For seven glorious days, I woke up each morning and dialed the direct number to my butler, Mari. The conversation was always the same, "Good Morning, Ms. Marshall, would you like me to bring your tea this morning?" Later in the day, my cabin attendant, Therry, would seek me out to tell me that he noticed I preferred the white wine over the red in my all-inclusive mini bar, so he wanted to be sure I had enough. That was my life during my scenic cruise on the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam—and it was fabulous.
River cruising is becoming increasingly popular. And why not? Cruising is an excellent way to explore the waterways of Europe and other countries around the world. Your home for the duration of the cruise is a floating boutique hotel. Unpack once, dine on scrumptious cuisine, and mingle with other travelers as you cruise past UNESCO World Heritage sites, fairytale castles, picturesque villages and historic cathedrals. For onshore excursions, choose from group tours, wine tastings, bike tours or individual exploration.
With so many options and numerous cruise companies, deciding which cruise is right for you can be overwhelming. Here are some things to consider.
Choosing a River
If you have flexibility in your travel dates, you can choose your cruise based on what each river offers. For history and culture, the Rhine River offers miles of castles, spires, vineyards and Romanesque churches along with cities like Cologne and Koblenz.
Running through or between Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, the Danube brings history to life.
For wine lovers, the Rhone flows through Provence and Burgundy—two of France’s top winemaking regions.
The Douro twists and turns through steep, vine-clad slopes and past rocky outcrops as it flows from Portugal’s second largest city, Porto, on its way to the Spanish border.
Step into the past with a cruise on the Elbe where you’ll have time in Prague and Berlin.
And if gardening is your thing, you shouldn’t miss Monet’s garden in Giverny with a cruise on the Seine.
Many river cruise lines also offer itineraries in Asia where you’ll discover fishing villages, floating markets, monasteries and lush jungles.
Choosing a Cruise Line
While cruising the Rhine River, I lavished in the luxury of personal butler service and all-inclusive amenities. But not everyone wants a butler. And while most cruise lines accommodate all types and ages of travelers, let’s face it…if you’re planning a romantic getaway, a Disney themed cruise might not be your choice.
Likewise, if the kids or grandkids are coming along, you will want to have activities to keep them engaged. When it comes to shore excursions, amenities, capacity and cost, river cruises vary. Here’s an overview of some of the top lines.
If active pursuits are your style, AmaWaterways may be a good fit. Through a partnership with Backroads, AmaWaterways offers exclusive itineraries that include hiking and biking during the day. Ships range from 160 to 164 passengers with some cabins offering two-seater verandas and others with French balconies that have floor-to-ceiling windows that open.
Through a partnership with Ama, Adventures by Disney has developed cruises for families with a focus on kid friendly activities on and off the ship. Family-friendly design elements on board include six sets of connecting staterooms as well as rooms that accommodate three and four person families.
With 60 ships and continuous expansion, Viking is the largest river cruise line in the world. As a result, they offer the most itinerary options and a variety of price points. Fares include guided shore excursions. Viking’s Nordic designed "Longships" offer comfortable cabins with outdoor balconies and two-room suites. Viking also enjoys a reputation of providing excellent customer service.
Avalon caters to the well-traveled 50-plus crowd offering 200 square foot Panoramic Suites with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open to turn your cabin into a fresh-air balcony. Locally sourced wines and shore excursions are included in the fare.
With Scenic you’ll be cruising on a sleek luxurious "Spaceship" featuring panoramic views of the river in the dining and common areas. Suites include retractable windows that transform the room into a balcony. Scenic’s shore excursions offer options for individual exploration with "Scenic Choice" a GPS-guided tour. Fares include everything—even tips, alcohol and personal butler service.
Whatever itinerary or ship you choose, river cruising offers an intimate experience without the perils of sea-sickness—and that’s hard to beat.
Have you ever taken a river cruise?
Fun is part of any travel experience, but so is staying protected. Learn more about our policies here!