Those interested in cruising Bordeaux usually share one thing in common: the love of wine. While you don’t have to be a total oenophile to appreciate the beauty of hills striated with vineyards or delectable French cuisine accompanying local varietals, wine is definitely the topic du jour when sailing these waters.
That one should think of wine should come as no surprise. Bordeaux has been a center for wine trade for nearly 2,000 years. The Romans, who conquered the region in 60 BC, endowed Bordeaux with vineyards and wine production.
Today, more than 10,000 wine-producing châteaux and 13,000 grape growers produce more than 50 appellations, many of which are world-renown and some of which are among the world’s most expensive wines. A fact that will astonish oenophiles: The Bordeaux region produces nearly 1 billion bottles of wine annually.
River cruises begin in Bordeaux, which is located on the Garonne River and flows for 374 miles from northern Spain into France. The Dordogne River, also part of Bordeaux river cruises, is north of the Garonne. These two rivers meet northwest of Bordeaux and form the Gironde Estuary, which divides the Bordeaux region into Left and Right banks. This estuary stretches for 50 miles, offering portals into historic Blaye and pastoral Pauillac before emptying into the Bay of Biscay, which is part of the Atlantic Ocean.
The French poet and novelist Victor Hugo is said to have found Bordeaux to be so intriguing that he mused: “Take Versailles, add Antwerp, and you have Bordeaux.”
To fully appreciate this sentiment, dedicate a few hours to strolling or cycling along the left bank to enjoy Bordeaux’s beautiful architecture such as Place de la Bourse with its Miroir d’eau: a stunning courtyard water feature that essentially acts as a mirror image of the palace.
A tidal phenomena called the Mascaret gives Bordeaux another distinction. The Mascaret is a tidal bore that creates waves powerful enough for surfing. River cruise ships must take precautions to avoid the brunt of these tidal fluctuations, which also dictate timetables and itineraries. To give you a sense, take a peek of this video I filmed of kids surfing the Mascaret in Bordeaux.
Roundtrip voyages from Bordeaux are usually about 8 days in length. CroisiEurope, Viking River Cruises, AmaWaterways are all great weeklong options. In 2017, Scenic began offering 11- and 12-day Bordeaux itineraries, peppered with some interesting extras like excursions to the oyster hotbed, and Europe’s longest coastal beach of Arcachon, and nearby, Europe’s tallest sand dune.
Some river cruise packages on the Garonne and Dordogne include pre-and-post land excursions to Paris or the Loire Valley and are 12 to 13 days in length. A handful of cruise lines 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. If you have the time and the budget, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s 22-day Ultimate France cruise will provide you with a chance to take three river cruises on one trip to France.
Once you’ve been to Bordeaux, it is difficult to reflect on the region without feeling some titillation of the palate along with thoughts of uncorked bottles and the scent of crushed grapes fermented to perfection and basking in world acclaim.
2019 Bordeaux River Cruise Price Comparisons
River Cruise Advisor’s peak season 2019 price comparisons should be viewed as general guidelines for comparing prices across the major companies operating on a particular river (or region) in Europe or for a particular itinerary.
The intent of the charts is to provide a baseline for matching a cruise company to your budget. I’ve calculated what I believe to be the “true per diem” for each cruise company, after factoring in, or out, the various items that are included, or not included, on a particular river cruise.
Pricing is anything but straightforward among the major river cruise companies, as many companies offer two-for-the-price-of-one river cruises, reduced or free airfare incentives, early-booking discounts and many more pricing tactics that make purchasing a river cruise vacation a complex and confounding exercise. Using a spreadsheet until we were bleery-eyed, my team and I have tried to decipher the various offers and inclusions to arrive at meaningful guidelines for comparisons.
The bottom line, the true per diem, is what you can expect to pay per person for each day of your cruise for a lead-in standard stateroom, or where applicable, a lead-in balcony stateroom.
Price, however, should not be the only consideration when selecting a company for your river cruise. There are a boatload of variables to be considered, not the least of which is what’s included in your cruise. If you’re someone who prefers everything included, an open bar, for example, and prepaid gratuities, you’ll want to look to companies that provide those as part of your cruise fare. For help in figuring out which cruise company includes what, see “Attributes Of The Top River Cruise Companies,” a chart that outlines inclusions.
As always, I welcome your comments and feedback. While I try to get things right, I do goof now and then, which is why I am extremely grateful to readers who bring errors to my attention so that I can correct them as quickly as possible.
Bon voyage, Ralph Grizzle
Bordeaux 2019 Peak Season Price ComparisonsOnce overlooked by river cruise companies, the wine-producing region of Bordeaux, France, is beginning to attract 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.
Five cruise companies operate in Bordeaux. I’ve experienced Bordeaux cruises on four of those: AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope, Scenic and Viking. Uniworld also operates in Bordeaux.
Of my experiences, I would briefly characterize each as offering ... 1) AmaWaterways, great shore programs, including bicycling and hiking; 2) CroisiEurope, French flair and basic staterooms; 3) Scenic, elegant staterooms with multiple dining venues; and 4) Viking, beautiful Longships and great programs ashore.
