We are missing our visits to Europe and are considering a return. It just seems that we are going to have to find a way to resume the things we love safely. Either that or spend all our time at home. Since we have traveled by bus, train and cruise ship in Europe, but have never taken a river cruise. Does anyone have suggestions or advice in choosing a company that offers European river cruises? We have been looking at a cruise on the Rhine in northern Europe. Thoughts? Both about company and if it could be done safely in regards to Covid.
We have been on river cruises with AMAWaterways and Viking and AMAWaterways was far superior to Viking.
We went on a Viking cruise back in 2015 to check out river cruising. While it was fine, we felt like we were always having to tip the guides, bus drivers, etc. That got really old very quickly. What we found out most was that we don’t like having our time so thoroughly planned out for us, river cruising wasn’t for us, and we could have seen the same places independently for less.
We had cousins booked on Viking and AMAWaterways coincidentally the same week. The couples on AMA had their cruise cancelled two weeks prior because the water levels were too low. With a choice of a credit or refund. After hearing this, the other couple called Viking inquiring about the water levels and were told all was fine. They went. Their cruise ended up being a bus tour, but they slept on the ship each night. This made for some extremely long bus rides and days. They were not happy. Choice wisely.
I would have thought that for this year, private touring would be less of a Covid risk than a cruise.
I took a cruise up the Danube some years ago with a company called Leuftner Cruises and enjoyed it. But, as noted above, it's a very structured and limited way to "see" Europe. Water levels can definitely be a problem, especially in late summer. If you go this route, I suggest you look for a ship that will have passengers of multiple nationalities so you can meet people besides Americans. I may be wrong, but my impression is that Viking markets so heavily to the US that you're unlikely to encounter non-American passengers.
We have been on two Viking cruises and were very pleased with both. High and low water can be a problem and is dependent more on the time of year. High water, spring run off, can be a bigger problem in Spring and early summer and low water is late fall to early winter. And it varies somewhat by river basin. As part of the Viking package there is a half day (2 to 3 hours) walking at each port stop. We found the guides to be excellent and the tours interesting. After the tour you have at least another half day (and sometimes more) to wonder around the city. Cannot compare to other lines since we have only been on Viking. The ships because of size tend to be more intimate than ocean cruise ships. You will share a table at meals and we have meet some very interesting people. The tipping of guides, etc., is not different than ocean cruises or other guided trips. We probably will wait till 23 to book anything.
Some of the best operators include Tauck (pricing all-inclusive), Scenic, Uniworld, AMAWaterways, Avalon, and Viking. I've been on Tauck and enjoyed the trip - especially their "once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences." The first four are my preferred lines. Tauck may appear to be higher priced, but I suggest you look closer at what's included in each river cruise. Certainly, COVID has played havoc with the River Cruise Industry, especially for departures from Amsterdam!
Thoughts about river cruise companies- there is a you tube vlogger named Gary Benbridge who posts videos on a channel called Tips for Cruisers. He has a whole series of videos on river cruising that is very good. He describes river cruising in general as well as pros and cons of the various lines.
As to the safety regarding COVID, I have the same concerns as with all the other forms of touring that involve large groups living in close proximity. I plan to avoid this and concentrate on independent travel.
We like Scenic USA which is an Australian company with offices in the US. We have done 2 trips with them and were very happy. We have an Antarctica cruise scheduled with them for later this year.
We have done 2 Viking River cruises. Danube Waltz and Cities of Lights. The latter cruise just this past Oct. We loved them both and recommend. We are aware river levels can be problematic. Fortunately not an issue for ours. We have friends that also cruise with Viking. Have had no problems or complaints. Food, service, itinerary, excursions, comfort, educational lectures, covid caution all appreciated. We like the Scandinavian design and simplicity…nothing ornate or artsy. We leave that to scenic views and lovely architecture of villages and cities. It’s a wonderful intimate way to tour Europe.
AmaWaterways is the leader in river cruising. Not only that, the cuisine is superior compared to other river cruises. Ama boats are half the size of Vikings meaning you’ll encounter fewer people. You get what you pay for on Ama.
We took a river cruise with Emerald. It is the "little sister" of Scenic cruises. Same company, but a little less extravagant. Still all inclusive including tips. The weather was rainy and windy (end of April), so the cruise director had a lot of plan Bs that worked out beautifully. It reminds me of RS tours that have to adjust to changes in itinerary. It was very nicely done.
