View the 45-minute recording of my February 10, 2017 webinar. The goal of the webinar is to provide you with a few tips that will help you (or your clients if you’re a travel seller) choose the perfect river cruise. And by highlighting my favorite river cruises, I hope to give you some ideas for river cruises that you may want to consider. – Ralph Grizzle
Who am I? I’m a journalist and traveler. I have traveled my whole adult life. Got my journalism degree from the University of NC at Chapel Hill in 1990. Went to work for a travel agent magazine and began to specialize in cruises around 1993. I launched Avid Cruiser more than 15 years ago to feature ocean and expedition cruises. River cruising swept me off my feet about 10 years ago. I’ve been in love ever since and launched River Cruise Advisor in 2009.
My primary goal with my sites is to give people resources to help them make informed cruise vacation decisions. I respond personally to all emails and I produce a lot of content (with help) about cruising.
Today, I’ll be talking primarily about river cruising in Europe. I’ll talk about how to choose a river cruise. I’ll also talk about eight of my favorite river cruises that I took in 2016, and I’m going to tell you about a few cruises that I’ll be hosting. There’ll be time for a Q&A, but remember, you can always reach me at rivercruiseadvisor.com.
I love what I do for a living and I thank all of you for being a part of it today. Let’s get started.
During the registration, a lot of you left comments and questions. I’ll attempt to answer many of these during the presentation. There’ll also be a Q&A afterward, and as I have said before, you can find me at rivercruiseadvisor.com.
Lots of interest in the Danube, lots of interest in active river cruising. Indeed, bikes and hikes are becoming increasingly popular on river cruises. There are many knowledgeable travel agents in the audience today. Please feel free to add to our collective wisdom. I don’t profess to know everything.
One more thing I’d like to add. Some people are afraid to travel to Europe. Me? I’m afraid to stay in America. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but rest assured that Europe will welcome you with open arms, and the chances of something untoward happening to you are probably greater in the US than in Europe. Get out there and permit yourself to be enchanted.
Slide # 3
I understand your confusion. Just look at the number of companies offering cruises on the same rivers in the same countries in Europe. And this isn’t all the companies, probably not even half of them. But these are the ones most asked about on River Cruise Advisor. They differ a lot.
Slide # 4
These four are all-inclusive. Though they vary in what they include, most will include prepaid gratuities, even for tours, transfers, beverages 24/7 and more.
For lack of a better expression, these are ‘premium’ river cruise lines. These companies normally price out less than the all-inclusive companies but do not include prepaid gratuities.
Slide # 6
Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope is family owned and operated. Its cruises are all-inclusive except for prepaid gratuities. CroisiEurope impresses me with its French flair, inventive itineraries and innovative ships, including paddlewheelers that can operate on the Elbe and Loire. The company also operates coastal cruisers and barges. In fact, I have hosted trips on CroisiEurope’s barge cruises and will be doing so again this summer and fall. Check out the menu heading “Cruise With Me” on River Cruise Advisor.
Slide # 7
I’ve not yet cruised on APT, Vantage or G Adventures. I do get a lot of questions about them so I hope to expand my knowledge about each this year.
Slide # 8
You’ll find this chart on River Cruise Advisor. This chart is a work in progress and I’ll be updating it in the coming weeks. It provides a quick way to visually compare the cruise companies. I would caution against using this chart alone to make a decision.
Viking, for example, is underrepresented in the chart. Viking strives to provide “affordable luxury.” Typically, you will get a great value on Viking. To give you just one example of what Viking means by “affordable luxury,” the bathroom floors in your stateroom are heated. There are little touches like the heated bathroom floors all throughout Viking’s Longships.
So I recommend doing your research then reaching out to me or an experienced travel agent with questions. My goal is to see you on a river cruise that you are happy about.
Slide # 9
First decide where you want to go. What are your must-sees? Have you always wanted to visit Vienna? Then you’ll want to do a Danube cruise. Is Paris on your list? Sail the Seine. Want to breathe in the lavender of Provence? Then set your course for the Rhone. Let’s talk about the rivers for a moment.
Slide # 10
The Danube is my number one choice for people new to river cruising. You’ll find itineraries that sail between Germany and the Black Sea and packages that range in length from 5 to 23 days.
What most people appreciate most about the Danube:
- Scenic beauty as you cruise through gorgeous landscapes and past fairy-tale villages
- Visits to iconic cities such as Vienna, Budapest and Passau
- Excursions to UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Cesky Krumlov
- Evening concerts and waltzes (both on the ships and during evening visits to Viennese palaces)
- Opportunities to bicycle, particularly on the gorgeous stretch between Melk and Durnstein through the Wachau Valley
Slide # 11
After the Danube, the Rhine is Europe’s next most-popular river for vacationers looking to take a river cruise. With most departures sailing between Amsterdam and Basel.
