What are the differences between Viking River Cruises & Uniworld River Cruises & AmaWaterways & Tauck & CroisiEurope & A-ROSA & Scenic?
With so many river cruise lines in operation along the waterways of Europe and elsewhere throughout the world, it’s never easy to answer one of the most basic questions travelers are likely to have: How are each of these river cruise companies different from one another?
When you’re planning a river cruise in Europe or Africa or Asia or South America or the United States, you have a fair amount of choices. To better understand what your choices are, we’ve prepared the table below with some of the features our readers most commonly ask us about, coupled with a brief overview of what makes each line unique in its own right.
Ready? Let’s get river cruising!
Attributes Of The Top River Cruise Companies
|LINE||All Excursions Included?||Complimentary 'Optional' Excursions||Exclusive Events||Drinks Included 24/7?||Onboard Bicycles||Fitness Center||Step-out Balconies||Room Service||Stocked In-Room Mini Bar||Dining Venues||Personal Butler||Port Charges Included||Included Airport Transfers||Prepaid Gratuities||Laundry Included|
While we've tried to be as accurate as possible, sometimes the answer required more than a simple yes or no. Viking River Cruises has pools on some ships, for example, but not on others. It's the same on Uniworld. To make matters more interesting, on S.S. Catherine the pool is inside — in a bar actually, which we found odd, but intriguing.
Shore Excursions: All river cruise companies in our table offer complimentary shore excursions in ports of call. However, some companies charge for "optional" excursions. You'll always have one choice of excursion at no cost.
We welcome reader comments at the bottom of this post for those who can add to a better understanding of the differences between the major players.
A-ROSA **: A-ROSA included shore excursions initially, but the company has changed its approach by offering a €200 per person shipboard credit that can be used against the cost of shore excursions, spa credits and other shipboard purchases. The company says the credit allows guests freedom to choose the experiences they want instead of being locked into doing shore excursions. All shipboard gratuities are included.
AmaWaterways **: Beer, wine and soft drinks included with lunch and dinner; sparkling wine with breakfast. Complimentary shore excursions included in every port, along with complimentary Limited Edition Tours; some optional tours require a fee.
Avalon Waterways **: Beer, wine and soft drinks included with lunch and dinner. Avalon doesn’t carry bicycles on- board but does offer dedicated, guided cycling tours in select ports of call. Avalon offers small group (30 people) reservations to Panorama Bistro (light menu paired with wine). When weather permits, grilled lunches are available on the Sky Deck.
CroisiEurope **: All drinks included on select cruises. Otherwise, house wine and beer are complimentary during lunch and dinner. A separate beverage card can be purchased to buy drinks from the bar. Wine, champagne and spirits listed on the ship’s special wine list are at an additional cost on all voyages. Wi-Fi internet access on most ships is limited to the reception area and main lounge. Shore excursions included as of 2016.
Emerald Waterways **: Packaged shore excursions included in Emerald Cruisefare. Wine, beer & soda complimentary for lunch and dinner; beverage packages are available for extra fee. Suites are stocked daily; all staterooms restocked with bottled water. Room service included for suites only. Laundry concierge available but for a fee.
Scenic **: Inclusions are for all guests, regardless of ship or suite.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection **: Uniworld charges for at least one optional excursion, the Vienna Evening Concert at 75 euros. Uniworld offers free laundry service in many of its higher-end suites across its fleet. Additionally, most Uniworld ships have complimentary self-service laundry facilities for passengers to use; only River Royale, River Baroness, Douro Spirit, and River Victoria lack this feature in the European-based fleet. Room Service and Butler Service on Uniworld is at the suite level only.
Viking River Cruises ** A complimentary shore excursion is included in every port; there are also additional optional shore excursions available on every itinerary. Beer, wine and soft drinks included with lunch and dinner. Specialty coffee & teas available anytime. Optional Silver Spirit beverage packages are available for extra fee & makes drinks all-inclusive. Airport transfers included when air is purchased through Viking.
Also be sure to see How Do Danube River Cruises Prices Compare?
Defining Feature: All-inclusive, active luxury river cruises with decided European flair.
A-ROSA only began marketing to North American-based river cruisers in 2013 but since then, the company has made significant inroads into the market thanks to their fleet of all-inclusive ships and uncommon features like large fitness centers, on-deck pools, alternate dining venues and complimentary bicycles.
The line’s increased focus on fitness and wellness has earned them accolades from travelers seeking a more active experience. Their European roots also offer an experience that has been tweaked for American audiences, but which remains largely authentic. Expect plenty of local wines and culinary offerings onboard.
We are big fans of A-ROSA. Ralph has cruised on both A-ROSA Silva and A-ROSA Stella. Check out our review of A-ROSA Stella and be sure to read Ralph’s Assessing A-ROSA Stella: 9 Differentiating Factors That Would Make Me Cruise Again.
Read more about A-ROSA.
