Europe River Cruises Beyond the Rhine

The Library and Internet Lounge onboard Mekong Pandaw ensures that the guests are well connected.
The Library and Internet Lounge onboard Mekong Pandaw ensures that the guests are well connected.

While the Rhine, Danube and Mosel continue to be top of mind with many travelers wishing to sail on European rivers, repeat river cruisers seek new options. River lines have responded with new itineraries, new vessels and port calls.

One example of this is Viking River Cruises’ newly created “Elegant Elbe” itinerary, which encompasses a lesser- known river. On this cruise tour, offered on multiple dates in 2017, guests can sail the Elbe past the sandstone cliffs of Saxon Switzerland, and spend two nights in Berlin; three nights in the vibrant Prague; three nights in Kraków (from where guests can join an excursion to Auschwitz, if they so choose); and two nights in Warsaw, home of the courageous Jewish Ghetto Uprising and a stunningly reconstructed Old Town. Starting prices for these summer voyages offered on several Viking ships range from $4,899 to $6,249 per person double.

The reality for many agents? “Many of our clients have sailed Budapest to Amsterdam and are now looking at BordeauxFrancePortoPortugal; and Cambodia and Vietnam,” says Mathy Wasserman, franchise owner, Cruise PlannersLos Angeles. In other words, clients wish to spread out. Citing France as popular with their river cruise clients are Rodney George, Cruise Planners franchise owner, NaplesFL, and Mary Head, Sunset Holdings (Avoya Network)Nashville.

Head also tells us her clients are now booking river cruises in Portugal and Spain. So, here’s a sampling of what’s new for 2017 in these river regions.

New in France

Next year, the 128-guest S.S. Joie de Vivre — Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s newest French super ship — will be launched and will sail the Seine River starting March 2017. The new ship will offer 54 staterooms, eight Junior Suites and two Royal Suites and will sail a “Paris & Normandy” itinerary, among others. Cruisers sailing on S.S. Joie de Vivre can expect Uniworld’s one-of-a-kind styling, French interior design, farm-to-table cuisine and local wines. In short, the ship will embody a Francophile’s love for food, wine, art and music. Built 410 feet in length, smaller than the typical 443 feet, the ship will dock in the heart of Paris, making it the first of Uniworld’s super ships to do so.

Uniworld also offers a new “Paris and Impressions of the Seine” cruise round-trip from Paris on the River Baroness. It’s heavily focused on art and architecture, and also has “active” options. Guests will visit the Museum of Fine Art in Rouen and the Orsay Museum in Paris, and also have an opportunity to walk the historic beaches of Normandy, visit medieval monasteries and tour Château de Bizy, often referred to as the “Versailles of Normandy.”

Scenic has introduced cycling itineraries for those guests who wish to spend their time in outdoor, onshore activities.
Scenic has introduced cycling itineraries for those guests who wish to spend their time in outdoor, onshore activities.

Increasingly, though, river cruising isn’t just for adults. Tauck has unveiled a new eight-day “Family Fun Along the Seine: Paris to Normandy” river cruise that begins with an included two-night hotel stay and guided sightseeing in Paris, plus a subsequent five-night cruise along the Seine on the newly reconfigured (this winter) Sapphire riverboat. The cruise includes a full-day excursion to Normandy’s D-Day Beaches and a guided excursion to artist Claude Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny.

On other days, families choose between more active options such as hiking to a medieval chateau, or bicycling to see gardens of Versailles and Marie Antoinette’s farm, or more relaxing activities; those might include a walking tour in quaint Les Andelys and touring the Palace of Versailles. For the coming year, Tauck is doubling family river cruise departures from 10 to 20. “Family Fun Along the Seine” fares begin at $4,290 per person, plus airfare.

Appealing to active, upscale clients, Scenic has launched its new Cycling & Culinary Wonders of Europe program; it’s detailed in a new 44-page online brochure at On an 11-day “Bordeaux Cycling Endeavor,” cyclists can pedal along the Bordeaux area’s Arcachon Bay; explore the Médoc and Sauternes regions, with local market tastings along the way; and set out for a full day of cycling within the Saint Émilion wine region with lunch and wine tasting. The line has recently been inducted into the La Connétablie de Guyenne, the third oldest vinous brotherhood in Bordeaux.

Departures for Scenic’s Bordeaux Cycling Endeavor are July 18 and August 7, 2017, and priced from $7,040 per person, double. Adding Champagne, the Loire Valley and a Madrid extension creates a 19-day cruise and tour with fares from $8,199.

In the Bordeaux region, cruisers love to head out for wine and cognac tasting and views of quaint villages and magnificent chateaux. Bordeaux also has a major new wine museum, Cité du Vin, with sleek tasting rooms and interactive maps with the latest technology. Fresh from its first season on the Garonne and Dordogne RiversAmaWaterways plans to continue its seven-night “Taste of Bordeaux” sailings next year and has expanded its wine-themed sailings throughout Europe; eight are planned for the Bordeaux area.

Sailing on AmaDolce, cruisers will explore Cadillac’s Roquetaillade Castle, enjoy a Grand Cru Classé wine tasting in Pauillac and tour Château de Montaigne in Libourne. Optional pre- and/or post-cruise land extensions are available with Paris city tours and Loire Valley chateau visits and wine tastings.

