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Traveling to Europe is a top priority for many of us, but the planning, language barrier and other factors often keep us from taking the plunge. The good news is, there’s an easier way to see your desired locations in Europe — through river cruising.
River cruising is one of the best ways to see a number of foreign cities, quaint towns and landscapes without the hassle of choosing your own hotels, itinerary, car rentals, restaurants and more.
How Do River Cruises Differ From Ocean Cruises?
Apart from the obvious, European river cruises largely attract older passengers in their 50s and 60s, although a few lines are running cruises geared toward those in their 40s and a couple of lines offer cruises for families with kids. Since the vessels are much smaller, there aren’t as many dining options and onboard activities compared to ocean liners.
And nightlife is tame, think small lounges and bars compared to Broadway shows, casinos and nightclubs. European river cruises are also more expensive, starting around $250 per day and up. European river cruising is a much more relaxed, culturally centered experience than you typically get with big ocean liners.
What Are The Best European River Cruises
Below are our European river cruises reviews that include our top three picks (and one honorable mention). We hope you’ll be able to find one that fits your desired itinerary and budget.
If you enjoy being pampered while on vacation, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is the perfect European river cruise for you. From opulent decor and accommodations to an all-inclusive package that includes in-suite butlers, all scheduled airport transfers, gratuity onboard and onshore, upscale dining and unlimited drinks, including premium liquors, and much more — Uniworld will satisfy that inner child in you who needs occasional spoiling. Old-world European style luxury is the heart of Uniworld, and they deliver it well.
- Nearly a dozen family-friendly cruises in 2016 with more to come in 2017
- More than 25 different cruise itineraries (several run multiple times per year)
- Average of 130 passengers on each cruise (largest boat accommodates 164)
- Cruise lengths range from 8 to 26 days
- Most passengers hail from North America, but they target some U.K. and Australian markets
- Rivers: Rhine, Moselle, Main, Danube, Seine, Rhone, France’s Saone, Girande, Dordogne, Spain and Portugal’s Duro, and Italy’s Po and Venice Lagoon
Avalon Waterways has a wide variety of cruises, ranging from three to four days (geared toward 40-somethings) up to 20+ days (geared toward mid-50s and older). What sets Avalon apart? They have some of the most spacious staterooms compared to other cruise lines at an average of 200-square-feet. These suite class rooms also feature floor-to-ceiling retractable windows, giving you a gorgeous panoramic, veranda-like experience while you’re lounging in bed.
You also get free Wi-Fi, satellite tv, in-room minibars in some staterooms, and their stateroom bathrooms are well-designed and spacious for a river boat. What’s missing? Unlike other fleets, the amenities aren’t quite as luxurious, i.e. no massage parlor, swimming pool or personal butler. And if you want to travel to Spain, Portugal or Italy, you’ll have to go with another cruise line.
- Offers dozens of different cruises each year
- Cruises range anywhere from 3 to 27 days
- Passengers largely hail from North America, the U.K. and Australia
- Average number of passenger on each cruise is 100
- Rivers: Rhine, Danube, Rhone, Saone, Seine, Moselle and Main
AMAWaterways mostly caters to affluent, mature North American passengers, who are looking for a personalized, relaxing, and cultural experience. AmAWaterways is considered one of the more upscale lines in Europe. The river cruise line started in 2002 and has grown exponentially — in 2012 they added a number of higher-end boats that feature spacious twin balcony staterooms with free WiFi and Infotainment systems, a heated pool with swim-up bar service, complimentary wine and beer with lunch and dinner, several dining venues with regional cuisine, expansive sundecks, a massage and beauty salon and more.
- More than 20 different cruises offered each year
- Cruises range from 8 to 22 days — the majority are 10 to 14 days in length
- Ships accommodate 148 to 164 passengers
- Rivers: Rhine, Danube, Rhone, Saone, Seine, Douro, Moselle and Main
Although Viking River Cruises didn’t make it into our top three picks, they’re definitely worth looking into. After all, they have pretty much created all the consumer interest in this category with all their advertising! Read our review to see why you should consider them too.
Viking River Cruises Review
Viking is perhaps the most well-known cruise line brand for North Americans, running ocean liners in addition to scenic river cruises around the world. Their European river cruises are among the most affordable, but they’re more “Americanized” than many other European river cruise lines we’ve reviewed here. Their river cruise ships are larger (190 passengers) and don’t focus on personalized service as much, but that’s not to say they aren’t a travel treat — it just depends on the experience you’re looking for!
- Offers 25 different cruises
- Cruises last from 8 to 19 days
- English-speaking passengers, largely from North America
- Most ships accommodate 190 passengers
- Rivers: Rhine, Main, Danube, Seine, Rhone, Douro, Elbe
Want A Holiday River Cruise To Remember?
Among the most popular cruises for all European cruises are their Christmas market cruises. Although the weather is cold, Europe’s Christmas markets are something to behold (beyond anything we have in the U.S.). Check out Viking River Cruises’ video to see how magical these markets can be. It makes you long for cold weather!
All Aboard Cruising?
By far, river cruising is the easiest way to see the parts of Europe you’ve always dreamed of visiting. And there are more options than ever. River cruising is the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry these days, and your possibilities only continue to grow in Europe — and around the world.
Why are you considering taking a European river cruise?