Defining Feature: Modern, contemporary ships combining elegant style and service.
Destinations: Europe, Portugal, Africa, Cambodia & Vietnam, Myanmar
Founded in 2002 by Rudi Schreiner, Kristin Karst and the late Jimmy Murphy, AmaWaterways boasts a fleet of 14 modern ships that sail the waterways of Europe, plus two vessels – the AmaLotus and AmaDara – operating in Vietnam and Cambodia; Zambezi Queen in Africa and the stylish AmaPura that sails to AmaWaterways’ newest exotic destination, Myanmar (Burma).
Personable service has been a hallmark of the line since Day One. It’s a theme that transcends each of AmaWaterways’ stylish river cruise ships and even applies to the company itself. Co-founder Kristin Karst even writes her own blog for the line. Expect to feel not like a number, but like an old friend, when you sail with AmaWaterways. Check out our audio podcast, Bicycles & Beer, Wine & Chocolate, Myanmar & Much More On AmaWaterways: An Interview With The Founding Couple
In recent years, the line has been taking its lauded brand of cruising to other parts of the world. In addition to Europe, AmaWaterways offers luxury voyages to South Africa, Cambodia and Vietnam, and Myanmar (Burma) with a focus on cultural immersion and authentic experiences both onboard and ashore. In 2015, the line introduced the new AmaDara to the Mekong. See AmaWaterways Adds AmaDara On The Mekong In 2015
Read more about AmaWaterways.
Defining Feature: Some of the most uniquely-designed staterooms afloat.
Destinations: Europe, Asia, Amazon, Galapagos Islands
The first of Avalon’s “Suite Ships,” Avalon Panorama, debuted in May 2011 and pioneered the use of two full decks featuring Panorama Suites with floor-to-ceiling windows that open to create what the line calls Open Air Balconies. And while Avalon states that up to 100 cruisers could fit within the spacious, 200-square-foot Panorama Suite, we wouldn’t recommend it. But let’s not split hairs – these are still some of the most spacious river cruise ships out there.
Founded in 2003, Avalon has worked quickly to ensure that all of its river cruise vessels are now Suite Ships, each offering some unique features like beds positioned to face the balcony windows, and some of the best-designed bathrooms we’ve seen on a river cruise ship. That the line offers itineraries throughout Europe and to farther-flung destinations like Asia, the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands (the latter of which is operated by a ship) is just the icing on the cake.
Avalon may not be building new vessels on the scale of some of the other lines, but the ones they are bringing out are constantly moving their product forward in an increasingly elegant, modern fashion.
Defining Feature: Family owned, shallow-draft cruises exploring nearly every corner of Europe.
Destinations: Europe, Asia
Founded by Gérard Schmitter in 1976, CroisiEurope River Cruises is still a family run business, responsible for the construction, ownership and day-to-day operations of river cruise vessels that are capable of carrying between 100 and 200 passengers. In 2014, the company took delivery of an additional three vessels, bringing its fleet to a total of 33 river cruise ships. CroisiEurope is also one of the few lines to offer sailings on nearly every river in Europe.
One of CroisiEurope’s defining features is its shallow-draft river cruise vessels. By reducing the amount of the ship that exists below the waterline, CroisiEurope can sail into the heart of cities – like Strasbourg, where CroisiEurope is headquartered – while other river cruise operators are forced to dock on the other side of the Rhine, in the German town of Kehl, and bus guests in.
The line also offers pseudo river-ocean voyages through the Mediterranean that are wholly unique within the industry.
In 2013, CroisiEurope began actively marketing to North American travelers for the first time. Check out our Live Voyage Reports from onboard CroisiEurope’s sleek vessels:
- Loire Princesse through the Loire Valley
- Barging the South of France aboard Ann Marie
- Botticelli along the Seine River in France
Read more about CroisiEurope River Cruises
Crystal River Cruises
Defining Feature: Spacious staterooms; set to be the largest suites on the rivers when the line debuts in 2017.
Game changer? Launching in March 2017, Crystal‘s two new as-yet-unnamed river cruisers will feature 68 suites measuring 250 square feet and two Penthouse Suites measuring 500 square feet. The latter are larger than Scenic Jasper’s 475-square-foot Royal Panorama Suites.
The 250-square-foot guest suites will feature walk-in wardrobes, American king size beds and bathrooms with double vanities. The two 500 square-foot Penthouse Suites will feature what Crystal says are “added comforts and conveniences.” Public areas will include the Palm Court with a dance floor and glass-domed roof as well as a well-appointed fitness center and spa.
Billed as “luxury river yachts,” Crystal’s new vessels will be built by German shipyard Lloyd Werft and will boast yacht-like designs with greater space-to-guest ratio than any other river cruise ship, according to a Crystal press release. The vessels will include Crystal’s signature all-inclusive six-star service, plus what Crystal says is a fresh approach to the traditional river itineraries and experiences.