On France’s Saone and Rhone rivers, Emerald Waterways is debuting the 138-passenger Emerald Liberté in April, the first time the line will sail its own ships on those southern French rivers between Arles and Lyon. While smaller in size than the other so-called “Star-Ships” in Emerald’s fleet, it will offer all the same amenities, including the swimming pool and cinema. An enhanced itinerary includes Emerald Active programs and a special Provencal dinner prepared by Fabien Morreale, a former “Top Chef” contestant. Guests also can book optional extensions to Paris and Nice.

New in Portugal

Many lines sail on the Douro River, and for 2017, Emerald Waterways will debut on this river with the new 112-passenger Emerald Radiance, launching in spring. A new cabin category for Emerald? Located on the Horizon Deck, the Riverview Suites feature 330 square feet of space, drop-down windows and a separate bedroom and living area. With a deluxe walk-in wardrobe, larger bathroom and complimentary minibar, River Suites also offer all amenities found in Owner’s Suites.

In partnership with Backroads, AmaWaterways also has expanded its 2017 line-up of active river cruise departures. The goal is to bring active adventure biking, walking and hiking tours to the world’s river cruise destinations. Included in the 2017 line-up is an all-new walking tour on the Douro.

Elsewhere in Europe

In an entirely different type of offering for the industry, CroisiEurope plans to offer a new 10-day journey between Central Europe and the Balkans, starting in 2017. This itinerary along the Danube and Sava Rivers encompasses destinations in HungarySerbiaBosnia, and Croatia.

Guests will tour the cities of Belgrade and Zagreb, visit the Lonjsko Polje and Kopacki Rit Nature Parks, and view the Orthodox monastery of Krusedol and Sremski Karlovci and more. Guests also have the option of booking a one-night extension to visit Varazdin, a Baroque town, as well as Lake Balaton and a tour of Tihany before returning to Budapest. This new itinerary will depart on May 14 with prices starting at $2,826 per person, double, including the one-night extension.

Vietnam and Cambodia

Between July and March 2017, Pandaw’s “Classic Mekong” river expedition between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap will now go even farther up the Mekong and there’s a new “nature hook” to entice clients. Mekong Pandaw’s revised itinerary includes a rare opportunity to observe endangered Mekong dolphins.

The ship will call at the former French colonial river port of Kratie and guests will travel by local transport into the dolphin habitat.

Since the Mekong Pandaw has a low draft, it can sail 60 miles farther into the interior of Cambodia than normal cruise itineraries. That “allows us to take Pandaw passengers into a completely new territory, which for navigational reason was hitherto off-limits to river cruise operators,” according to Paul Strachan, Pandaw’s founder. “I see it as one of Pandaw’s most exciting innovations in our 21 years of plying the rivers of Southeast Asia.”

Uniworld’s S.S. Joie de Vivre will be launched early next year and, starting in March, will sail France’s Seine River.
Uniworld’s S.S. Joie de Vivre will be launched early next year and, starting in March, will sail France’s Seine River.

Guests start in Ho Chi Minh City; embark in My Tho; take a sampan excursion at Sa Dec; visit a Cham tribal village and catfish farm at Chau Doc; spend a day in Phnom Penh with visits to the Royal Palace and National Museum; venture up the Tonle River to a silver-making village; cruise to Kratie; observe the Mekong dolphins in a national park; and transfer from Kampong Cham to Siem Reap. The seven-night itinerary also operates in reverse. Prices begin at $1,755 per person double for Main Deck accommodations.

The Mekong dolphins can also be observed on Pandaw’s three- or four-night short cruises operating from July to March between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh (or the reverse); those prices begin at $792 per person double.

Abercrombie & Kent operates a “Cruising the Mekong: Siam, Saigon & Angkor Wat” experience for 2017; it includes a luxury cruise serving just 24 guests on an exclusive charter of the Mekong Princess. Among the highlights, guests will explore Angkor Wat at sunset. Fares start at $7,245 per person double.

Active Danube

For young-at-heart Baby Boomers seeking an active vacation, or perhaps first-timers seeking something a bit different with a Danube River sailing, Avalon Waterways is introducing an “Active Discovery on the Danube” sailing in 2017. Expect immersive excursions plus soft adventure. Guests might play a round of golf in Budapest, hike through vineyards, paddle a canoe down the Danube, bike from Spitz to Krems in Austria, or even climb a mountain with a guide.

In Mauthausen, active cruisers can take a guided bike tour to an ancient Roman border defense fort dating back to the 2nd century AD and visit the museum dedicated to the site. Some options are guided, others independent. Avalon Waterways will carry bicycles onboard for guest use. Departures of this nine-day itinerary on Avalon Luminary are set for July through October between Budapest, Hungary and Linz, Austria.

What will cruisers see along the Danube? Crystal River Cruises, which just launched Crystal Mozart on the Danube, has now added “live video” web cams to the vessel, as it has on its two ocean ships. So guests unfamiliar with the route and ports can follow along on the voyage virtually and discern which itineraries are right for them.