Romancing the Rivers in Europe

Couples love cruising through Europe on an intimate river vessel. They can stroll ashore to explore quaint towns and villages, savor epicurean and wine delights, and relax in pampering onboard cabins or suites, perfect for water views and soaking up the river ambiance.

Wine-Themed Cruises

For the 2021 European river cruise season, AmaWaterways plans more than 60 “Celebration of Wine River Cruises” through Europe as well as the return of several popular wine hosts — including wine experts, certified sommeliers and vineyard owners. 

For the first time, guests can join England’s leading wine producer, Chapel Down Vineyards in Kent on November 13, 2021 for a “Melodies of the Danube, Celebration of Wine” cruise. Chapel Down Vineyards in Kent, U.K., is a supplier to many prestigious venues including Harrods and Selfridges, as well as being an official wine supplier to No. 10 Downing Street.

Each wine host will bring hand-picked wines to serve during a special meal, tastings or seminars. Some are from the expert’s own winery, others sourced from wineries located along the river cruise itinerary. Two new AmaWaterways wine-themed itineraries also will showcase Normandy’s epicurean traditions and historic sites and take guests for the first time into France’s Burgundy region vineyards. 

AmaWaterways has many wine-themed itineraries to France in 2021. // Photo: happytrip/Getty Images

For those 2021 itineraries, guests can mix and mingle with these wine hosts: Dr. Douglas Garman, wine expert from Europa Village Winery, will sail on the July 8 “Impressions of the Seine & Paris” sailing, while Jason McClain, owner of McClain Winery, will host the August 5 departure of “Essence of Burgundy & Provence.” In addition, L. Paul Vezzetti II, co-owner of The Vineyard at Hersey, will accompany wine lovers on the “Essence of Burgundy & Provence” cruise departing August 12. 

Cruisers can meet and chat with Peter Marks, master of wine, on the “Essence of Burgundy & Provence” sailing on November 4. Other wine hosts include Jody Elsom, owner and winemaker, Elsom Cellars, on the November 4 “Impressions of the Seine & Paris” itinerary, and Kevin Gott, wine expert and educator for Wente Vineyards, on the November 11 “Essence of Burgundy & Provence” sailing.

Oberammergau in 2022

Couples can celebrate their Christian faith together by watching the historic Passion Play, an epic portrayal of the life of Jesus, in Oberammergau, Germany, in 2022 (the 2020 season was cancelled). Performed only one season per decade, the Passion Play is the world’s longest running play. A new option? Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has a new pre-cruise extension for Oberammergau enthusiasts.

“We’re ready to bounce back and bring our guests the experiences they deserve in 2022,” says Ellen Bettridge, Uniworld’s president and CEO. She says that “with last year’s Oberammergau being postponed, we’ve been working behind the scenes to ensure our pre-cruise extension offers our guests even more VIP access and inclusions than ever before.”

In 2022, Uniworld will offer the new, four-day Oberammergau extension on select sailings of S.S. Beatrice’s “Delightful Danube” itinerary, between May 25 and September 14, 2022. Guests booking this pre-cruise extension will experience a morning of leisure in Oberammergau, followed by the Passion Play. The package also includes a three-course dinner during the show, hotel transfer from Munich Airport, one-night stay in Munich, two-night stay in Oberammergau, premium reserved seating to the Passion Play, two dinners, transportation to and from the show and more. Rates start at $3,799 per person, double occupancy.

Emerald Cruises will offer six 10-day Passion Play river cruise departures between May and September 2022. They combine an eight-day sailing along the Danube, with a Passion Play extension package. Sailing on Emerald’s 180-passenger river ships through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany, couples will enjoy port calls in Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna plus small towns and villages. Shore options include everything from a guided bike tour in Austria to a hike to Bratislava castle in Slovakia.

The Passion Play portion of Emerald’s journey includes one day admission to the play, one-night stays in Munich and Oberammergau, a Munich tour, transfers to or from the airport and ship, and some meals. If booked by Mach 31, 2021, guests will receive $2,000 savings per couple or $295 discounted roundtrip airfare, making the starting fare $3,490 per person, double, for a category E stateroom. 

Couples visiting Bratislava can hike to the Bratislava Castle in Slovakia. // Photo: Kaycco/Getty Images

More River Options

Many couples sailing in Europe in the coming year or so will be coming from the ocean cruise side. A recent Riviera River Cruises study revealed that 34 percent of past ocean cruisers are considering sailing on rivers instead during 2021. If clients are seeking romantic itineraries, they’ll find plenty of couple’s bonding experiences on a European river cruise. 

Between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland on the Upper Rhine River, Crystal River Cruises sails many seven-day, luxurious “Romantic Rhine” voyages in summer 2021 and beyond. Couples can go museum hopping in Amsterdam explore Germany’s storybook village of Rudesheim, admire Cologne’s famed cathedral and see eco-beauty and castles along the dramatic Rhine Gorge. Shoreside in Strasbourg, France, couples who desire a flightseeing adventure should consider Crystal’s “Mannheim and Heidelberg by Helicopter” over the Neckar River Valley.

Offering a magical holiday experience is Scenic’s seven-night “Christmas Markets” cruise between Nuremberg, Germany and Budapest, Hungary. Travelers can head out to the markets to sample gingerbread cookies and hot mulled wine, plus peruse craft booths and lighted Christmas trees. Departing December 6, 2021, November 29, 2022, and December 6 and 13, 2022, the cruises will call at Regensburg and Nuremberg, Germany plus Vienna and Durnstein/Melk. Couples also have options for day trips to Salzburg, Austria or fairytale-like Ceský Krumlov in the Czech Republic

Younger travelers are discovering a new way to the Old World, with “Avalon Active & Discovery.” Avalon Waterways’ cruisers can take a culinary tour or painting class, dress up in Roman attire at a Roman Clothes Workshop or reenactment of the Roman Games, tour an extinct volcano and coal mine or ascend a mountain during a guided climb.

Couples, who prefer to slow things down can opt for a relaxing barge cruise, offered by European Waterways, French Country Waterways and CroisiEurope, among others. Roundtrip from Paris, CroisiEurope’s seven-day Loire Canal itinerary will sail to Nevers in Burgundy, the wine and gastronomic cities of Pouilly-sur-Loire and Sancerre, and Marseilles, among other French destinations.    

Couples on Emerald Cruises can opt for a guided bike tour in Austria. // Photo: Saro17/Getty Images

American Rivers 

America’s heartland rivers also await couples seeking a romantic vacation close to home. American Cruise LinesAmerican Melody is the line’s fourth new “Modern Series” river vessel, accommodating 175 guests in spacious staterooms and suites that range from 250 square feet to 650 square feet, all with private balconies. Targeted to sail the Mississippi River in 2021, American Melody will feature a four-story glass atrium and a new interior design concept by Studio DADO, a boutique Miami design firm. 

Debuting the rebuilt/stretched American Countess this year, American Queen Steamboat Company will introduce several new North American itineraries in 2022. Couples seeking scenic leaf peeping can opt for the 12-day or 13-day “Scenic Gorges in Autumn” sailing between Memphis and Chattanooga, TN, on October 17 and October 28. 

Starting in 2022, Viking will begin its inaugural season of Mississippi River sailings, including a 15-day “America’s Great River” itinerary between St. Paul, MN, and New Orleans. Pre- and post-cruise extensions are available for New Orleans, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Lafayette, LA

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