Are my concerns about European river cruises valid?

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#21
Sydney, Australia
96 Posts
Joined Sep 2016
Your travelling likes and dislikes sound very like my own. I usually combine a cruise with self organised independent travel (for example a two week cruise with two weeks doing a self drive holiday in another country). In 2015 I went on a Danube River cruise with many of the concerns that you have. I found that I could have a wonderful time if I did not take the included tours. In almost all places I did my own DIY sightseeing directly from the ship or used the cruise coach to get somewhere and then left the tour (after telling the guide) to do my own thing and then meeting up again to get the coach back to the ship. The only included tour I did was of Melk Abbey. Everywhere else (Bratislava, Vienna, Durnstein, Regensburg and Nuremberg) I did my own sightseeing. In Vienna where we were for the entire day, I used the cruise bus to the city, left the tour to do my own sightseeing, did not return to the ship for the included lunch but ate in the city and then got the shuttle bus back to the ship late in the afternoon. There was a heat wave in Europe while I was on the cruise so I was able to stop for a drink, snack or Gelato whenever I wanted. The cruising part of the cruise was wonderfully relaxing and scenic. I love cruising past tiny towns and beautiful countryside. Sitting on the Sun deck after dinner with a glass of wine as we slowly cruised down the Danube on a summers evening was wonderful. I will admit that I did not particularly like having to eat dinner at a set time on the ship but I looked at that as an opportunity to meet lovely fellow cruisers.

That being said you will not have the opportunity to go back to something you have missed, you may find that you will not have enough time to see all that you want or eat dinner at local restaurants. You will be able to eat lunch at local restaurants on some days, shop where the locals shop and do your own sightseeing if you wish to. I had a wonderful time and saw many beautiful places that I probably would not have if I hadn't done my river cruise.

My suggestion would be to do a short river cruise of seven days or less and not feel that you have to do the included tours. Combine this with some independent travelling before or after the cruise so you can have the best of both worlds. You may also like a river cruise in Asia, India or the Amazon if you haven't been there previously. Otherwise as previously suggested a self cruise on a barge or cruiser could be great. Last year while in Carcassone I met two couples who were cruising the Canal du Midi in a rented cruiser who were having a wonderful time. Canal cruises in the UK are also very popular. There are canal cruises that provide a skipper and crew so that you can sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery or you can also self cruise.

Like most travelling a river cruise is what you make if it. Good luck and happy travels.

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#22
Here and There
557 Posts
Joined Oct 2014
I do most of my travel on my own with my DH and even though we prefer independent travel we take a cruise about once every 18 months and I must say, it's nice to let go of dealing with logistics and detail planning once in a while.

You mentioned that friends have invited you to join them. Have they already selected a cruiseline? Based on your description of your travel style you should definitely shoot for a more high-end line: Scenic, Uniworld, Tauck or Crystal and make it a short cruise and book a suite as the basic cabins tend to be tiny.


Are you very good friends with the other couple and do you enjoy spending time with them? Though you have different preferences a cruise could take many of the negotiable aspects out of the equation when planning what to do each day. There are fewer choices on a river cruise and you could all just go with the flow, enjoy each others's company and enjoy not having to plan so many details as a land trip entails. You can always add days or weeks at either or both ends of the cruise to get your independent travel fix.
#23
FL
14,454 Posts
Joined Jul 2003
Originally posted by SuzCruise
.Crystal also makes reservations for all guests at a Michelin starred restaurant in one town during your cruise. In Vienna I believe there were 4 or 5 restaurants to choose from, lunch or dinner, while we were there for a few days.
As of 2018, this is no longer included with Crystal.
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143 cruises since 1964, 16 on the river.
Looking forward to:
MS Joy - Magic of Advent, December 2017

Amadeus Silver III, May 2018
AmaStella, Christmas Markets, December 2018
Scenic Eclipse, April, 2019

Our river cruising history:
Avalon Luminary B2B- Christmas Markets, 2009
Avalon Affinity - Christmas Markets 2010
Avalon Panorama - Danube New Years Cruise, 2011
AmaDante -Vineyards of the Rhine and Moselle 2012
AmaCerto - Budapest to Nuremburg, 2013
AmaBella - Tulip Time, 2014
AmaDagio - Provence, 2014
AmaReina - Holiday on the Rhine 2014
SS Catherine - Provence 2015
AmaSerena Christmas on the Rhine, 2015
Scenic Diamond, Bordeaux, April 2016, October 2017
AmaVida, Douro, August. 2016
AmaSonata, Romantic Danube - Oct. 2016
Joie de Vivre, Paris and Normany - April 2017