The majority of river cruises through this region operate roundtrip from the city of Bordeaux, and most (but not all) are a week in duration. Those looking for longer voyages usually 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.
While the distances between ports on these itineraries aren’t so great (you’ll likely remain docked overnight and do very little actual ‘cruising’ during the day), this proximity allows cruise companies to offer more in-depth overland experiences than many other European-based river voyages.
In a single week, guests typically visit multiple vineyards for lessons on past and present production methods and samples of the local wines, which can even include dessert wines like Sauternes. Do you have to be a drinker to get the most out of this trip? Not at all. At every turn, magnificent chateaus rise up and fall over the landscape, punctuated by vineyards that stretch for nearly as far as the eye can see. This is wine country, to be sure, but historic cities like Blaye and Cadillac make for fascinating destinations in their own right.
Current incentives when I compiled the chart in May of 2018: AmaWaterways, $250 off per person; Scenic, fly freel; Uniworld, 10 percent off when paid in full; and Viking, two cruise for the price of one and air is offered for $499 per person.
|Ship||AmaDolce||Cyrano de Bergerac||Scenic Diamond||River Royale||Forseti|
|Sailing Date||June 13, 2019||June 15, 2019||June 4, 2019||June 2, 2019||June 1, 2019|
|Itinerary||Taste of Bordeaux||3 Mighty Rivers||Bordeaux Affair||Brilliant Bordeaux||Chateaux, Rivers and Wine|
|Cabin Category||Category E||Main Deck Suite||Standard suite E||Classic||Standard F|
|Room With A View?||Window||Window||Window||Window||Window|
|Per diem *||$557||$430||$671||$500||$914|
|Port Charges *||$22.75||Included||Included||$24||Included|
|Gratuities (on ship) *||$18||$11.25||Included||Included||$15.87|
|Gratuities (on shore) *||$2.50||$2.50||Included||Included||$2.50|
|Optional Shore Excursions *||Included||Included||Included||Included||$12.50|
|Current Incentive *||$250||$310||$1,400||$349||$4,399|
|Value of Incentive *||$36||$44||$200||$50||$628|
|True Per Diem||$568||$399||$471||$474||$329|
|Per Diem/Square Foot *||$3.34||$2.85||$2.94||$3.14||$2.20|
|Balcony Upgrade *||$899||$329||$1,145||$1,200||$400|
|Balcony Per Diem||$696||$446||$634||$645||$387|
Pricing Charts Explanation & Clarification
* Nights – A 7-night river cruise spans 8 days, but one of those days is the disembarkation day. Unlike checking out of a hotel, you won’t linger until noon (or later) on disembarkation day. Some guests will depart before 6 a.m. for transfers to the airport and their flights home. Others may be able to stay as late as 9 a.m. Either way, you’re not getting a full day on your river cruise on that last day. For that reason, the “per diems” are calculated based on the number of “nights” on board. The result is a fairer assessment than calculating the cost per “day.”
* Per Diem – The rate divided by the number of nights on board, indicated per person but based on double occupancy. Solo travelers will, in most cases, pay single supplements. Solo travelers can learn more about single supplements at this link, Avoiding Single Supplement Fares
* Port Charges – Not all river cruise companies include port charges. What are port charges? Ports of call, where river cruise ships dock, set their own fees, and these fees are then passed on to the river cruise passengers. See our post on port charges, Port Charges: Which River Cruise Companies Include Them?
* Gratuities (on ship) – Some companies include gratuities for crew, others leave it to their guests to take care of gratuities. If your cruise is one of the latter, you may want to have some euro notes handy for stuffing into envelopes (or into the hands of your favorite crew members) on the last night of the cruise. Guidelines of how much to tip also vary by river cruise line. See Prepaid Gratuities: Which River Cruise Companies Include Them?
* Gratuities (on shore) – Just as with crew gratuities, some companies take care of on-shore gratuities for guides and drivers; other companies leave it to their guests. If you’re traveling with a company that operates by the latter policy, be sure to carry euro coins with you for tipping guides and drivers.
* Beverages – Nearly all river cruise companies offer complimentary soft drinks, speciality coffees, beer and wine during lunch and dinner. In between mealtimes, though, you’ll pay for most beverages when traveling with Avalon, Emerald, Riviera and Viking. Beverages are included on CroisiEurope, Crystal, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld. AmaWaterways introduced a “Sip & Sail” Happy Hour in 2018, which includes complimentary cocktails before dinner. For that reason, I’ve indicated AmaWaterways as “Beverages Included,” though you should be aware that you could leave the ship with a balance on your bar tab if you consume beverages outside of Happy Hour or breakfast (sparkling wine is included), lunch or dinner. Riviera does not include wine and beer, even during lunch and dinner. For those who don’t imbibe – and who don’t wish to pay for an inclusion they won’t make use of – Riviera’s a la carte pricing structure makes a lot of sense. For those who want to add a touch of the all-inclusive to their Riviera experience, the company offers drink packages for its 2018 river cruises that start at roughly $129 per person for an average weeklong voyage (the package will be $159 in 2019). This adds draft and non-alcoholic beer, red and white house wine, bottled water, soft drinks and juices on a complimentary basis to lunches and dinners served onboard. Spirits, or drinks purchased outside mealtimes, come at an additional cost. Viking River Cruises has a similar package. While Viking includes beer and wine with lunch and dinner, the company also offers a Silver Spirit Beverage Package. At €300 per cabin, double occupancy, the cost of Viking’s all-inclusive beverage package may seem steep at first glance, but it can be quite a value when you consider the quality of the beverages offered. Are you a Scotch drinker? Then you may know of Highland Park Ragnvald, which goes for more than $500 a bottle on the internet sites I researched. Yet on Viking, you can enjoy as many glasses as you like of the single malt Scotch whiskey as part of your Silver Spirit Beverage Package. Without the package, a 4 cl shot of Ragnvald goes for €22. Now you know which one to order when you belly up to the bar on Viking.
