European river cruising has become big business in the overall scheme of things as far as the cruise world is concerned. Make that Big Business.
Back in 2000, there were fewer than 150 vessels plying the waters of the Rhine, Danube, Rhone-Saone and Elbe-Oder, and they tended to be staid, rather old-fashioned and distinctly formulaic in their approach. It wasn’t an area of the travel industry that generated a lot of excitement.
In 2019, there will be more than 350 vessels for the first time, a figure that has grown by a whopping 150 in the past 10 years, and which now encompasses the Douro and Seine rivers, as well as Russia, as mainstream options.
Not only have the sheer numbers expanded, but the whole style of cruising the rivers of Europe has also evolved, too, with new technologies, new facilities, new styles and new dining options all part of the river-cruise package.
Whereas in the past, a Rhine cruise might only have been attractive to your (elderly) parents, nowadays it will appeal across the board to all the family, with a dazzling range of choices, from the budget-minded to the true ultra-luxe style.
Themed cruises are now extremely popular (and widespread), while there are voyages that appeal more to the active as well as active-minded. Cultural experiences are firmly to the fore, and the entertainment options are equally impressive, from folk music and dance to wine tastings and cordon bleu classes.
That means your choices for next year have never been broader, or more exciting, and we have compiled 10 of the best ideas for a memorable European river voyage in 2019:
AMA Waterways – Bordeaux Brilliance
Speaking of wine-tastings, here’s a great chance to get under the skin of one of the top wine regions of the world and really experience the sights and sounds, as well as the tastes, along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. AMA’s chic AmaDolce operates this route from April to November and it includes the chance to sample Sauternes, Medoc, Saint-Emilion and Fronsac vintages in the company of expert sommeliers and family winery members.
Crystal Cruises – A Presidential Voyage
Crystal’s river-cruise debut in 2016 quickly brought with it an extra level of upmarket luxury, and 2019 will mark their first President’s Cruise, as Crystal CEO Tom Wolber leads a one-off 10-day Rhine voyage round-trip from Amsterdam next October on the gorgeous Crystal Bach. Music and art will be firmly to the fore, with visits to Bonn, Dusseldorf and Trier, while Wolber will also stage an onboard Q&A session to highlight Crystal’s growth and lead his own exclusive shore excursion.
Scenic Cruises – The Delightful Douro
Portugal’s historic Douro River has become one of THE essential river experiences in recent years, and Scenic offers a truly delightful option next spring, as their Scenic Azure sails round-trip from Porto on an eight-night voyage of discovery. The route takes in Regua and the World Heritage-listed Vinhateiro wine region, as well as the ornate Spanish city of Salamanca before returning to Porto via Pocinho and Pinhao for a taste of the Portugal of yesteryear.
Tauck – The Royal Danube
When it comes to bespoke European tours, American company Tauck has been in the business since 1925 and can always find something different even along the well-trodden cruise paths. Their version of the regular Danube cruise includes a chance to sample their guided tour expertise with side-trips to Krakow and Zakopane in Poland as well as ancient Kromenz in the Czech Republic and Germany’s Berlin on a truly engaging 14-day cruise-tour that features a 7-day voyage from Nuremberg to Vienna.
Uniworld – Eastern Europe Explorer
We are suckers for an in-depth Danube exploration, and this is definitely one of the best, a 10-day ramble from Romania (Bucharest) to Hungary (Budapest), taking in the likes of Rousse – the Little Vienna of Bulgaria – and Belgrade in Serbia, as well as Croatia’s biggest port, Vukovar. Uniworld’s sumptuous style features both the River Duchess and SS Beatrice on this route from April to September and, for a voyage that really gets under the skin of its destinations, this takes some beating.
Crystal – Grand Europe
Of course, the Danube on its own may not be enough for you, in which case Crystal’s genuinely grand 16-day Grand Europe sailing on the blissful Crystal Mahler in July might well be the answer, an extended voyage from Amsterdam to Budapest that takes in several lesser-known ports of call such as 15th century Miltenberg on the Main River and Melk in Austria, with its Benedictine monastery, as well as regional highlights like Vienna, Durnstein and Bratislava.
Tauck – Oktoberfest
New for Tauck in 2019 is this chance to sail along the Rhine and conclude with that perfectly German spectacle of Oktoberfest, Munich’s big annual festival. A seven-night cruise from Amsterdam to Basel forms the bulk of the excursion, taking in the main sights of Dusseldorf, Heidelberg and Strasbourg, as well as Lucerne and Mt Pilatus in Switzerland, before a two-day finale in the Bavarian capital that includes a sumptuous private lunch in an Oktoberfest tent. Altogether now – Prost!
AMA Waterways – Tulip Time
As corny as it sounds, the Netherlands dishes up a truly spectacular occasion with its spring-time tulip fields, and one of the best ways to enjoy them is with a typical round-trip voyage from Amsterdam to the flower heartland of Hoorn and Middelburg, which is ablaze with flowers from mid-March to mid-May. AMA’s 7-day Tulip Time cruise aboard their AmaStella on March 27 brings the best of this spectacle into view, along with visits to Ghent and Antwerp in Belgium.
Avalon Waterways – A Week In Provence
When it comes to getting the best out of southern France, this 10-night extravaganza with Avalon could be the most idyllic way to sample the likes of Macon, Lyon, Tournon, Avignon and Arles, before arriving in that Provence bastion of the Cote d’Azur. It includes two days to explore Paris and such gourmet delights as onboard cheese tasting, a trip to a Chardonnay wine cellar and a culinary walk through the French gastronomic capital of Lyon for a literal taste of La Vie en Rose.
Scenic Cruises – Imperial Russia
And, when the rest of Europe seems too, well, obvious, how about travelling into the former Soviet Union for a genuine voyage with a difference? Scenic’s 15-day itinerary in September and October features the full panorama of the Volga River between Moscow and Stalingrad, and a major step back in time into a largely unknown world of culinary delights, spectacular scenery and cultural wonders, including Lenin’s home city Ulyanovsk, the Tatar city of Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod, the unofficial ‘third capital’ of Russia. It’s a journey of major cultural significance and underlines, very firmly, how river-cruising continues to push the boundaries of travel enjoyment and education.
What most appeals to you in the river-cruise scene for 2019, and beyond? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.