The cost was close to 50% less than Scenic who by the way, provide you with your own personal butler. Really...who needs someone unpacking your undies?
I'd be nervous on a big ship during Covid, but wouldn't be as concerned on an Emerald river boat. A lot of the tours were walking ones in the towns and cities on the Rhine. Not a lot of bus travel.
We have done four river cruises and love them. They are a bit more expensive than doing a trip on your own, but the convenience of staying in a floating hotel is wonderful. Our cruises were in Russia, China, The Rhone-Saone in SE France and the Douro in N. Portugal.
There are many good river cruise companies. It is best to compare before you pick a cruise line. There is a significant difference in price for virtually the same cruise.
Find out that is included in your cruise, usually most tours are included as well as beverages with meals.
Viking is an excellent cruise line, but don't stop there, compare with others.
AMA Waterways is excellent, but usually more expensive than Viking. We did the SE France cruise with AMA.
Emerald, Scenic, Avalon, Croisi, Tauck, Uniworld and Crystal are others. I have heard great things about most of these, expecially Uniworld and Tauck.
Gate 1 is likely to beat all the above on price. i know more than one person that loves Gate 1. Check it out before you make a decision.
Do a side-by-side comparison of the costs between the different lines. And closely review the included and optional excursions they are offering.
We did Viking on the Rhine, and had no complaints. But its true, its not the immersive European experience you've had before.
My post from a few hours ago seems to have disappeared. I'll try again but be more succinct.
My experience was a few years ago on Grand Circle. Here are the things I'd recommend looking into when choosing a river cruise:
- Time in each port. Visited each port for about a half day. This wasn't enough time to see much else in town.
- Life aboard ship. There were some educational lectures, but not much else. Depending on your point of view, this made for a relaxing or boring trip.
- Post tour hotel. Nice by American standards but was located outside the city. I took public transportation into town, much to the concern of the tour director as it seemed everyone else was content to remain at the hotel for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
As for COVID, you're only as safe as you and your fellow passengers want to be. It is a team effort. The ship I was on had a small dining room and no outside dining area. With COVID, I'd be concerned being around people not wearing masks (as they would have taken them off to eat).
Youtube is full of videos about river cruising. Even our friend Rick has addressed it in some episodes. Hunker down and watch as many as you can take.
I don't think it's the best idea with COVID surging about since the boats are still relatively small with lots of shared space, but again it's a personal choice.
One thing my wife discovered is that often the boats have to tie up to each other and there are noise issues, and sometimes you have to pass through one boat to get to yours. Which could make for some hurt feelings if the other boat is nicer :)
We have enjoyed river cruises with Viking while traveling with extended family groups. One big positive (in my mind) is that they currently conduct daily Covid tests for all passengers and crew, and have procedures in place in case of positive test results. With any cruise company, check the fine print and ask questions. Changing Covid restrictions may eliminate the option to explore independently at the last minute-as may changing water levels, etc.
Thanks to all who have taken the time to offer their experiences and advice. You have given me some thoughtful insight and it is much appreciated! As suggested, I will compare the different cruise lines and hopefully that will make it possible to make an educated decision. I was glad to hear the some of the cruse lines do daily Covid testing to address any concerns early on.
Add me as a Gate1 fan. We did a lovely cruise from Budapest along the Danube which ended in Prague.( transfered by bus) Took optional additional days in Budapest. Everything was lovely, well run and enjoyable, Price was right but never felt as if anything was cheap or stingy. Meals were lovely. Guides were excellent and helpful. We had a Vikings cruise dock next to us - we were still very happy with our choice even after seeing that ship. Gate1 only includes alcohol during meals(wine and beer) but that was not an issue for us.
Our Rhine cruise with them was cancelled due yo Covid/
I suggest you look at Ralph Grizzle's website, https://www.rivercruiseadvisor.com/. He's unbiased and a good source of information about how to choose the best cruise line. We have taken cruises with AmaWaterways, Uniworld and Scenic and enjoyed them all. We prefer all-inclusive but that is why you need to explore the options, so you can get a sense of what appeals most to you.
I hope this is helpful.