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European River Cruises: for the Unique Adventurer

The first thing most people think of when they hear about cruises is the sleek ocean liners that are being built bigger and with more amenities than ever before.  And, why not?  They are truly spectacular.  But if you are ready for a completely different cruise line experience, it’s time to take a look at one of the fastest growing cruise adventures – European river cruises, celebrating the romantic rivers of Europe, including the Danube, Rhine, Mosel, and Seine, and the varied, rich culture of their many ports.

What makes river cruises so unique

There are four significant differences between what you can expect from the more familiar ocean cruises and what you can expect on a European river cruise:

1. European river cruises are intimate

Image: Cruising Europe by Riverboat

European river cruises offer an authentic exploration of local cultures and sites

European travel tours via river cruising is often on an intimate yacht or barge-style vessel, carrying just 20 to 50 passengers.  This kind of intimacy allows the river cruise lines to create a much more personalized and luxurious experience.

For example, most European river cruises include complimentary fine European wine service at dinner and other memorable niceties. Don’t be surprised if your server and other crew members know you by name after your first day on board.

That relaxing, intimate experience extends to the exquisite staterooms and the ambiance on board the entire vessel, ensuring a relaxing, enjoyable experience, whether shared or private.

2. River/countryside experience

One of the most striking differences between European river cruises versus ocean cruises is the river itself – Imagine an ever-changing view when you look out a window or look across a deck.  With a river cruise, you are enjoying a gentle, relaxing, and ever-changing view, as you pass by pastoral countrysides, picturesque villages, bustling cities, majestic mountains, forests, farmlands, and plains – you’ll want to keep your camera ready at all times.

And let’s not forget one nice bonus of a river cruise – It’s the smoothest of rides. While modern ocean cruise liners often have state-of-the-art wave dampening systems, a European riverboat needs none.  On board a European river cruise, you’ll be coursing smoothly with the gentle flow of the river.

3.  European River cruises – a culture-rich exploration

image: Riverboat passes through Basel

European river cruises offer a culture-rich exploration of coastal villages and cities

If entertainment, night life, and more activities are your style, then the larger cruise ships might appeal to your style of cruising.  But if your taste is more toward exploring local cultures and experiencing the history of unfamiliar regions in a close and personal way, then a European river cruise is just the ticket.

Experienced cruisers will enjoy the contrast between the more visited coastal cities of the more traditional cruise voyage and what you experience with the riverside ports.  The cities along a river cruise have existed for hundreds and hundreds of years, long before any river cruise industry existed.  As a result, many river cruise travelers describe the European river cruise experience as more authentic, rich, and diverse.  And many river cruises offer near daily excursions, giving you the opportunity to wander through the center of  town – on foot, or borrow a bicycle.

I also recommend you take advantage of the pre-excursion lectures and presentations many cruises offer to make the on-shore experience more enriching, memorable.

And what experiences they are! Imagine visiting vineyards, historic city centers, local bakeries, and beautiful countryside.

4.  The unique food experience of a European river cruise

Just about all cruises are known for their astounding selection of amazing foods. However, culinary excellence is one area where most European river cruises excel. It’s less about the volume of selection you can expect, and more about exquisiteness and specialty.

On most of our favorite cruises, for example, you will find that the cruise chefs are well known and from European cities, perfectly able to amplify the theme of the cruise with the perfect Epicurean pairing. And don’t be surprised if your cruise chef or staff offers cooking demonstrations and is fully prepared to offer spot-on suggestions on the best local restaurants to complement your excursions into the local cities and villages along the river.

What kind of traveler prefers river cruises?

The European river cruise is popular among the well-traveled individuals and couples ready to experience something different than the traditional tourist routes. Even first-time cruisers may find this the perfect fit if they are well-traveled and like a leisurely, unique, and educating vacation experience.  Even if you have traveled Europe extensively, doing so by river cruise is a whole new experience.  Also consider a river European travel tour an educational family cruise experience, or a truly special corporate incentive travel or group travel solution.

Infinite variety with European River Cruises!

I could spend an entire article describing to you each of the many specialty European river cruises, as they are so unique from one another and so thoroughly worth experiencing.  But to whet your river cruise appetite, here a few of my favorite types of European River Cruises:

  • Consider coming aboard a Tulip Time springtime cruise, traveling through Holland and Belgium, giving you a close-up view of one of the most beautiful farmland scenes in the world, and at the perfect time.
  • Celebrate the best of winter with a Christmas-themed European river cruise. As if the towns and villages are not already memorably picturesque, imagine seeing and experiencing them decked out with holiday decorations and Christmas events.
  • To experience the most picturesque countryside and culturally rich excursions, allow me to steer you onto a Danube River cruise. The Danube meanders through ten different countries, introducing you to more than a dozen languages as you travel Europe’s second-longest river.   You’ll visit historic and romantic cities, such Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade, and pass through the majestic Carpathian and Balkan Mountains.
  • A fan of the vine? Try one of the vineyards-focused cruises, touring the Rhine and Mosel, with views of steep vineyards along the rivers.  You’ll visit beautifully aged wine villages and vineyards, and sample regional wine throughout your trip.

European River Cruises – Choose Wisely

There are many reputable providers of European river cruises, but no two are alike.  Some of my favorites are:

  • AMA Waterways® provides high-end river cruises through major cities of Western Europe, and has a much deserved reputation for excellence and consistency.
  • Avalon Waterways®, specifically offering river cruising and small ship cruising, specializes in “luxury of choice” — from deciding what and where you eat to selecting your room configuration, your cruising style, your on-land discoveries and onboard enrichments.
  • Uniworld® Boutique River Cruises have received numerous accolades, including Condé Nast Traveler Readers Poll “Best River Cruise Line” and “World’s Best River Cruise Line” by Travel + Leisure, with a reputation for top dining and top cabins.
  • Tauck, though not focused on just river cruises, does a spectacular job with them – especially their themed river cruises, enriching the mind with in-depth cultural events, hands-on learning, interactive workshops, and walks and talks with local experts.

A word of caution regarding booking – The intimacy of a riverboat means few cabins per cruise, so book your European river cruise with our cruise planners as far in advance as possible, especially when arranging group tours to Europe.  Doing so also helps us find you early booking discounts.

Bon voyage,

Kim Gibbons

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