* Laundry – All-inclusive river cruise companies may provide free laundry service during your cruise. Some companies also provide access to washers and dryers free of charge and even include the soap. Most river cruise companies offer laundry and pressing services for a fee if it’s not part of an all-inclusive package. Either way, you’ll likely need to do some laundry while traveling, unless you pack like I do. See What I Pack When I river Cruise, What About You? If you don’t pack like me, you’ll need laundry services. See Laundry Services: Which Cruise Lines Include Them?
* Optional Shore Excursions – All river cruise companies include complimentary excursions in most, if not all, ports of call. However, some companies offer optional shore excursions for a fee. Avalon, Crystal, Emerald, Riviera and Viking are among the companies that offer optional shore excursions. On my April 2017 Rhine cruise on Viking, for example, complimentary excursions were offered at each stop along the way. Viking also offered about a dozen optional tours, ranging in price from €49 per person to €189, the latter being a full-day excursion called Taste the Best of Alsace. Viking Hlin’s program director, Candi Finkelstein, told me that this was the number one rated tour on the Rhine Getaway itinerary, so sometimes paying for something you would not otherwise experience is not a bad thing. On Crystal’s Danube Dreams & Discoveries, more than two dozen shore excursions are offered, and most of those are complimentary. Crystal’s optional shore excursions on that itinerary range from a complimentary Culinary Walking Tour in Bratislava to Michelin-star dining experiences for $249 per person. On Emerald Waterways’ Danube Delights itinerary, you can pay extra for its DiscoverMORE excursions for such exclusive events as Tastes of Vienna and a Viennese Concert.
* Current Incentive (per person) – Riviera does not offer booking incentives, CroisiEurope rarely does. The rest offer a range of incentives, ranging from early-booking savings to two-for-ones and reduced or free air. The incentives are always changing so be sure to check with your travel seller or the cruise company about current offers.
* Value of Incentive (per day/pp) – I’ve divided the amount of the incentive by the number of nights to arrive at a per-diem value. Calculating the value of the incentives was a bit challenging, especially when it comes to air. One challenge: Free air isn’t really free air. While Scenic offers free air, for example, the company caps the fare at $1,400 for its lead-in cabins. Emerald Waterways offers free air for all Horizon Deck guests (also capped at $1,400); guests on Vista Deck pay $295 and those on Riviera Deck pay $495. Viking claims its free air is a $1,699 value. When searching peak season air from my home in Asheville, North Carolina to key river cruise destinations, I found that economy air was nearly always above $1,600 per person
* Per Diem/Square Foot – Why provide a square-footage per-diem? Why not? The idea is to provide a guideline of how much space you’re getting for the rate you pay for your river cruise. Though I caution that you should not plan to spend heaps of time in your room. There’s too much to see and do outside of those four walls.
* Balcony Upgrade – Nearly all of the entry-level staterooms feature fixed windows. The exception is Crystal, where even entry-level staterooms on its new vessels feature “Panoramic Balcony-Windows” that raise and lower, and basically function like a balcony (except on Mozart, which does have some fixed windows). CroisiEurope does not offer balconies on the majority of its vessels, but it too has windows that open, and though not as elaborate as those on Crystal, CroisiEurope’s windows provide fresh air and river views. With other cruise companies, you may want to upgrade to a balcony stateroom. I’ve provided price differentials for upgrades to entry-level balcony staterooms. Note that some of the entry-level balcony staterooms may be smaller than entry-level fixed window staterooms.
The Ultimate River Cruising Handbook
Featuring 2019 pricing charts for all European rivers.
In Europe alone there are more than two dozen navigable rivers and canals. Add the confluence of companies offering seemingly similar experiences and you might just end up feeling as though you’re going upriver without a paddle.
I’m here to help you navigate the ever-changing currents that define river cruising today. Having added more than 50 river cruises to my proverbial travel bucket, I’ve garnered a lot of insights that can help you understand the many options available to you.
Spanning 274 pages, The Ultimate River Cruising Handbook “manages to combine personal experience, with the history of river cruising, and the history of the multiple cruise lines extant today, plus discussions about the destinations offered by the most of the river cruise and barge cruise lines today,” writes Susan Kime, a writer for the online publication, JustLuxe.
The book includes 2019 pricing charts for all rivers and all major river cruise companies. Get your copy now.