How to Book a "Grand Tour" European River Cruise

Emerald Destiny sails through the Iron Gates gorge, which forms a natural boundary between Serbia and Romania.

If clients seek a robust European river vacation and have the time and money to float along on a pampering river cruise for several weeks, one good option is a cruise itinerary between Amsterdam and one of the three “Bs” — Budapest, Bucharest and even beyond on pre- or post-stays in or around the Black Sea. It’s a “Grand Tour” of Europe plying the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers. “The longest itinerary of river cruising in Europe sails from Amsterdam to Bucharest in 25 days or so,” says Carol Howell, owner of the Carol Howell Agency, an independent agency in the Avoya Network, Dearborn, MI. “It’s a magnificent adventure where guests can visit 10 countries while sailing on the original highways of Europe – the rivers” as well as on the man-made Main Danube Canal.

She points out to clients that they have extensive excursion options in each city or village, that they can explore on their own on foot or by bike, that they can join one of the guided, escorted walking tours or immerse themselves in the daily lifestyle on a do-as-the-locals-do tour. In addition, while the itinerary will showcase iconic cities, including Amsterdam, Cologne, Vienna or Budapest, even experienced cruisers discover other destinations they didn’t know or haven’t visited. Concurring is Rick Amsden, owner of Luxury Vacations, Marietta, GA, who adds that “many countries visited are some of the most scenic parts of the continent.”

In 2020, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection sails a 25-day “Ultimate European Journey” itinerary between Amsterdam and Bucharest. River Duchess will take guests to such destinations as Regensburg, where guests can choose either a “2,000 Years in One Hour” Regensburg walking tour, the “From Hops to Beer Stein” farm visit or a BMW factory tour, watching high-tech robots assemble cars. In Vidin, cruisers can view natural rock formations in Belogradchik or perhaps head to a local resident’s home to bake a traditional Bulgarian banitsa. Avalon Waterways operates a 27-day “From the Black Sea to the North Sea” itinerary on June 2, 2020 and October 22, 2020. On one day, cruisers can join a full-day guided tour to the former Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tarnovo, famed for ancient stone houses clinging to the Yantra River cliffs and also see Bulgarian Revival architecture in 15th-century Arbanasi. Another highlight is scenic sailing through the Iron Gates gorge, which forms a natural boundary between Serbia and Romania. Another grand touring option is Scenic’s 23-day “North Sea to the Black Sea” itinerary from Amsterdam to Bucharest on April 20, 2020 and from Bucharest to Amsterdam on May 10, 2020. On the port day in Silistra, Bulgaria, guests can opt for an excursion to Varna on the Black Sea coast. That coastal city is also known for the 6,000-year-old “Gold of Varna,” Thracian jewelry discovered in a necropolis and displayed at Varna’s Archaeological Museum, also home to Greek, Roman and Ottoman antiquities.
Some lines forego Amsterdam and instead start their grand touring itinerary farther south in Germany before ending three weeks or so later in Bulgaria, Romania and the Black Sea region. Vantage Cruise Line offers a new “Grand European River Cruise” for 2020, including many German ports — Mainz, Cologne, Rüdesheim, Heidelberg, Wertheim and MarktheidenfeldWürzburgBamberg, Nuremberg, Regensburg and Passau — along with Vienna, Budapest and other destinations along the Lower Danube; twenty-seven guided tours are included. The itinerary ends in Bucharest, Romania, and guests can lengthen the experience with a four-day extension to Transylvania.

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Many lines combine itineraries to create a longer voyage. For example, Emerald Waterways’ 23-day “Rhine, Main and Danube” sailing between Amsterdam and Bucharest combines the “Splendors of Europe” (Amsterdam to Budapest) and “Enchantment of Eastern Europe” (Budapest to Bucharest) itineraries into one segment. At Kalosa, Hungary, cruisers can visit the countryside on an EmeraldPlus included tour and show at a traditional Pustza horse farm.

AmaWaterways offers 14-day “Magnificent Europe” (Amsterdam to Budapest) and 14-day “Grand Danube” (Nuremberg to Giurgiu, Romania) itineraries. It also has a seven-day “Gems of Southeast Europe” voyage (Vienna to Giurgiu) with an option for two nights pre-cruise in Vienna and three nights post-cruise in Istanbul, Turkey. Along the way, wine connoisseurs can enjoy vintages as the Romans did thousands of years ago in Ilok and active adventurers can hike to the UNESCO-designated Ivanovo Rock Hewn Churches.

Deluxe Balcony Suite on Riviera River Cruises’ 176-passenger Geoffrey Chaucer, which is set to launch in 2020 and sail a 15-day “Budapest to the Black Sea” itinerary

One tip for grand river cruising on the Rhine / Main / Danube? “This a wonderful itinerary to offer to ocean cruisers who want a unique river cruise experience longer than the traditional seven-day,” says Howell. So, cruisers seeking a luxury experience and to break out of the seven-day mold might start with a 14- to 16-day cruise, such as Crystal River Cruises’ 16-night itinerary between Amsterdam and Budapest on multiple dates in 2020. Or, Riviera River Cruise’ 15-day “Budapest to the Black Sea” itinerary sails roundtrip from Budapest on multiple dates and multiple ships in 2020; among those is the new 176-passenger Geoffrey Chaucer, launching in 2020. “It’s also a good choice for cruisers who are looking for new and unique travel experiences,” Howell says, adding that most river cruisers start with seven- to 13-day itineraries first, and “as they fall in love with river cruising, they then book the longer itineraries.”

Viking River Cruises offers a 23-day “European Sojourn” itinerary on multiple Viking Longships sailing between Amsterdam and Bucharest in 2020; many departures are offered. Guests can add a two-night, pre-cruise stay in Amsterdam or a three-night, postcruise stay in Bucharest & Transylvania. Destination-immersive shore excursions include: a home-hosted cooking demonstration in Vidin, Bulgaria and privileged Access to go behind the scenes at the Serbian Opera in Belgrade.

Howell suggests marketing these longer “Grand Europe” cruises to retirees with more time to travel and says a few good target groups would be college alumni associations and genealogy groups. “There is a lot of Jewish history in these beautiful cities and villages, so those interested in Jewish history would be another group,” she adds. For example, in Budapest, Crystal offers an included “Jewish Budapest” shore excursion, which includes a visit to the Dohány Street Synagogue and a guided walk through the old Jewish District. Another potential client marketing hook? It’s those interested in World War II history. But Howell stresses that for many cruisers, it’s simply about exploring new destinations, ones they haven’t visited on a past European river cruise, “particularly between Budapest and Bucharest.”

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