I have looked with interest at taking a European river cruise. I have in particular been looking at the Viking cruise company. I would appreciate it if anyone would share thoughts, experiences regarding this type of travel (any of the companies out there not just Viking). Are the accommodations on the boat comfortable, is there time enough to enjoy the stated itineraries, in general how large are the tour groups on the excursions when docked in a city, what are the tour guides on these excursions like? I would like to hear about specific tours as well as comments about the companies in general. Thank you for any experience/advice you are able to share.
There is a thread below titled "confessions of a first time cruiser", you might be interested to read. I'm interested in others responses, too.
Okay. I will add my insights.
We have been planning our vacations for 38 years, from 2 week trips to 6 week excursions, on our own through the love of research and reading.
Although we prefer this style of travel, we also have taken ocean cruises - you don't have to plan how to reach countries and you unpack once. Sometimes, that is fun after a vacation where I spent a long time researching the logistics of a trip - someone else gets me to a country and then we can just explore ! We have peppered our vacations with cruises over the years for these reasons.
So, when a friend asked us to join them on a river cruise, we were up for any adventure.
We took our first river cruise on AMA from Budapest to Belgrade last summer - here are some thoughts-
--AMA boats are new and have a lovely top deck for viewing, the food was delightful, and with 150 people, we felt very well cared for by the staff
--We chose them because they have bicycles on board - and we rode them !
--We also chose the excursions which were experiential based - we learned to bake banitsas in Belgrade, for example, in a woman's home
--We selected this cruise because we had not been to Serbia, Romania, or Bulgaria - this was a great way to experience these countries in a completely different style
--Riding in a bus to take a tour, however, is not our usual preferred means of visiting a location.
--With a river boat, you have fewer activities - this can feel slow to people !
I'm hesitant to even reply because I'm not a cruiser, but I have many friends who are happy with a "snapshot" view of Europe and have enjoyed their Viking cruises. Friends who traveled on Viking's Budapest to Nuremberg cruise last October had a different experience. Because the water level of the Danube was so low, they had a very expensive bus tour of the Danube. In hindsight, if they had done more internet research, it was apparent Viking had had major problems all summer because of the low water levels. Viking offered to let them reschedule, but waited to call them until the day before they were departing the US.
My point, if I were investing that much money in a river cruise, I would first be googling the experiences of others who had done that same cruise, and not necessarily only the reviews posted by the cruise line.
I posted this a while back . . .
We LOVE Tauck. Viking is the biggest & most advertised - and you are on a RiverCruise in Europe, so you really can't go wrong. Do your research & know the differences, but go with what works for your budget & schedule. Just be sure you are comparing apples to apples when you start knowing what is and isn't included.
Tauck is a family run company here in the USA who have been doing tours since the 1920s . We have been on many of their USA tours & they are truly wonderful. When we began researching RiverCruises in 2013, Tauck was definitely high on our list, but we still wanted to explore ALL the options. We went to AAA & they recommended Tauck, Avalon, or Uniworld to us. Because of our past experience with them, we chose Tauck. They've won the BEST RIVER CRUISE LINE from TRAVEL & LEISURE for several years now.
Tauck is also TOTALLY ALL INCLUSIVE. No extra expenses or hidden fees - all tips, port fees, taxes, excursions, food (regional), wine(regional), is included in the price. There are extra excursions/fees/etc that are available on some of the other river cruise lines, so just be sure you know that. Know what is & is not included in the price. They are not cheap, but SO worth it & we spoke with others who were doing 'back to back' river cruises using multiple cruise lines & they said by the time you added in the extras (excursions, tips, etc, that TAUCK was no more expensive). We chose a CHRISTMAS MARKET RIVER CRUISE on the Danube because the prices are SO much better in December & how can you go wrong seeing the Markets!!??