More information about Crystal’s new river cruise product will be posted here as it becomes available.
Defining Feature: All-inclusive river cruise tours that include overland journeys chocked full of exclusive experiences.
Founded in 1925 by Arthur Tauck Sr., the long-standing American tour company has been slowly but surely expanding into the European river cruise market, offering up its unique brand of inclusive luxury river cruises coupled with full-guided overland journeys.
One of Tauck’s defining features is what the company offers ashore. The line offers exclusive events like private lunches, dinners and concerts, and in some cases, even private after-hours tours of museums like the In Flanders Fields museum in Ieper, Belgium, and the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague.
The line is also starting to innovate on the waterways of Europe, introducing new Loft-style staterooms aboard their two newest vessels, ms Inspire and ms Savor that are quickly becoming some of the most talked-about staterooms. The line is also noteworthy for its restraint: instead of carrying 190 guests, these new vessels take just 130.
Read more about Tauck.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Defining Feature: All-inclusive, boutique river cruises accented with classic ‘old world’ European design.
Destinations: Europe (including Italy), Russia, Portugal, Egypt, China, India, Cambodia & Vietnam
Uniworld’s full name might be a mouthful, but the company has been providing river cruises in its own inimitable style longer than any company on this list, save for CroisiEurope. And during the past three decades, Uniworld has learned a thing or two about how to run a successful river cruise line.
One of Uniworld’s defining features is its intrinsic style. The interiors of each of Uniworld’s 14 European-based ships (with a new one coming in 2015) are entirely unique, reflecting a style that could best be described as Versailles-meets-Ritz Carlton. It’s this style, coupled with the line’s varied itineraries that include less-visited waterways like Italy’s Po River, that keep guests coming back time and time again.
Uniworld recently went all-inclusive, becoming one of only a handful of lines to offer a truly inclusive experience along the waterways of Europe.
Read more about Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.
Viking River Cruises
Defining Feature: Scandinavian design, Nordic sensibility and the most river cruise ships on the waterways of Europe – by far.
Destinations: Europe, Russia, Portugal, Egypt, China, Cambodia & Vietnam, Myanmar, Ukraine
It’s hard to not know about Viking River Cruises. Chances are that you’ve seen the company’s ads during Downton Abbey and other programs, or you’ve simply heard about Viking because of the prodigious expansion of the new Viking Longship fleet. Everywhere you look, from print advertising to docking spaces in Europe, Viking is there.
Founded in 1997 by cruise industry veteran Torstein Hagen, one of Viking’s defining features has always been providing guests with a good river cruise at a reasonable price. When the first of its new Viking Longships set sail in March of 2012, the company became a driving force for innovation within the industry, pioneering firsts like the indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace and the introduction of the first true suites on the waterways of Europe.
Viking doesn’t feature gyms, or hot tubs, or bicycles aboard its ships for the simple reason that, as Hagen puts it, all of Europe is a natural gym. In many of the towns and cities Viking stops in, walking tours are offered and bicycle rentals from private vendors are plentiful. Those are amenities that Hagen believes are under-used on other vessels, and space that could be better put toward the line’s wide array of staterooms and suites.
As active travelers who enjoy cycling and some time in the gym, we don’t always agree with Hagen but we do love his ships. Viking’s big, bright ships are the company’s defining feature, along with crews that are increasingly polished as some of the best and brightest stars are coming to work for Viking from other lines. By the time the line took delivery of another 12 Viking Longships in March of 2015, Viking had launched a total of 42 new vessels since 2012 – more than any other river cruise line afloat. The line will launch additional Longships next year, along with a new vessel on the Douro, Viking Osfrid.
In 2015, Viking also took delivery of their first oceangoing cruise ship – Viking Star. She will be joined in 2016 by a sister-ship, Viking Sea, and in 2017 by two additional vessels: Viking Sky and Viking Sun.
For the Viking Longships, see Ralph’s Six Points Of Differentiation: Viking Odin Review
We’ve each sailed Viking several times now, and have Live Voyage Reports from all three Danube Christmas Markets runs, all four Viking Longsships christening ceremonies, and France’s Bordeaux region. Read about our past and upcoming sailings on our Live Voyage Reports page.
Read more about Viking River Cruises
Meantime, In America
American Queen Steamboat Company River Cruise Reviews
Review from our sister site, The Avid Cruiser.
Even if you’re an avid cruiser like us, you’ll find there’s little to compare to the American Queen. It can’t be compared to a river cruise vessel in Europe. The largest paddlewheeler ever built, the six-deck American Queen is nearly 2.5 times wider than those river cruisers. Spanning 90 feet across, she offers multiple restaurants, including a gorgeous two-story main restaurant, lots of public rooms, a variety of staterooms and suites, a small pool, gym and, of course, a giant paddlewheel to propel the riverboat.
Click play to check out the Avid Cruiser’s video review featuring The American Queen.