of town known as Vieux Lyon (“Old Lyon”). Lyon is fun, we really enjoyed the old town area and its narrow streets and colorful bouchons (small bistros) with their trademark red and white checkered table cloths. Sometimes this cruise offers a choice of tours. You can visit Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse market place and sample gourmet food & wine in around 70 stalls (highly recommended by us—another great tour we enjoyed very much). On a wine cruise, we also got the chance to have a champagne tasting—it was awesome!

Lyon Hill Top Church

Another option is a sailing on the Saône. The ship departs after noon and cruises to Collonges for an excursion through the Beaujolais wine region, the Pays d’Or (“land of the golden stones,” named for the ochre limestone used to build local homes and castles). It stops at the medieval hilltop village of Oingt and the home of a local vintner, where, of course, you will get to enjoy a wine tasting and vineyard tour, and learn about the history of wine production in the region. Rejoin the ship in Belleville and return to Lyon, arriving late tonight. You will stay overnight in Lyon.

Disembarkation

Sadly, the cruise is over the next morning but what a wonderful experience that will make memories of a lifetime. As with all river cruises, the option for pre-cruise or post cruise stays either offered by AMAWaterways or arranged by us is a great way to extend your vacation a few more days. We always extend on our trips—Lyon is a particular favorite and you could visit Nice or other French towns—we are happy to help with suggestions and to make arrangements as necessary.

My Final Thoughts

This is a trip that should be on everyone’s bucket list, in my opinion. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help you to start this or any other river cruise trip.

We have a wealth of free information about all Europe river cruises and really useful river cruise tips on our website www.dreamdestinations.com, so check us out—you will be glad you did.
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