The whole experience was top notch & we are saving to do the Christmas Market Rhine Cruise for Dec2016. The ship was beautiful, the staff went above & beyond. We chose the cheapest room category (we wanted to spend money on other things & the room isn't that important to us), but it was VERY nice w/a great bed (amazing linens) & bathroom w/large shower (tile & granite). The food was fantastic. Breakfasts were both buffet & 'cook' stations w/every imaginable food, plus all the regional specialties & great coffees. You could go back to the boat for lunch, but we chose to eat in the towns. Dinners were 5course, order from a menu with 3-5 selections for each course - always the region favorites, but you could aways get steak, chicken, salads, etc - & unlimited red & white wines from the area we visited that day. The time spent in the ports was done very well. Along w/the Tauck staff - they hired "local guides" to guide us, show us the highlights, teach us the history, take us into the churches, abbeys, etc. We spent the mornings with the guides & then at lunch, the guided tour was over & we had time on our own to explore the town, Christmas Markets, etc. Shuttles were provided every 30min back to the boat for those who wanted to return to the boat.
We were given 'surprises' everyday either in transport to the city, or left on our bed during dinner/bed turndown . . . Gingerbread from Nurmburg, Salt from Salzburg, Chocolate Apricots from Melk, etc - & a wonderful book about the European Christmas Markets. We can't speak highly enough about our experience with Tauck. The Tauck staff, local guides, boat staff were all amazing & took great care of us.
I second the recommendation for AmaWaterways. We have been on two river cruises with them and they are first rate. Our first was on the Danube starting at Budapest and ending in Prague. (We were bussed to Prague) The second on the Rhone from Arles to Lyon.
In most cases we cruised at night, so you have a full day in port. The excursions are all included and wine and beer are included for lunch and dinner, so there is minimal additional expense. The tour groups were small, and were divided between active travelers and those that needed more time. The tour guides were very good, the food outstanding, the fellow passengers a delight.
I suggest that you look at reviews on the boards on Cruise Critic. There is also a section that helps you select the line and answers questions as to whether river cruising is right for you.
I have taken three river cruises with Grand Circle Travel and enjoyed them all. Vienna - Amsterdam in 2007, Budapest - Black Sea in 2008, and Rhine-Mosel in 2012. I was with my mother who is in her 80s so the slightly slower pace worked well for us. Great food, excellent program directors and crew, and very nice cabins. We did some of the additional excursions and at other times chose to stay on the boat or wander on our own. It's really nice to move through the landscape without all that packing and unpacking! GCT cruises usually have about 130 passengers, which was a good size; we generally found several simpatico people to dine with. One thing I really liked about the cabin is that the twin beds get made up as sofas during the day, so you have a place to sit.
Local guides were also generally very good, and there was time to enjoy the itinerary. Our favorite was probably theRhine-Mosel cruise - we loved the more intimate scale of the Mosel and also loved Antwerp. GCT is not as luxurious as some of the other lines like Viking. On the trips we have done, all passengers are American - not necessarily a plus in my view, but a fact. Good luck with your decision!
We did a Viking cruise on the Rhone 6 years ago. There were pluses and minuses. Unpacking once was a big plus and the size of the room was a pleasant surprise. Our boat only had French balconies, but we didn't spend that much time in the room. Tour groups were broken into 25 per guide with decent headsets. We were bused to Beaune, the Valrhona chocolate factory and the Chateauneuf du Pape wine tour. The tour guides were generally quite good with one stinker. Food was well above average and they were happy to accommodate guests that didn't care for the dinner options. Too much food for me- it's hard to resist not eating every meal and there were lots of choices. Six years ago the WI-Fi was poor, but I am guessing they have upgraded since then.
We traveled as a group of six and there didn't seem to be much mingling of guests, although people seemed friendly. It was surprising how many people never got off the boat. If and when we do it again, I will be more open to getting to know our stops and not being so tied to the Viking itineraries. People who have done this before seemed to plan some things on their own. We would also take advantage of all offered optional tours- that's where you seem to get the really good stuff.
As a RS traveller, I really appreciate not tipping people - that was kind of a negative for me. I also prefer more exercise, but I feel like now I know how to get that on my own.
I agree with the opinion of Ama. I have only been on one river cruise with them. It was a wonderful cruise.
chale - I did the same Danube trip you did but reversed (in Nov 2015, for the Christmas markets). It was fanastic and I am doing the Rhone that you did in June 2017.
Anyway... Ama was great.
Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Your responses have given me a lot of food for thought and a starting place to evaluate the options in river cruising.
We have been on two Viking river cruises and one AMAWaterways. AMA was far superior to Viking as far as the boat, cabin, food and included amenities. We would go with AMA or Uniworld if river cruising again.
