Top Europe River Cruises for Honeymooners

Newlyweds who want a “honeymoon suite” will find elegant, spacious accommodations aboard today’s river boats. Pictured here is a Panorama Suite on Avalon Waterways’ Artistry II.
Newlyweds who want a “honeymoon suite” will find elegant, spacious accommodations aboard today’s river boats. Pictured here is a Panorama Suite on Avalon Waterways’ Artistry II.

When it’s time for a special romantic getaway — perhaps a marriage proposal or a honeymoon — European river cruising may be a good fit. Times have changed, says Sabine Harris, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Tampa, FL, “It’s not just for the older generation anymore.”

Candie Steinman, a CruiseOne franchise owner in Fort Myers, FL, says one of her male friends recently booked a Rhine cruise, took his girlfriend to a castle, arranged entry to a special room, and “in the midst of all of the beauty in the castle, he got down on one knee and proposed to her. She was thrilled.”

Sandy Anderson, president/owner, Travel Leaders, Coon Rapids, MN, offers a first-hand newlywed perspective: “I actually spent my honeymoon this past October on a Viking river cruise in the south of France. I have always thought this was a great option for honeymooners.”

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We asked Harris, Anderson, Steinman and many others about their top recommendations for a European river honeymoon cruise. Here’s a snapshot of responses.

Allure of French Rivers

Overwhelmingly, French rivers — the Seine in Paris; the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde in the Bordeaux region; and the Rhone/Saone between Lyon and Avignon — were most recommended for honeymooners in their 30s to 50s by the collective agent group. Some also felt strongly that France appeals to all ages of honeymooners.

Liane Lance, owner of Cruise Holidays/Picture This Travel, in Kansas City, MO, recommends the Seine for younger newlyweds, because they can spend time together exploring the city of light, “and what city is more romantic than Paris?” Lance also recommends they stay an extra three to four nights not only for Paris, but to see such romantic spots as Versailles, Giverny and the Loire Valley.

On the Seine, one new ship this year is Amadeus Cruises’ Amadeus Diamond with 33 departures. Seine cruises also tend to be fairly affordable, which “honeymooners would likely appreciate after paying for a wedding,” Lance says. For those with limited time, CroisiEurope operates short Bordeaux-area cruises that combine a taste of the region with a Paris stay.

Angela Hendricks, franchise owner, Travel Leaders, Oklahoma City, OK, has sailed on four Viking River Cruises’ itineraries. “My recommendation for a young couple would be any of the rivers in France,” Hendricks says, noting that with a Rhone/Saone itinerary it’s possible to also visit Paris and perhaps add Nice at the end.

Hendricks notes that the “beautiful vineyards, wine and cheese tastings, and the history of the French countryside would make for a very romantic trip.” Anderson says “the beautiful villages hold so much history,” and older honeymooners, in particular, may be interested in the Paris and Normandy cruise.

For art lovers, AmaWaterways’ new seven-night “Art Illumination Cruise” on AmaLegro sails through France’s Normandy region on August 13. Cruisers can take painting classes and visit Monet’s house and garden in Giverny and Van Gogh’s Auvers-sur-Oise home.

Harris says Bordeaux cruising is often a bit less busy than that of the Rhine or Danube. “St. Emilion is very charming; in the summer time, it’s full of blooming flowers and the wine country is perfect for photo ‘ops,’” Harris notes. She suggests honeymooners stroll in Cadillac, a quaint off-the-beaten-path town with a little fortress, and explore Pauillac in the Medoc wine country region with chateaux and wineries everywhere.

For younger honeymooners, Maria Saenz, Montrose (CA) Travel, suggests a Burgundy to Provence itinerary, or a Bordeaux roundtrip, perhaps with a Paris add-on. “A Loire Valley castle day would be an excellent fit as well,” she says.

Starting in August, Scenic Cruises will offer a new 12-day Bordeaux area cruise including a luxury Paris overnight stay, TGV train ride to Bordeaux and Scenic Diamond cruise. Excursions include Cadillac, St. Emilion, Libourne, Medoc and Arcachon.

Michelle Weller, vice president, Travel Leaders, Houston, recently returned from a Viking “Portraits of Southern France” cruise on the Rhone River. “I was surprised at how romantic and relaxing it was,” says Weller. “I know most people consider river cruising for older clientele, but I think this would be great for honeymooners.”

In 2015 and 2016, Viking offers that week-long southern France itinerary to Burgundy and Provence on many vessels including Viking Heimdal and Viking Buri. To paint the picture for clients, Weller talks about wine tastings, biking through Lyon’s old town, chocolate tastings in Les Hermitage, small Avignon cafés with excellent French pastries and the smell of lavender.