What We Like About Rhine River Cruises
- Castles. You’ll see lots of them along the Rhine river, especially between Rudesheim and Koblenz, Germany.
- Culture. With cities like Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Cologne, Amsterdam and more, you’ll get a good dollop of city life and culture on your Rhine River cruises.
- Bicycling. In many places along the Rhine river, there are good bicycling paths and dedicated bike roads.
- Beer and wine. Have a Cologne Kolsch before or after checking out the impressive Cologne Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), or stroll the “world’s merriest street,” known as the Drosselgasse, to find a Weingarten in Rudesheim, Germany.
Slide # 12
Rhône River cruises typically are between Lyon and Avignon or Arles in France. Many packages also include the Saône River, which joins the Rhône in Lyon.
Here’s a few things I enjoy about Rhone river cruises.
- Provencal and Bourgogne Beauty. Rhône River cruises typically sail between Lyon and Avignon or Arles, taking in the gorgeous landscapes of Burgundy and Provence.
- Pont du Gard. The iconic bridge crossing the Gardon River is one of the best-preserved legacies of ancient Roman architecture in France.
- Bicycling. I’ve enjoyed cycling along the Rhône and Saône rivers though the wine-producing region of Beaujolais and across from the city of Avignon.
- Arles. Perhaps best-known for its incredible Roman monuments and the fact that the impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh lived here from 1888 to 1889.
- Wonderful Wines. Rhône River cruises typically visit the wine-producing regions of Beaujolais and Chateauneuf du Pape.
- UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the Pope’s Palace in Avignon and Pont du Gard.
Slide # 13
On a Seine River cruise, you most always begin and end your trip in Paris, where ships dock within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. Cruises are usually roundtrip to Rouen, Caudebec-en-Caux or Honfleur. To my knowledge, only CroisiEurope and one Scenic ship can dock in the center of Honfleur. The rest of the river cruisers bus their guests from Rouen or Caudebec-en-Caux. Pictured here is Les Andelys.
Slide # 14
Once overlooked by river cruise companies, the wine-producing region of Bordeaux, France, attracts river cruisers who are wine aficionados as well as history lovers, thanks to the region’s intoxicating mix of culinary delights and old-world charm.
The vast majority of river cruises through this region will operate roundtrip from the city of Bordeaux, and most (but not all) are a week in duration. Those looking for longer voyages have the option to purchase pre-and-post land excursions to Paris or the Loire Valley, and a handful of river cruise lines will even let you combine multiple river cruises together on back-to-back itineraries that are connected either by direct TGV high-speed train or by overland motorcoach travel. Scenic will offer 12-day Bordeaux voyages in 2017. Pictured is Château Margaux.
Slide # 15
Douro River cruises are from Porto, Portugal to Vega de Terron, Spain. Most trips are roundtrip from Porto.
What I Like About Douro River Cruises
- The Douro River Valley has been a UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2001. It’s not only gorgeous but also culturally significant.
- Friendly people. The Portuguese are among Europe’s friendliest – and warmest – people.
- Port wine and paella. You get a mix of Portugal and Spain on Douro River Cruises. That means good Port wines from Portugal and paella from Spain, along with Flamenco dancers and Portuguese pingo (like espresso). I have a whole series of videos on Douro river cruises. Just search Douro on River Cruise Advisor.
Slide # 16
Land tours and ocean cruises regularly visit Venice, but river cruises tend to bypass it altogether. It’s not because Venice isn’t a river cruise destination – it is. Rather, it’s because the Po River is tricky to navigate. Both Uniworld and CroisiEurope offer Po River Cruises. The Po is still on my bucket list, so I won’t pretend to know more than I do about them. Stay tuned though
Slide # 17
Both of these rivers are exceptionally shallow, and the only company that does them well is CroisiEurope. They do so by operating two paddlewheelers, one on each river, that can navigate the shallow rivers. On the Elbe, CroisiEurope’s paddlewheeler that can cruise right into the center of Passau from Berlin. On the Loire, cruises are roundtrip from Nantes. CroisiEurope’s Elbe program has been successful that they are building a second paddlewheeler for that river.
Slide # 18
Yes, you can cruise across Sweden on the Gota Canal. I’ve done it, and it was wonderful. You can also river cruise in Spain and you can do canal cruises in the United Kingdom, but we’ll stay focused on the rivers that most companies are selling.
Slide # 19
Next, decide how much you are willing to budget for your river cruise. I’ll give some general guidelines in the following slides, but I can’t stress this enough. Check with your travel agent. Pricing is a moving target!
Slide # 20
As an example, Scenic’s 12-day Bordeaux sailings from May through September this year start at US$6,230 per person, double, and include free or reduced airfare. That’s $519 per person per day. But keep in mind that air is included or reduced.