Any Viking Cruise that ends or begins in Budapest will be at very, very enjoyable at the beginning or at the end.
I'll chime in -- We did Viking in China - 10 days on the Yangtze, plus time in Shanghai, Xian & Bejing. Overall, Viking was very organized and we had a nice experience with them. This was in 2012. We just did Amsterdam-Budapest in Sep 2016. This time we went with Tauck. I can only compare Tauck in Europe with Viking in China, but let me just say that Tauck is our favorite, hands down. They were also very organized, but the groups were smaller, the ships had fewer cabins, but were the same size as Viking (in Europe). The food was excellent. We talked with a number of people on Viking and AMA doing the same itinerary we were, and they were amazed at the positive difference between Tauck and Viking or AMA. We will definitely do another Tauck river cruise. Highly recommend them.
This thread has been out there for a while, but since it just popped up again I thought I would chime in. My wife and I took a river cruise from Budapest to Nuremburg in 2014 on Avalon Waterways. It was very enjoyable, though on the expensive side at around $5K for seven nights on the boat. We have mostly traveled independently in Europe using Rick Steves guides, though we have taken a couple of ocean cruises too: 1999 from Lisbon to Venice on our honeymoon and 2011 round trip Athens, both on Holland America. My experience with the river cruise was that (like an ocean cruise) it's very nice not having to pack and unpack, and (unlike and ocean cruise) the shore is not far away so that while the ship is in motion you can really enjoy the scenery. The boats generally dock right in the center of town, not like an ocean cruise where you may be some distance from town. It mostly moves in the evenings though, and stops at a lot of ports that wouldn't make sense to stay in for multiple nights. So it's nice to be able to visit for a day or so, places you might not otherwise get to (Passau, Regensburg). Most of the shore excursions were included. Overall it was a pretty affluent crowd on the boat, as you might expect from the price tag. It was a real luxury experience on many levels. The staff and the standard of service were outstanding. I would not do a river cruise every time, but I would do it again some day.
Interesting thread. A river cruise is on my bucket list so its good to know other's experiences.
I did my first river cruise this summer. We were a group of 6 people and we selected Avalon waterways Danube cruise from Budapest to Nuremberg. Our travel dates were June 17 - June 24th and we were on the Passion. This was a brand new boat. I think we were either the 3rd or 4th cruise since the vessel was commissioned. The best was the room layout. Avalon now touts their bed facing the windows. So when laying down on the bed you can view the sights as you travel past. The crew and service were fantastic. Our cruise did not make it to our final port as the water level in the Danube prevented out vessel from entering the canal which connects the Danube Nuremberg. Avalon did a great job in working through the high water issue, refunding excursions and adding additional item for free. The food was good and the nightly entertainment was great!. We loved the wine tasting one night, Beer tasting on another. The tours we all good but like most tours they matched the speed of the slowest members of the group. While they did try to organize the groups via from slow walkers to fast walkers we never found a group that could match the pace we wanted (we are fast walkers). I would highly recommend Avalon if you want a step up from Viking. Smaller ship than most Viking vessels. There are so many choice to choose from I wish you luck in making your choice and good luck.
Mark raises an issue that I forgot to mention--if water levels are too high or low, you could end up with an expensive bus tour and/or have to change boats. This is a major drawback that people on our boat had experienced on past trips, but thankfully utterly did not affect us. Some routes may be more prone to this than others--it's worth researching. I know on our boat they had to scrunch down the bridge compartment a couple of times--the boats are built to handle low bridges.
There are some very valid points to ponder and research. Thanks for all the input.
Just make sure you plan to spend a few extra days at each end. I see too many who arrive in town, get on the boat, get their one mandatory guided tour and end up not seeing the origination and destination cities at all. In particular I am thinking of Budapest.
Definitely spend a few days in Budapest if that's where you are starting or ending. It's a great, vastly underrated city.
I whole heartedly agree that Budapest is a city that deserves time and exploration! It's beautiful, steeped with history, wonderful architecture, and don't forget to spend time at the thermal baths.
We enjoyed a river cruise with Evergreen, Scenic's budget option from Budapest to Amsterdam. Be aware of drawbacks with the Danube section:-
1. There are 70 locks. If you are a light sleeper you will be awoken in the middle of the night when the boat bumps against the side of the narrow lock.
