Cruising the Danube into Budapest, the exciting capital of Hungary.
Choosing the Right River Cruise to Explore Europe
So, you are thinking about exploring Europe on a river cruise but haven’t figured out how to navigate the choices that you must consider when finding the European river cruise that’s right for you. I completely under- stand because there are several options to consider: choosing the right river, the right cruise line, the right stateroom and, of course, the right time of year to travel. It can be especially challenging when you try to sort it all out on you own.
Most first-time river cruisers select Rhine River itineraries for castles and white wine vineyards or the legendary Danube, noted for its palaces and culturally rich capital cities. Most major river cruise lines offer various itineraries on both rivers, including some with pre- or post-cruise extensions on land. If your time and budget allow, I recommend Grand European 15-day itineraries, sailing westbound from Budapest to Amsterdam.
I also suggest three distinctively different cruises in France on the Seine River (Paris-Normandy-Paris), the Rhône River (Lyon to Avignon) and the Garonne River (Bordeaux region). Seasoned European river cruisers may also select Portugal’s Douro River, Germany’s Elba or Russia’s Volga.
Most river cruise brands catering to North American travelers offer an outstanding product and similar itineraries, but some are better than others. Finding the river cruise line that’s right for you will depend largely on your personal taste and travel style. So, it pays to compare various brands and study the differences that distinguish contemporary, deluxe and luxury brands.
The majority of my clients select one of the following three river cruise brands (French balcony staterooms are showcased in each photo):
VIKING RIVER CRUISES (Contemporary), is probably the best-known river cruise line due to its extensive advertising on American television. With more than 60 ships, each accommodating 190 guests, its Viking “longships” are each essentially identical in layout with a modern Scandinavian décor. Viking includes port fees and taxes; an off-the-ship tour in each port, as well as optional excursions for a fee; complimentary beer and wine are served with lunch and dinner; free WIFI; and transfers when air is purchased through Viking (coach-class airfare may be included in cruise pricing during special promotions).
AMA WATERWAYS (Deluxe) earns high marks for its innovations such as bicycles available onboard free for guests to use in port. The typical AMA ship welcomes 164 guests on its immersive destination–focused cruises. AMA offers numerous itineraries emphasizing wine and local cuisine, while others focus on cultural heritage or wellness activities. It also has several ships that cater to families with connecting staterooms and cabins that accommodate three people. The AmaMagna, a great choice for first time cruisers, is twice as wide as typical ships making for larger staterooms in a modern, comfortable décor.
UNIWORLD BOUTIQUE RIVER CRUISE COLLECTION (Luxury) offers a unique décor for 160 guests on each of its 16 ships that reflect the history and cultural heritage of the cruise region. Stepping up to luxury means all- inclusive pricing, lavishly appointed staterooms and suites, butlers, world- class cuisine prepared with locally sourced ingredients, room service, and curated excursions for varied traveler types. Designed specifically for families, the Generations Collection, is offered on select summer and holiday period itineraries.
Unfortunately, selecting the river and cruise brand is merely the starting point in selecting the river cruise that’s right for you. Seasonal variations, theme cruises, and optional pre- or post-cruise land extensions are other considerations.
And, of course, your travel budget will be a major consideration. Most river cruise brands offer a choice of four general stateroom categories, with pricing that can range from $2,500 to more than $6,000 per person. A French balcony on a luxury brand, for example, may actually cost less than on a contemporary brand, when you consider the overall experience and what’s included in the price.
Given the limited number of guests accommodated on each ship, the most popular cruise dates usually sell out quickly. So, plan ahead – as much as 15 months or more in advance to get the best travel values. Talk with family and friends who have taken river cruises previously and seek assistance from a travel professional, who can help you discover the right cruise. Touring Europe on the right river cruise is a travel experience you likely will desire to repeat.