Weller’s favorite excursion was visiting the ruins of Les-Baux-de-Provence, noting that clients might have coffee or a drink overlooking the hills, take postcard-perfect photos, view historical ruins and soak in tales of medieval knights. “It’s a very picturesque town with beautiful shops selling soaps, cooking oils, textiles, candy, pastries, and lavender scent pervasive throughout.”

A recent Zicasso luxury travel survey found that 40 percent of its travel specialists are seeing more requests for cooking classes, top restaurant bookings or winery tours. A-Rosa Cruises offers a special Lyon shore excursion that’s a culinary outing at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant.

For honeymooners with extra time, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s 15-day options include the new “Grand France” departures from Paris to Avignon. Cruisers can stroll Monet’s Giverny garden, kayak under the Pont du Gard, enjoy a baroque recital in a 12th-century cathedral and visit Les Halles, Lyon’s food market.

On Uniworld, “no request is too large, no detail too small,” believes Theresa Reinagel, Cruise Holidays, Williamsburg, VA, who explains how to enhance the romance angle. “There are ways of making it more romantic — such as getting a larger stateroom/suite and doing some different things behind closed doors, such as a couples massage or rose petals on the bed.” Or, hire a private guide one day for the couple.

Appeal of the Danube

“For romance river cruise travel, I typically recommend the Danube River because it takes guests through very beautiful and picturesque areas of Europe, such as the Wachau Valley in Austria,” says David Walsh, owner of CWCruises, an independent agency of Avoya Travel, Bradenton, FL. “When someone thinks of romance in Europe, they think of the waltz, and the Danube embodies that traditional romance many travelers picture from the storybooks we read as kids.”

Agent Sue Richards, Travel Leaders, Tyler, TX, says Buda and Pest, opposite each other, are stunning when the castle, parliament and cathedral are lighted at night, even more memorable on a winter evening. “On a December cruise, most of the passengers were on top deck listening to classical music, sipping a warm drink and basking in the beauty of the city,” Richards notes.

Several agents recommend their clients spend a few extra days in Budapest on a pre- or post-cruise stay. “It has lovely spas and one of the most magnificent opera houses in Europe,” Richards adds. Saenz always suggests a pre- or post-package for such Old Europe places as Prague and Budapest.

The cities in this area are built right along the rivers so there aren’t many bus rides needed to see the main sights, notes Hendricks. She also says there’s a choice of shore excursion walking tours — some “geared to a more leisurely pace, encountering no steps or steep inclines.” Yet, for active travelers, some lines, including Tauck, also carry bicycles onboard. Tauck’s newest riverboat, the Jewel-class Esprit, will sail the Rhine, Danube and Moselle rivers this year.

Arvid Olson, franchise owner, Travel Leaders, Palm Coast and Jacksonville, FL, likes the Danube for a younger honeymooning couple (30s to 50s). “I would recommend seven-night Upper Danube from Passau or Linz to Budapest,” he says. “This area of the river has many castles and religious structures along it.”

It’s also home to the UNESCO World Heritage Wachau Valley, with Melk’s Benedictine Abbey and quaint Durnstein. Olson suggests clients might attend a Viennese concert or see the Pusta horse exhibition outside Budapest.

Lure of the Rhine

The Rhine and Danube are a good fit for first-time river cruisers or young honeymooners, according to Reinagel. One new option? For 2015, Emerald Waterways offers an eight-day “Jewels of the Rhine” itinerary from Amsterdam to Basel on the Rhine and Moselle. Many Rhine voyages offer scenic cruising with castles along the way, and stops are brimming with cultural/historical sites. Reinagel recommends an Amsterdam pre- or post-cruise stay, time permitting.

While city tours may be included, “often there are different tours such as a ‘limited edition tour,’” says Reinagel, noting that AmaWaterways’ clients might sign up for a cooking class or a city walking tour where cruisers stop for Belgian beer, chocolate and waffles.

For older honeymooners, Olson recommends a two-week cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam for both the Rhine and Danube. Most lines offer those. Avalon Waterways’ “Magnificent Europe” cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest on October 23 is themed as an exclusive “Music Cruise,” with special concerts and performances — such as a Vienna classical concert — at no charge.

How can an advisor enhance the romance angle? While Saenz emphasizes the inclusivity of river cruises, “for honeymooners or those on an anniversary, perhaps [arrange] a small special wedding-type cake made personally for them” or include an optional complimentary tour or small gift. “I love the idea of a private car and driver to visit a special place already determined by the cruise line,” Saenz stresses. “Or, even a musical serenade just for them with the local talent brought onboard could make the trip that much more special.”

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s River Royale visits the ancient town of Blaye on its 14-day Paris-to-Bordeaux “A Portrait of Majestic France” cruise.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s River Royale visits the ancient town of Blaye on its 14-day Paris-to-Bordeaux “A Portrait of Majestic France” cruise.