Slide # 21
Example, in 2017, AmaWaterways’ 8-day Enticing Douro river cruises, one of its higher priced river cruises, starts at $3,099. That’s $387 per person, per day.
Slide # 22
Example: CroisiEurope’s New Year’s in Provence five-day itinerary, which I will talk about later, starts at US$1,530, just a tad over $300 per day.
Slide # 23
Is the answer is no one, then we have to deal with the dreaded single supplement. That means you as a single person could end up paying the same price as two people in a cabin. So we always look at ways to avoid the single supplement. Some ships have staterooms just for singles. Other cruise companies have specials where they reduce or waive single supplements. Search “solo” on River Cruise Advisor to find guidelines.
On the flip side, if you’re organizing a group, your booking may come with special privileges, including a free stateroom if you bring a large enough group.
Slide # 24
For help, we go back to …
Slide # 25
It’s a starting point …
Slide # 26
Finally, when do you want to cruise. Target a time and start planning. So let’s move along to some of my favorites …
Slide # 27
I did 8 river cruises in 2016. I’m fortunate in that in running River Cruise Advisor, I am invited by various companies on press trips and fam trips. I have eight river cruises to cover in this presentation, so I am only going to spend about a minute on each one. There’s lots more information on rivercruiseadvisor.com
Slide # 28
I produced an ebook featuring my favorite cruises in 2015. I’ll be publishing a 2016 edition with the cruises I will be talking about today. So … my first river cruise in April was in Bordeaux …
Slide # 29
Bordeaux is like no other river cruise destination. It’s one of the few destinations where river cruisers and ocean cruisers can access the city. I’ve visited Bordeaux on Silversea Cruises and Azamara and on several river cruisers. See AmaWaterways’ Taste Of Bordeaux
Slide # 30
I felt like a true adventurer on Emerald Sky’s Enchantment of Eastern Europe cruise in early April of 2016. That’s in part because Emerald Sky took me to developing countries I had not been to before, namely Romania and Bulgaria. See Eastern Europe On Emerald Sky
Slide # 31
In July I traveled to Vienna for the christening on Crystal Cruises first river cruiser. I was on Crystal Mozart for fewer than 48 hours. Even so I quickly came to appreciate what Crystal Cruises, a leader in luxury blue-water cruising, was attempting to create on the Blue Danube. See A Visit To Vienna For Crystal Mozart’s Christening
Slide # 32
Do you enjoy bicycling and seeing new places? If so, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better mix than bicycling in Europe during your river cruise. In August, I did just that, traveling with my 19-year-old son on a “bikes and boats” trip with AmaWaterways and Backroads, which bills itself as the world’s #1 active travel company. See Boats & Bikes With Backroads & AmaWaterways
Slide # 33
Why so many trips on AmaWaterways? Well, as travel sellers know, AmaWaterways is very aggressive in inviting travel agents and journalists on their ships. In September, I cruised on AmaSonata (yes, again) from Amsterdam to Budapest. The duration of the cruise, spanning 14 nights/15 days, is perfect for those who have the time for a truly immersive European experience: three rivers, five countries and scenic cruising through the heartland of Europe. And time to absorb and reflect on it all. See Amsterdam To Budapest, Two Weeks, Three Rivers, Five Countries
Slide # 34
Moving right along. I had done a weeklong cruise with AmaWaterways in Bordeaux. CroisiEurope invited me to experience Bordeaux on its sampler cruise of five days. See Sampling Bordeaux On CroisiEurope
Slide # 35
And here I am back AmaWaterways. A lot of companies offer this itinerary so you have many choices along the Seine river. The Seine is a good pick for those who enjoy the pleasures of Paris and the beauty of the Seine, mixed with the historical battlefields of the Landing Beaches and the exquisite art of Claude Monet and other artists. See On The Seine With AmaWaterways
Slide # 36
I spent the days after Christmas up until New Year’s Day in France. Part of my time was spent in Paris, where I visited a friend before heading off to Lyon to cruise into the new year with CroisiEurope. See Provence, New Year’s Eve On CroisiEurope
This year, I’ll be hosting at least one trip. I’m working on a few others. It’s something I enjoy doing. I hosted a similar trip in 2015 that was wonderful. So I hope to do several of these every year.
Slide # 38
September 12-18, I’ll be cruising from Paris to Epernay on a 22-person barge owned and operated by CroisiEurope. I have three cabins left. Think champagne, and the beauty of Paris and this region. What’s not to love? I’ll also have some nice pre/post options, and I’m working with a special tour guide from Paris who will do things like take us into her favorite patisseries and show us how to leave France feeling more French than when we arrived. I have other trips in the tentative planning stages, so if you’re interested go to “Cruise With Me” and fill the form on that page.