There are lots of ways that you can explore Europe; trains, planes, and automobiles. But nothing beats a relaxing river cruise. There’s no better way to take it easy than to slowly coast past historical sites on calm river waters while you enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. River cruises, decidedly more intimate than commercial cruises, offer travelers a real view of the European Old Country. If you’ve already seen Big Ben and are looking for something more, maybe a river cruise is in store for you.
What is a River Cruise?
Typically river boats only carry two hundred people or less which is about 10 times fewer passengers than the typical ocean liner. Guests are housed in cabins, many of which have private bathrooms and the central activities are based around relaxing on the deck and enjoying the sights. Some people call it “low impact” sight seeing. I saw the Statue of Liberty on a dinner cruise and it was very enjoyable.
Some of the newer river boats have pools and gyms and all of the ships have fully staffed kitchens and deck hands. Although there are no 24 hour buffets you will eat well. Breakfast and lunch are usually served buffet style from about 8 a.m. to about 2 p.m. and dinner is served as a multi course meal during a specific 2-3 hour time period. For entertainment piano bars seem to be the standard, as well as lectures, and cultural song and dance from around the world. River cruises are very casual – no black tie dinners and dancing.
Where are River Cruises Offered?
River Cruises are offered all throughout every country of Europe. Whether you are in France, Italy, Germany, Russia, or the Czech Republic you are sure to find a river cruise. Here are some places that you can find river cruises in Europe.
Danube River – Visits to castles and gothic cathedrals in Hungary, Austria and Germany
Elbe River – Travels from Germany to the Czech Republic with stops at Dresden which was completely rebuilt after the bombing of WWII.
Rhone and Saone Rivers – Travel through the scenic regions of Provence and Burgundy in France.
Seine River – Departs from Paris, France and stops at Claude Monet’s home in the town of Giverny
Po River – The Po River Cruise is an opera themed voyage through Northern Italy
Volga River – The Volga River runs through Russia connecting Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Douro River – If you want to discover the undeveloped wild and vineyards of Portugal than a Douro River tour is for you.
In France you can also ride smaller ships called barges that travel the narrower waterways that regular river boats cannot sail. The barges hold far many less passengers, most topping out around 60 people. Because the barges are so easy to command self drives are possible, or you can get a crewed voyage if you want to relax.
How Much Does a River Cruise Cost?
Most of the cost really depends on the time of year that you go and also on the carrier that you choose. Some rates can be as low as $1000 a week per person but it is typical to see rates up to $1600. For a fully catered cruise you can expect to pay somewhere around $3500 per person/ per week and up to $5000 for a fully catered and crewed voyage.
The cost of the river cruise generally includes three meals, afternoon tea, and wine and dessert with dinner. Tips are never included in the price but there is usually an envelope in the cabin for gratuities. On average most people leave about $10 each day in the local currency.
What do you see on a River Cruise?
Unlike other means of travel throughout Europe river cruises take you into the heart of Old Europe. You get to go right into the middle of old medieval towns and villages like the fully preserved Bamburg in Germany. The destinations aren’t big ticket stops for the general public, but traveling enthusiasts will love the culture and history that the tours represent. River cruises, mostly because of the number of guests, is much more intimate than a commercial cruise. While you are exploring the smaller towns and villages you will get a real sense of the old world.
Sometimes the river cruises are designed to cater to special interest tours. Some of the river cruises visit wine country, gardens, and music events. It’s nice not having to put your bags outside of the door every few days. On a river cruise you can relax while experiencing many different cultures from the comfort of your beach chair.
What are the Cabins Like?
The most typical cabins, built in the 1980s were only about 90 square feet. Today, some of the new rooms are up to 200 square feet. Most all river cruises only offer outside cabins so you can expect to have some sort of a window. Hair Dryers, Air Conditioning, and TV usually come standard with each cabin, as well as a private bathroom. Some river boats have small balconies, but the barges of France do not because they are made thin in order to travel the narrow waterways. The cheapest rooms are just above water level where the view isn’t as good, but if you want to pay a little more an upper deck room may offer you more space, better views, and maybe a balcony.
What Kind of People Take River Cruises?
Average river cruise trips last anywhere from 7 to 10 days, or more and most of the passengers are well traveled, educated, older adults (more often than not, mostly men). Sometimes there are also 60+ couples and retirees. Weeklong trips are usually full of couples in the 40s and 50s as well as the occasional photographer. Once is a while you may also see young couples, but never families with children. On some cruise lines children under 12 are not even allowed on board.
You can expect all the crews on board any ship to speak English, and some quite fluently. Since most of the passengers are European you may not be able to communicate with everyone. But, you will share music, food, and laughter over the next several days even if you can’t speak same language. These three things are like a universal language in any country or place.
When Can I Take a River Cruise?
The peak season falls between late spring and early fall when it is not too hot nor too cold. Generally speaking you can get cheaper tickets during the early rainy weeks of spring and also during the hottest weeks of July and August. The chancy days of early spring and late fall when it is likely to rain are also great chances to get a discounted fare. Usually the discount on the ticket is negated by the cost of airfare during the summer months because that is the peak season of international air travel. You will ultimately get the best deal if you travel in early fall just before the river cruises stop for the season.
Where Can I Book a River Cruise?
There are several places located throughout the United States and Europe that can help you book your next river cruise. Here are some resources that you may find helpful when booking your European River Cruise.
The Barge Connection – http://www.bargeconnection.com 1-888-550-8580
Tours of Ireland, England, France, Holland, Italy, Poland, Scotland, and the United States.
Grand Circle Travel – http://www.gct.com 1-800-248-3737
River Cruises in Asia, Europe, the South Pacific, Central America, and South America.
Croisi Europe – http://www.croisieurope.com 1-888-863-1212
River Tours of Southern Europe, France, Northern Europe, and Middle Europe.
Viking River Cruises – http://www.vikingrivercruises.com 1-877-668-4546
River Cruises of the United States, Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
Uni World – http://www.uniworld.com 1-800-360-9550
Tours of Europe, Russia, China, Egypt and the Niles, South America, and Antarctica.
Sea Cloud Cruises – http://www.seacloud.com 1-888-732-2568
River Tours of the Caribbean, Southern Europe, and Northern Europe.
Avalon Waterways – http://www.avalonwaterways.com 1-877-797-8791
River tours of Europe, China, and Russia.
Peter Deilmann Cruises – http://www.deilmann-cruises.com 1-800-348-2568
Cruises of every major river in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria.