It wasn’t so long ago that only the most premium accommodations aboard most river cruise ships had balconies. These “balconies” were quite different, however, from the balconies most ocean cruisers were accustomed to. Instead of deck chairs and tinted glass railings, guests on early river cruise vessels would be greeted with French Balconies with steel railings that would open into the stateroom. In a sense, the earliest river cruise ship balconies were little more than oversized windows that opened.
Today, all that has changed. In an effort to woo guests and compete with each other, modern-day river cruise lines are engaged in an all-out battle for balcony supremacy.
French Balconies look and act like a regular balcony, with the only exception being that there is a railing placed directly behind the glass, meaning you cannot step out onto a separate space — without splashing into the river. Many river cruise companies place a small sitting area in front of the French Balcony, allowing it to perform a similar function as a full, step-out balcony.
Full Balconies or Step-out Balconies or Verandas are defined by the fact that you can step out on to them (without plunging into the river), much like you would aboard a traditional oceangoing cruise ship. Step-Out Balconies typically have two chairs and a small table, and — with a few exceptions — tend to be quite narrow due to the fact that the width of river cruise ships is restricted because of narrow locks on the waterways of Europe.
The Best Of Both Worlds, Step-Out & French Balcony
AmaWaterways takes the position that customers want both French and full step-out balconies. So the company developed the “Twin Balcony” concept. Having both types of balconies in one stateroom has proven to be a hit with guests.
Full Step-Out Balconies
Viking River Cruises feels that the way of the future is paved with full, step-out balconies. The line’s Viking Longships currently feature full, step-out balconies (complete with a small table and two chairs).
CroisiEurope also features full, step-out balconies on its newest vessels, including the Loire Princesse, a paddlewheeler that plies France’s shallow Loire River. The company’s new paddlewheeler, Elbe Princesse, will also feature step-out balconies.
Indoor Open-Air Balconies With The Push Of A Button
Scenic and Uniworld feature “indoor” balconies with windows that can be raised and lowered with the push of a button (as does Tauck; more on that in a moment). Uniworld calls its concept Open-Air Balconies while Scenic refers to its concept as Sun Lounges. You can see how they function in the videos below.
Uniworld’s S.S. Maria Theresa: Open-Air Balconies
Scenic Jasper: Sun Lounge
Emerald Waterways also features an indoor balcony that opens to the outdoors with the touch of a button. As on Scenic, the upper half of the cabin’s floor-to-ceiling window drops down to let in fresh air and allows guests to connect with the landscape.
Tauck’s Loft Staterooms
Tauck’s two newest ships – MS Inspire and MS Savor – feature a total of eight Loft Staterooms, with oversized, 1.5-story banks of windows that open, as on Emerald, Scenic and Uniworld, with the push of a button. What makes these windows different, however, is that they border small seating areas raised high above the bedrooms. Tauck included Loft staterooms on its newest river cruise ships that will set sail in the spring. See Ralph Grizzle’s: Tauck’s ms Savor: My Loft Stateroom In Video
Feng Shui Balconies
Avalon Waterways added a twist to its balconies by rotating the beds in each stateroom to face the window, a Feng Shui approach of sorts that aligns guests with the river. Avalon is not the only player to do this, however. CroisiEurope’s beds also face the windows on Loire Princesse.
Do You Need A Balcony?
In a word, yes. You need a balcony. A balcony adds additional benefits. In any season, letting in the smells and sounds of the rivers of Europe can be a wonderfully charming thing to do in the privacy of your own stateroom. We’ve even enjoyed balconies on Christmas Markets river cruises when the snow is falling and the air is chilled. Plus stepping out on the balcony also can be helpful for planning how to dress for the day.
But to be fair, we’ve never actually just sat out on the balcony in the same way we’d sit and relax on a balcony on an ocean cruise. We prefer to sit in the lounges or on the Sun Decks to watch the landscape pass.
Also, when docked, your balcony might be pressed flush against another ship, limiting its practical usefulness, but then this is also a time when you’re likely not on the ship. You’re out touring instead.
An option to the balcony stateroom is the riverview stateroom. Riverview staterooms are typically situated on the lowest decks of river cruise ships, and are so-named for their proximity to the surface of the river itself. That proximity lends itself to better affordability; when you see advertisements for river cruises, you’re typically going to see the prices descending from the top decks down to the bottom ones. That is to say that staterooms on the lowest decks typically go for less than staterooms on the higher decks.
Riverview staterooms usually include every feature that the higher-level French and even full step-out balcony staterooms do, minus the balconies, of course. On some (but not all) river cruise ships, these riverview staterooms might even be the same physical size as their balcony-laden counterparts. That means you’re getting all of the living space of a much more expensive stateroom and pay less.
Balcony staterooms enhance the overall river cruise experience. One of our favorite moments on the rivers is waking up and gazing out the floor-to-ceiling doors that lead to our balconies. It’s a beautiful thing to watch the slow rhythm of the river from the comfort of our beds. Plus, being able to step on out the balcony to admire the landscape or gaze at the stars is an added bonus.
If you’d rather save some money, however, go for the balcony-less stateroom. You’ll still get much of the same experience as those above you, you’ll be closer to the river, and you will have saved some shekels. There are also magical moments to be had from riverview staterooms. For example, we’ve enjoyed watching swans drift past from our riverview staterooms. Some even stop to take a peek inside. That’s something you won’t experience from the higher-up balcony staterooms.
What’s your take? Do you need a balcony? Let us know in the comments section below.