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River Cruises

We are considering a river cruise and are thinking about the Emerald cruise line on the Rhine river. Any suggestions as to company, how to select a cabin location, or tips on how to plan for this type of vacation? We have had experience traveling in Europe and feel comfortable with that, but a river cruise would be a new and we think fun experience seeing Europe from this perspective. Any thoughts are welcome and appreciated.

Posted by
119 posts

Go to Cruise Critic and read the forums on river cruising. Tons of information!

Posted by
7009 posts

There are many river cruise companies and it is best to compare prices and benefits. We have done four river cruises and before choosing, I did a spread sheet.

Emerald has a good reputation, but compare with Viking, Uniworld, Scenic, AMAwaterways, Avalon, Crosi, Vantage World Travel, Gate 1,

Prices do vary significantly.

Posted by
8080 posts

Pat, we did a Viking Rhine cruise a few years ago. It was a family event and a good way to go in a group. Here's some things we learned. The river is not actually that scenic (lots of factories and warehouses in flat land) other than the middle Rhine gorge area. Thats the part with castles and mountains that they show in those Sunday Viking commercials. Consequently, most of the cruising other than that section, is at night so that daytimes can be spent at the cities. Often the ship docks in port areas (except for Cologne) that are far from the city centers, and you need a taxi or a long walk to get anywhere on your own. The included excursions are good, but only give you a few hours in each city, before they whisk you back to the ship for lunch. You could effectively spend your whole trip without speaking to or meeting a local person other than gift shop cashiers. The passengers are typically older, and appear more interested in the food and drinks on board.

I'm sounding negative, but I enjoyed it and would do it again. Its good for the variety of excursions they offer, and our cabin was more comfortable than on our last ocean cruise. They provide good service, including arranging for taxis for people who needed them, and a 'slow walkers" group at each excursion. But I would tack on extra days on the beginning and/or end on your own. Through Viking, the costs for those were exorbitant - you can do much better planning those days on your own.

Posted by
7009 posts

Our experience on our four river cruises has been different from stan's.
We did Russia, China, the Rhone/Saone (France) and Douro (Portugal) and it was not an antiseptic experience like he described.

We did some traveling in the day, but most at night. Our ports were located near cities that we visited and we had plenty of exposure to the local people. Of course, our Russia and China cruises were only a portion of the entire trip, but even on the cruises we visited the home of a local resident and had lunch or dinner with a family. On the French and Portuguese cruises we visited historical places as well as vineyards and had many opportunities to be exposed to local persons.

Also, we have done much traveling on our own as well as taking guided tours. Overall, the advantage to taking a guided tour or river cruise is that since transport, lodging, tours and meals are all arranged, you don't waste much time on the details. Yes, sometimes doing it yourself is more fun and perhaps less expensive (however, my experience is that it requires much advanced planning and research). I will say that as I get older (now 74) a guided tour or river cruise is more appealing than doing it yourself.

It is important to research you river cruise and the details of the itinerary, where the boat docks and what is included in the cruise. Sometimes you have options for what tours to take.

We lived in Germany for four years and have never taken a river cruise there, so I can't comment on the specifics of such a cruise, but I know many that have taken cruises in Germany and loved them. One of those was my son, who is not elderly.

Posted by
2159 posts

Several Youtube videos on the subject. cruising with Ben and David, emma cruises

Posted by
3 posts

Ahoi Pat, Emerald Cruise is a real luxury cruise line with all the amenities you can have on a yacht tour. There are smaller special-interest cruise lines as well in case you want to have a more boat tour character and use the folding bikes provided during your shore leave so that you can explore high streets as well as meet the friendly German´s who speak excellent English by the way.

I analyzed the Emerald Cruise online folder and their tours for you. I like the "Active" approach wich is offering gynnastics, exercing for different age groups, fitness program, music and animation on board of this vessel. The boats they are facilitating are new, clean and luxurious and have a very high standard. I am spotting theses boats on the Main River in Frankfurt quite often and the passengers seems to have a lot of fun on the sundeck and on their mini golf track. In my opinion, when it comes to the perfect route and the ideal river in case you have limited time and funding is the 8-day boat tour incorporating:

  1. Frankfurt (arrival at FRA I assume)
  2. Wiesbaden
  3. Ruedesheim
  4. Koblenz
  5. Cochem
  6. Trier
  7. Bernkastel
  8. Bernkastel (departure day I assume)

I do not so much recommend the other boat tour on the Danube River in Germany. The distances are to long although you are cruising in the night and have shore leave during day time. The Belgium and Holland boat tours are interesting too but Amsterdam you can incorporate at the end of your Europe journey maybe and discover by bicycle or on a walking tour in more detail.

The Heidelberg/ Basel/ Strassburg boat tour I do not recommend too. Heidelberg is overrated thanks to their smart thinkers at the tourist office. Basel has a lot of museums but is not so spectacular like the Frankfurt-Wiesbaden-Rudesheim-Benrkastel boat tour.