Recent ocean cruises:
Le Lyral, The Adriatic, September 2017
#24
Rhine, Germany
2,163 Posts
Joined Oct 2013
caviargal,

thanks for the info. I expect it became too much of a complicated matter to arrange with the restaurants/chefs. From what past cruisers have reported by now it seems that the food on the two Mozart and the Bach are as good, or at least are rated in the "Michelin star realm". I think the passengers will be well looked after by the ships' chefs.

notamermaid
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#25
457 Posts
Joined May 2013
I'll be sure to post a follow up when we get back. I'm not sure I would have picked CroisiEurope as a line, but the trip is due to a Road Scholar deposit from another trip that was "use it or lose it" so there you go. I gave dh a list of 10 RS trips I'd like to do, this being the only river cruise, and told him to pick the one that appealed to him. CroisiEurope seems, from where I am pre-trip, to be a Holiday Inn sort of level - clean, well kept, not fancy. I hoping that excepting the ship itself, the experience of river cruising would be similar throughout.

Looking at river cruise lines, I'd probably be drawn to AMA, so if we like river cruising, that might be our next line. I know for a fact I'd choose an itinerary with more evening port time, but again this wasn't a choice between cruises, but a choice between trips in a similar cost and time frame.
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#26
New York
8,405 Posts
Joined Aug 2011
Originally posted by ljandgb
I'll be sure to post a follow up when we get back. I'm not sure I would have picked CroisiEurope as a line, but the trip is due to a Road Scholar deposit from another trip that was "use it or lose it" so there you go. I gave dh a list of 10 RS trips I'd like to do, this being the only river cruise, and told him to pick the one that appealed to him. CroisiEurope seems, from where I am pre-trip, to be a Holiday Inn sort of level - clean, well kept, not fancy. I hoping that excepting the ship itself, the experience of river cruising would be similar throughout.

Looking at river cruise lines, I'd probably be drawn to AMA, so if we like river cruising, that might be our next line. I know for a fact I'd choose an itinerary with more evening port time, but again this wasn't a choice between cruises, but a choice between trips in a similar cost and time frame.
Road Scholar may make your experience better than the standard Croisi product. They will offer lectures on board and their own shore excursions, so your straight Croisi time will be limited to the cabin and the food.
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#27
Austin, Texas
463 Posts
Joined Apr 2002
Originally posted by caviargal
As of 2018, this is no longer included with Crystal.


In my experience, that won't be a loss. We weren't impressed with the restaurant we chose. Food, service and ambience. But I'm not much impressed with Michelin starred restaurants either. 3 stars and my interest is peaked. One star restaurants haven't lived up to the hype for us. But if you look at the map of Michelin starred restaurants, there is just so much of the world they are ignoring you know it can't really be a guide of the best places to eat in the world. They need to get out more.


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#28
Columbia, MO
92 Posts
Joined Mar 2014
Thanks everyone. Lots of great suggestions. I love the idea of chartering my own barge so I can stay in towns longer and eat in local restaurants more than on the ship. That sounds like a really good compromise, where i would still get to enjoy river cruising while at the same time having the feel of an independent vacation.
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#30
Columbia, MO
92 Posts
Joined Mar 2014
Yikes, I just checked charter prices on one site. Don't think I'll be able to afford that
Still, lots of good recommendations on here. Thanks everyone
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#31
Here and There
557 Posts
Joined Oct 2014
Originally posted by JohnCoMo
Yikes, I just checked charter prices on one site. Don't think I'll be able to afford that
Still, lots of good recommendations on here. Thanks everyone
If you charter with friends the cost per couple goes down. To just book a cabin on a barge could work, too. The cost is very comparable to a nice river cruise. The canal cruises are usually only 6 days and there are excursions every day. If you stay in the ending port for a few days after, it's easy enough to revisit towns on the cruise because they aren't very far away! The food tends to be excellent on a good barge...far better than any river boat IMHO.
#32
FL
14,454 Posts
Joined Jul 2003
Originally posted by Gourmet Gal
If you charter with friends the cost per couple goes down. To just book a cabin on a barge could work, too. The cost is very comparable to a nice river cruise. The canal cruises are usually only 6 days and there are excursions every day. If you stay in the ending port for a few days after, it's easy enough to revisit towns on the cruise because they aren't very far away! The food tends to be excellent on a good barge...far better than any river boat IMHO.
I would love to book a barge trip with friends that I know are compatible. I would never choose to book a cabin on a barge where I would be in such close quarters with strangers; there are not many places to get away from them should they smoke, be loud or have other habits/traits that would affect my trip in a negative way.

