Best European River Cruises: Uniworld vs Viking vs Avalon vs AMAWaterways

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1st
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection logo
2nd
Avalon Waterways logo
3rd
AmaWaterways logo

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.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection Review

#1

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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.

Key Features

  • 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

Pros

Cons

  • Most excursions included in cruise price (some exclusive optional excursions incur a fee)
  • Fleet of bikes on ship for free use on shore excursions
  • Unlimited liquor, wine, beer and sodas included
  • In-suite personal butlers and room service
  • Port charges, gratuity included
  • Cruises to more countries than many other top lines (Italy, for one)
  • Among the most expensive cruises
  • Some may consider opulent decor on the gaudy side
  • Staterooms are smaller than some other luxury cruise lines

Avalon Waterways Review

#2

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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.

Key Features

  • 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

Pros

Cons

  • Generally less expensive than AmaWaterways and Uniworld
  • Among the largest staterooms of any fleet
  • A wide variety of cruise durations and destinations
  • Most excursions included in cruise price (some optional excursions are an added fee)
  • Among the most flexible dining times and venues (room service available for breakfast)
  • Not all port charges are included in cruise price
  • No cruises into Spain, Portugal or Italy
  • No bikes on ships (they do partner with bike rental companies at some ports, but you won’t be able to bike every port)
  • Liquor, wine, beer and sodas not included 24/7 (only at lunch and dinner)

AmaWaterways Review

#3

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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.

Key Features

  • 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

Pros

Cons

  • All on-shore excursions are included in cruise price
  • Each boat has 20+ bicycles to explore at ports
  • Most port charges are included
  • Good dining and entertainment options on board
  • Spacious, modern staterooms — most with French balconies
  • Pricier than Viking and Avalon cruise lines
  • Fewer cruise choices than some other lines
  • No cruises into Italy
  • No room service or in-room stocked mini bar
  • Wine, beer and sodas not included 24/7 (only at lunch and dinner)

Honorable Mention

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 River Cruises logo

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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!

Key Features

  • 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

Pros

Cons

  • More affordable than many comparable cruise lines
  • Modern accommodations, with many options for staterooms, suites and more deluxe rooms
  • More nightly entertainment than many other European cruise lines
  • Shore excursions included in cruise fare
  • Dining options are more varied, including al fresco dining
  • Travels to fewer locations than our top picks
  • No bicycles on board (but they do partner with some ports for bicycle rentals)
  • Alcoholic beverages and sodas not included (except at lunch and dinner)
  • No cruises into Italy

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.

If you’re interested in a more traditional cruise on the ocean, check out our review of the best cruises or our Cuba travel services article which includes tours of Cuba by smaller yachts.

Why are you considering taking a European river cruise?

An international traveler since she was under 10 years old, Sally loves exploring the world’s mysteries first hand. Her favorite destinations? Greece and the British Virgin Islands. She grew up learning to question, explore, and discover new things and ideas — it’s probably why she went into journalism as a career! She loves what the Internet has brought to research and exploration, but she still hits the ground to travel whenever she gets the chance.

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Susan Lynch
We just returned from a Paris to Normandy to Paris trip on Uniworld. The experience was beyond exceptional. Food, service, staff, appointments and other travelers were amazing. We will never travel on another cruise line. They may be a bit more expensive but everything was included. Ready to book our next adventure.
Tom Harringon
I’ve been looking for a way to visit Europe and cover a lot of territory with out having to worry about booking flights, coordinating multiple hotels or the stress of planning an itinerary. Came across this article and never really considered a cruise in Europe (usually I think of cruises in beachy destinations) but these boats all look super classy and like a fun experience. Hopefully I can find a trip that works for my schedule and budget. Can’t wait!