It’s easy to see why: A river cruise through the heart of Europe offers cruisers the ability to see some of the most stunning inland cities coupled with the convenience of a deep-ocean cruise. You arrive, unpack once, then sit back and relish in the intimate onboard atmosphere and historic landscapes floating by.
Gone are the days when river cruises took place aboard nondescript ships with little or no personality; today’s river cruisers are modern, luxurious, and sparkling with amenities and features that rival many land-based European hotels.
Inside, a world of relaxed elegance awaits. River cruise ships typically offer complimentary beer, wines, bottled water and soft drinks at select times throughout the day, and meals tend to be regionally influenced, with local ingredients sourced at different ports. Bath amenities are typically high-end brands like L’Occitane, and staterooms and suites are comparably sized with their cruise-ship counterparts.
Nearly every ship plying the waterways of Europe features French Balconies, sliding floor-to-ceiling glass windows that open to create a balcony within your suite. You can’t step out, but you can relish the fresh air from the comfort of your stateroom. Many river cruise ships are also beginning to sport full, step-out balconies similar to those found aboard deep-ocean cruise ships.
Even better, a river cruise is a decidedly intimate, friendly type of voyage. With between 100 and 200 guests per ship, expect to get to know everyone quickly.
AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Scenic Tours, Tauck, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and Viking River Cruises are some of the major players operating voyages along Europe’s waterways. Popular cruises include itineraries along the Rhine, Main, Moselle, Seine, Rhone, Saone, and Danube rivers.
Confused? Not to worry. You can’t go wrong with any one of the companies mentioned.
In fact, in many respects it is easier to plan your river cruise according to the time of year you wish to sail.
In the springtime, popular Tulip Time Cruises are offered in the Netherlands. Typically operating roundtrip from Amsterdam, these weeklong voyages call on ports like Ghent, Antwerp, Maastricht, and Kinderdijk. Operating between April and May each year, these voyages are designed to showcase the natural beauty of the Netherlands and surrounding countries while the famous tulips are in bloom.
Another excellent springtime voyage are France and Burgundy itineraries. These typically operate one-way between Paris and Arles, France. And itineraries running from Paris to the historic beaches of Normandy are skyrocketing in popularity.
But perhaps the most quintessential journey can be found along the Danube River. Thanks to the introduction of locks along the Main-Danube Canal in the early 1990’s, it is now possible to sail from Amsterdam all the way to Bucharest and the Black Sea. Popular ports of call found along the Danube include Nuremberg, Germany; Passau, Germany; Linz, Austria; Vienna, Austria, Bratislava, Slovakia; Budapest, Hungary; Vukovar, Croatia; Belgrade, Serbia; and Constanta, Romania.
Also popular along the Danube (not to mention the Main and Rhine rivers) are the romantic Christmas Market Cruises offered in November and December. These visit the beautiful, diverse and festive Christmas Markets that have been a tradition here for hundreds of years. Best of all, no two are alike. Vienna alone boasts more than 12 distinct Christmas Markets each year.
In 2013, the river cruise industry in Europe alone will see the introduction of over 12 new ships, suggesting that there never has been a better time to experience the waterways of Europe.
More information on river cruising can be found by visiting our sister-site, River Cruise Advisor.