At the tour (Frankfurt-Wiesbaden-Rudesheim-Bernkastel) above you are capturing the rivers Main, Rhein, Mosel. Each of the Rivers are nearby and are offering the nicest:

  • Wine Valley
  • Renaissance Palaces at the river
  • Knights castles (sometimes crusaders even)
  • Old towns with timber houses from the middle age
  • Massive Cathedrals dating back to Luther times and often more than that

During your shore leave in this part of the country (UNESCO World Heritage Middle Rhine) I highly recommend to:

  1. watch out for the wine fests as well. I nicest wine fest is a day trip to the Kellerwegsfest wich is only 70 KM (50 mls.) close to Frankfurt: Google maps distance
  2. Take a closer look to Frankfurt wich is the most underrated metropolis in Europe when it comes to sightseeing, architecture, museums, food such as the Frankfurter Schnitzel with green dressing and apple wine and book a private boat tour with a captain as you personal tour guide on the Main river. A famous tour operator with a english talking captain is Partyboot where the fun captain talks with a Frankfurtian accent about the sights, drives and fill up welcome drinks at the same time
  3. at Wiesbaden you will find one of the nicest renaissance palaces in Europe. May be you want to spent a whole day their (inside and outside) and have picknick in the park of this palace located in Wiesbaden-Bieberich
  4. When you are in Ruedesheim you want to take a ride in the classic chair lift Elvis Presley has used in his move: /whatch on the number of the gondola ;-)
  5. If you are a good walker you have to book a private tour in a knights castle. This is expensive but worth every penny in my opinion.
Posted by
61 posts

My wife and I took a Viking cruise on the Danube in August of 2019 as the end to our bucket list trip to Europe. We enjoyed it a great deal. Having our "hotel room" travel with us fit perfectly with our travel style so we were able to visit places we might never have an opportunity to have visited. In fact, our excursions to Vienna and Salzburg we're so enjoyable that they will (Covid and savings permitting) make up part of bucket list trip #2 in a few years time (Christmas 2025?).
As stated in a previous post, time in each place is limited and there isn't much time to explore on your own. That being said, the quality of the excursions are usually very good. There are almost always multiple excursion options at each site as well at an additional cost. That's fine but on top of the initial cost for the cruise, paying for more excursions and tipping, the overall price was steep for us as middle class folks splurging on a European trip.

The food and services were always top notch ( fond memories of Bastry who knew us by name after one day, remembered we don't drink, etc) as was our French balcony cabin (cozy but very comfortable). The floor to ceiling sliding balcony window made the room spacious and having our own personal window made for great views whether if the river bank sights passing by or watching the lock wall rise or drop just inches away.
We have looked at the Rhine cruise and have been tempted to do another but for us the cost is holding us back. Plus there are places on the Rhine we would really want more time to explore. To be honest the Viking cruise was probably the most indulgent, luxurious thing we have ever done. It's an experience we will never forget.

Posted by
35 posts

My first river cruise was on Viking doing the Rhine Getaway. I loved it from the minute I got on the boat until I left. We are doing a Viking Ocean trip (Greek Odessey next month. I have done some Ocean cruising of the Caribbean and Panama Canal and much larger ships. I quit as the ship even got larger. Viking Ocean only has 930 passengers. My kind of size. We will do another River Cruise on the Danube that includes the Oberammergau Passion Play with Viking. I am sold on this company and what they offer their passengers. Make sure you go on cruise critic and look at the reviews as well as get on the boards to read and ask questions.

Posted by
2186 posts

Although we haven’t done a river cruise in Europe yet, we have traveled with Scenic USA in Cambodia/Vietnam and Egypt/Jordan. The Cambodia/Vietnam trip was all inclusive and we only took out our wallet once on that trip. There was no tipping. The suites were gorgeous. The food was wonderful. It was probably one of the the best trips we have ever taken anywhere. Scenic does an excursion in the morning and one called “free choice” in the afternoon so you have a choice of two different excursions in the afternoon. It was hard to choose which to take. Your alcohol is included and unlimited except for very high end tipples and I don’t know what those would be anyway. On our Egypt/Jordan tours, the only time we paid out of pocket was for a few meals on land. We met and interacted with plenty of locals. Scenic is worth a look. Although there were a 100 passengers on the Cambodia cruise, we were broken up into small groups of 25 for the morning excursions and land transfers/excursions and sometimes only had a few on the afternoon ones so akin to RS touring only far more luxurious. As has been said, compare and contrast what you get for your money and read reviews.

Posted by
8944 posts

The real problem is that sometimes -- as this summer -- Europe is in drought and the water levels in the rivers are too low for the boats

Posted by
763 posts

Adding to Kim's post:

The recent droughts in Europe once again made visible the "Hunger Stones" in some Czech and German rivers. These stones were used to mark desperately low river levels that would forecast famines. This one, in the Elbe river, is from 1616 and says: "If you see me, cry"

or a longer piece:

Europe’s current drought is certainly historic. Scientists at the European Drought Observatory said that the drought is on track to be the worst one in 500 years, Sky News reported.
According to the drought observatory, 47% of Europe is in drought warning conditions, meaning the soil has a moisture deficit. Another 17% is on alert, meaning the vegetation in the area is being affected by the dry conditions.
Major rivers in Germany, Italy, and England – the Rhine, Po, and Thames, respectively – are drying out, DW reported. The outlet reported that rivers are “too dry, too low, and too warm,” which has consequences on wildlife, the economy and people.
Water levels in the Rhine River are about half of their usual depth for this time of the year, with some sections having even lower water levels, DW reported. This has made shipping on the river five times more expensive because cargo ships must carry less weight to make sure they do not run aground, Reuters reported.

Posted by
8664 posts

The levels in the Main are constant due to the locks, but the Rhein is extremely low. The barges are traveling with a fraction of their tonnage so that they can continue to float. The Main is taking more ships than normal too, to make up for the low tonnage. Yesterday, saw 64 barges come through the Griesheim lock (the neighborhoood where I live) Normally it is about 45 per day. As an example, one of the barges that normally would carry 2000 tons, only had 250 tons. The river cruises are all lined up on the Main too. We counted at least 8 ships last night as we came down the river. Mostly Viking, but Tui was there too as well as cruise ship from Malta which we had never seen before.