2. The number of low bridges on the Danube precluded the use of the top sundeck for most of the Danube.
I would suggest buses for the Danube section. The Rhine and Main rivers have few locks and few low bridges so are best for river cruising. Th Rhine Gorge in particular and its myriad castles is a must do!
One more consideration...if you are traveling with a group, a river cruise can be a GREAT choice. We traveled twice with a family group of 12, once on the Rhine and once on the Danube. I personally prefer independent travel, but river cruising was perfect for a group this size. We ranged in ages from 20's to 80's and everyone, every day, found food/excursions/independent activities to enjoy! Having the same bed each night was a plus. The food was delicious, and very easy for travelers with food restrictions. Best of all, no one in the group had to be "tour director"--everyone could travel with as much independence (or not) as he/she felt comfort with. Great experiences and memories!
I've taken four river cruises on Viking now. They are a very good organization. You should certainly look around, as there are many choices these days. However, Viking is a good choice. The pluses and minuses of river cruises in general have been debated a lot in this forum, and if you scroll through it, you will find many posts (some by me). I'm at the point where I think I've outgrown cruises, but I've never had any trouble with Viking.
Thanks for all the insights!
I am a solo traveler and did the AMA "European Castles" trip from Nuremberg to Luxembourg a year and a half ago. It was outstanding. I am a compulsive planner; I think planning a trip is at least half of the fun! I decided to spend a week in Frankfurt, Regensburg and Munich before joining the ship in Nuremberg. By that time I was ready to unpack and let them show me the way. That plan gave me the best of both worlds: planning cities, sights, and train travel, and the "follow the leader" ease of sailing from town to town. I thought the group tours were small (25ish) and well done. There were several guides in each city so groups were small. I liked all but one (in Cochem, she was a grouch) and the free time was plenty considering I had already been traveling for over a week.
My cabin was extremely comfortable and tasteful (unlike Uniworld which I think would give me a headache. Visiting Versailles is one thing, living in it for a week...) and the bathroom was compact but elegant and well appointed. Definitely make sure you have a balcony. The peace and quiet of my own room with a view was heavenly, not that the public spaces were noisy or overwhelming; I just like my solitude.
The AMALyra was spotless. Coming back to the ship from tours the staff were literally washing the outside of the ship and the walls in the hallways. Staff knew my name within a day along with what I typically had for breakfast. As a solo traveler they took great pains to welcome and involve me including drinks with the cruise director and dinner with the captain.
A couple land tours required a bus to get to town Wurzburg, Bamberg... but others were right where you wanted to be. And you don't have to take any tour you don't want to take... you can do what you want but, of course, need to be back on board before they set sail again.
I chose AMA over the other company I was considering (Tauck) simply because they had the itinerary I wanted when I wanted to go (late October). Now that I've sailed AMA, unless there is a conflict with itinerary, I am going to be loyal to them; no reason not to be, they were that good. And I'm taking one of their river market cruises this year with my daughter...can't wait!!!
One thing to keep in mind...we had one day on the Rhine where we sailed in daylight but it was early November and the sun set early so the commentary the cruise director was giving of the ruins on the cliffs was cut short once we couldn't see any longer. The fall colors were still beautiful, especially the vineyards on the riverbanks, so I don't think I'd change a thing.
My wife and I returned last week from a Avalon Waterways Budapest to Prague river cruise called Danube Discovery. A wonderful experience ! We paid $3100 each including airfare from Portland, Oregon for the 14 day adventure - 2 days were spent arriving or returning. We spent an additional $800 on extra tours or events promoted by Avalon. Well worth it.
However, on our final morning prior to departure to the Prague airport, while having breakfast at the Prague Hilton, we sat with a couple who were on a similar Danube cruise with Viking. Eager to compare notes, we discovered nearly identical itineraries and enthusiasm between us.
Upon our return, I spoke with a travel agent at our local Auto Club office and discovered she had recently floated up the Danube from Budapest to Prague with AMA Waterways. Another satisfied customer. It seems river cruising in Europe is well served by at least these three companies - and many glowing reports can be found, here, supporting others.
Prices will be a factor - shop around.
