The Rhône River begins in the Swiss Alps in the canton of Valais. The river flows for 505 miles from Switzerland through Lake Geneva and eastern France to Arles where it empties into the Mediterranean Sea. To the east of Lyon, the river is turbulent and is not considered navigable.
Rhône River cruises typically are between Lyon and Avignon or Arles in France. (From Lyon to Arles, the Rhône flows in a southerly direction.) In the city of Arles the Rhône divides into two branches – an eastern branch known as the Grand Rhône and a western branch known as the Petit Rhône. These two branches form a delta in the Camargue region just south of Arles. I have hosted canal cruises on the Petit Rhône, between Arles and Sete, and in fact, I am embarking on a new one September 14, 2018.
Many packages also include the Saône River, which joins the Rhône in Lyon. Interconnected waterways are common in France and rivers are joined together by other rivers as well as estuaries and canals.
The Rhône and the Rhine rivers are indirectly connected through the Saône River. This is also true for the Rhône and Seine rivers. (The Seine River is connected to the Saône via the Yonne River and Burgundy Canal.)
A cruise that combines both the Rhône and the Saône is typically 8 to 14-days in length and allows for you to experience both Burgundy and Provence; it typically begins or ends on the Saône River about 80 miles north of Lyon in the city of Chalon-sur-Saône. In addition to Chalon-sur-Saône, prominent cities often visited on Saône River cruise include: Lyon, Tournus, Beaune and Trevoux.
Complicating this labyrinthian riddle even more, there are also itineraries that combine other waterways that are not directly connected to the Rhône River. For instance, a few companies offer a cruise on the Rhône and Saône rivers and a separate cruise on the Seine River.
Circuitous routes, single-river sailings, you can’t go wrong in this region. Who doesn’t love Provence and Burgundy? Biking past lavender fields and Bourgogne beauty, the Pope’s Palace in Avignon and, nearby, the medieval Pont du Gard, and the constant reminders of Van Gogh’s greatness and Roman monuments in Arles: All add up to one fascinating trip. Oh, and then there’s the whole most-celebrated (and expensive) wines of the world bit, and the birthplace of gourmet cuisine as we know it today. Need I say more?
River Cruise Advisor’s Peak Season Charts
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
NOTE THAT OUR PRICING CHARTS ARE CURRENTLY BEING UPDATED FOR 2022
Rhone 2019 Peak Season Price ComparisonsLooking for a taste of Provence on your next river cruise? Try the Rhône and Saône rivers in France. Home to some of the best wine-producing areas in Europe, the Rhône and Saône also are graced the beauty of Provence, multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites and historic cities like Lyon, Avignon and Arles.
A Rhône river cruise serves up the very best of France. From gorgeous wine-producing countryside to storied cities to UNESCO World Heritage sites and well-preserved vestiges of Roman occupation, a river cruise along the Rhône mixes France’s heritage and history with the country’s ever-present charm and beauty.
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: 1) Provencal and Bourgogne Beauty. Rhône River cruises typically sail between Lyon and Avignon or Arles, taking in the gorgeous landscapes of Burgundy and Provence; 2) Pont du Gard. The iconic bridge crossing the Gardon River is one of the best-preserved legacies of ancient Roman architecture in France; 3) Bicycling. We’ve enjoyed cycling along the Rhône and Saône rivers though the wine-producing region of Beaujolais and along the Île de la Barthelasse across from the city of Avignon; 4) 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; 5) Wonderful Wines. Rhône River cruises typically visit the wine-producing regions of Beaujolais and Chateauneuf du Pape; and 6) UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the Pope’s Palace in Avignon and Pont du Gard.
Current incentives when I compiled the chart in May of 2018: AmaWaterways and Emerald, $250 off per person; Avalon, $1,000 off per person; CroisiEurope, 10 percent off; Emerald Waterways, free air for all Horizon Deck guests; $295 for Vista Deck and $495 for Riviera Deck; Scenic, free air; 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||AmaCello||Avalon Poetry II||Camargue||Emerald Liberte||William Shakespeare||Scenic Sapphire||Emerald||Catherine||Heimdal|
|Sailing Date||June 6, 2019||June 25, 2019||July 20, 2019||June 8, 2019||June 3, 2019||May 19, 2019||June 2, 2019||June 2, 2019||June 18, 2019|
|Itinerary||Colors of Provence||Active Discovery||Burgundy - Camargue||Sensations of Southern France||Burgundy, River Rhone||Enchanting Rhone||Savoring France||Burgundy & Provence||Lyon & Provence|
|Cabin Category||Category E||Category D,E||Main Deck Double bed||Stateroom E||Romeo lower deck||Standard suite E||Category 1||Classic||Standard F|
|Room With A View?||Window||Window||Window||Window||Window||Window||Window||Window||Window|
|Per diem *||$557||$578||$390||$499||$408||$681||$699||$600||$857|
|Port Charges *||$22.75||$26||Included||Included||Included||Included||Included||$24||Included|
|Gratuities (on ship) *||$18||$18||$11.25||Included||$10.00||Included||Included||Included||$15.87|
|Gratuities (on shore) *||$2.50||$2.50||$2.50||included||$2.00||Included||Included||Included||$2.50|
|Optional Shore Excursions *||Included||$19||Included||$12.50||$12.50||Included||Included||Included||$12.50|
|Current Incentive *||$250||$1,000||$273||$905||n/a||$1,400||2 night Paris hotel inc||$419||$4,199|
|Value of Incentive *||$36||$143||$39||$129||$0||$175||$60||$600|
|True Per Diem||$568||$514||$365||$396||$459||$506||$702||$564||$301|
|Per Diem/Square Foot *||$3.34||$2.99||$2.61||$2.44||$3.04||$3.16||$4.68||$3.48||$2.01|
|Balcony Upgrade *||$899||$1,149||$322||$500||$510||$1,145||$400||$900||$400|
|Balcony Per Diem||$696||$678||$411||$467||$462||$649||$742||$693||$358|
|Embark/disembark||Lyon-Arles||Arles to Lyon|
|Pre & Post Cruise||Yes|
|Single supplement pre & post cruise||Yes*|
|SINGLE CABINS||Yes||twin cabin|
|Rate||50% of twin cabin||100% of twin cabin|
|Supplement for twin cabin||100% 0f twin cabin||100% of twin cabin|
|Solo Traveler Promo||Ask||Waived*|
|Dates of offer||2/7-2/19 2019|
Pricing Charts Explanation & Clarification
* Nights – A 7-night river cruise spans 7 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.