However somehow, I feel a little discomfort with this topic on Rick's site; suspecting European River Cruising is not his idea of properly experiencing Europe.
I see this thread has been revived. I noticed there was a link to my "Confessions" post and I followed the link to remember what I had written. I found my comments well tempered. I'd like to add a little more information.
Since we took the cruise, we have been bombarded by Viking. They are VERY aggressive with mailings and even phone calls. It's gotten to the point that when a PBS program starts with "Viking is a proud sponsor of..." I get a little annoyed.
The mention of other cruise lines reminded me of how many cruise boats we saw on the Rhine. There were several times we were tied up with a Viking sister ship at one of the stops. We either walked through their boat to get ashore or they walked through ours. This also meant that for the duration, half of each ship's passengers were 18 inches from the passengers of the other boat. It did not make for a scenic vista.
Also, the good news of cruising is that you unpack once. The bad news is if there are drunken jerks (or sober jerks) on your boat, you'll be sharing the week with them. There's not much room to get away with them. We had one guest challenge another to a fist fight.
I recently watched an old 60 minutes feature on Rick Steves. The show was partly about his success and partly about his travel philosophy. It reminded me of how much of that philosophy my wife and I share and how little of that philosophy can be found in European river cruising.
You are here on the Rick Steves forum instead of other travel forums for a reason. If you adhere to only a small part of Rick's philosophy, you might find other methods of seeing Europe (including a RS tour) much more to your liking.
I really appreciate that I am able to get opinions as well as information on this forum. It is so helpful to hear from other travelers that have actually experienced things that I am considering. We have considered a river cruise as an alternative mode of travel mainly because we have never done it and also because it seems like it would be a relaxing time. My thoughts about a river cruise is pretty much what Christine and Blue439 described. Some of my concerns, as well as others that I had not considered, were addressed by DougMac. One of my concerns is that the on land excursions would be quite large groups that made the tour less than desirable. I guess it comes down to whether enjoying the cruise with its views or the on land tours is more important. That will take a bit more thought. You are right DouMac in assuming that I am of the RS philosophy when it comes to travel and getting up close and personal with a locale and its people (but not necessarily fellow travelers in a confined situation). Maybe it isn't the time for a river cruise.
Has anyone ever done a river cruise with Riviera Travel? If so, please provide your thoughts. Thanks.
Two more thoughts. Seven months before we took the river cruise we went to Tuscany. We spent all but one night in an agriturismo just outside of Greve. The last night we spent at the Hilton at FCO. Our cost for the trip, excluding airfare, was roughly $250 per day. That includes lodging, meals 3 Walks of Italy tours, the rental car and incidentals.
The cost of the river cruise, excluding airfare, was roughly $950 a day. That included two extra days in Amsterdam, one extra excursion on the trip. It did not include an extra drink package. In other words, we could have spent four weeks in Italy for what one week of river cruising cost.
My wife and I have lost 30 pounds each since January by watching portion size and the kind of food we eat. A significant percentage of what you pay for on a cruise is the food. They serve three meals a day. The meals they serve aren't exactly diet friendly. Yes, you can push back from the table and they'll even try to accommodate any dietary restrictions you might have, but since I am of Scots descent, the thought of paying for food I don't eat irks me. We ate much more carefully in Italy. We had a hearty breakfast, then a very light lunch consisting of a salad or fruit and cheese or yogurt for lunch. We'd then have a moderate dinner, steering away from bread and pasta. We rarely spent more than 40 euros a day on food.
In last Christmas, me and my friends plan to celebrate this festival eve on the river cruise, I'm also so excited to visit my first cruise trip.
From Oct mid the cold plan suddenly back in action, branded clothes, set of wines and gifts, expensive perfumes and cosmetics was arranged. Only cruise was not booking till that time. Generally Cruises will booked before 2 months in festive seasons otherwise it's very difficult to bear the cost at last moment.
We were already late, one of my friend belongs to Irving, TX, he said to me,"Don't worry shannon, i will manage it." There are a newly launched Travel agency BookOtrip provides best deal on cruise.
Now the day passes one by one and we were come closer to our dream vacation.....3 days before i had got a major accident and loose my leg and dream as well as.
In this time, I stay in London for 3 month and wants to live my dream cruise vacations.....but how.......I don't know.