Some of my best vacations were private villa rentals with great friends.
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143 cruises since 1964, 16 on the river.
Looking forward to:
MS Joy - Magic of Advent, December 2017

Amadeus Silver III, May 2018
AmaStella, Christmas Markets, December 2018
Scenic Eclipse, April, 2019

Our river cruising history:
Avalon Luminary B2B- Christmas Markets, 2009
Avalon Affinity - Christmas Markets 2010
Avalon Panorama - Danube New Years Cruise, 2011
AmaDante -Vineyards of the Rhine and Moselle 2012
AmaCerto - Budapest to Nuremburg, 2013
AmaBella - Tulip Time, 2014
AmaDagio - Provence, 2014
AmaReina - Holiday on the Rhine 2014
SS Catherine - Provence 2015
AmaSerena Christmas on the Rhine, 2015
Scenic Diamond, Bordeaux, April 2016, October 2017
AmaVida, Douro, August. 2016
AmaSonata, Romantic Danube - Oct. 2016
Joie de Vivre, Paris and Normany - April 2017

Recent ocean cruises:
Le Lyral, The Adriatic, September 2017
#33
Brisbane, Australia
164 Posts
Joined Aug 2010
Johncomo, have a look at the English canal boats, their prices are more in line with a holiday rental. Easiest way is to pick a waterway then see who hires out boats in that area. There seem to be lots of different options.
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#34
457 Posts
Joined May 2013
So, we're back from our river cruise. My overall thoughts are that I probably wouldn't do it again, not without significant thought into the exact itinerary and knowing how much time was spent in what ports. This last trip was chosen for time and cost from a selection of Road Scholar tours, so I put no thought into those aspects. That's ok, the RS aspect of the trip was exceptional. (Loved my travel group, really enjoyed the lectures.)

To the OP, you may still like a river cruise if you find an itinerary that does minimal day time cruising, and allows you to spend a moderate number of evenings in towns and ports/port time that let you DIY. Our cruise has several mornings or afternoons spent underway. It was nice to watch the scenery go by, but I'd rather be out in a town exploring. We also had a few days of getting off in one port, going on a tour, then getting on a bus to be driven to another port as the ship had sailed on without us. This would make doing the town DIY more difficult as you had to catch the ship excursion bus to get to the ship. Most days were arranged where we were underway for lunch and/or dinner, making eating out in town impossible. All but 2 evenings after dinner were spent underway, meaning after dinner your choices of activities were 1.) go to your room, or 2.) go to the lounge and listen to the same lady sing and play the piano.

Our ship was spotlessly clean and the crew very friendly and professional. Beautiful fresh flower arrangements, nice lounge furniture. But I didn't realize how not upscale it was until we docked next to a Tauck ship and had to walk thru it to get to the pier. That was like a fancy floating hotel. So, if you want luxury, spend time online looking for the upscale lines. The food was actually quite good, though as a veggie lover, I found myself scavenging garnishes, etc. I could have just asked for vegetarian meals. The crew were very conscientious about dietary preferences if told ahead of time - gluten free, no red meat, no fish, etc. As this was a French line, we had frequent pate, venison, duck, and some seriously stinky cheese. The bread onboard was fabulous.

It was very interesting to see the countryside go by, both the industrial areas and the pretty castles and villages. I actually loved seeing all the swans and ducks in the river, and even enjoyed the ubiquitous dog walkers (does everyone in Europe own a dog??) It was nice to not have to unpack every day. The forced relaxation was probably good for me.

If the OP does decide to try a river cruise, I'd recommend a short one, preceded by a land trip of your own design. That way, you won't leave Europe feeling like you'd really missed out, and you may be ready for a slower pace the second half of your trip.
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#35
69 Posts
Joined Jun 2016
Caviar gal,
I have been following this thread as I share similar concerns with JohnCoMo. Following your suggestion I checked out Amadeus Line (with a la cart excursions) and think this my be the answer. Their web site has very detailed information about each of their trips including excursion information and costs. Amadeus seems slightly upscale to Viking but about the same cost. While the excursions are included with Viking, afternoon and evening wine and beer is included with Amadeus. That would probably be a wash for our group.

Thanks,
Harold
#36
FL
14,454 Posts
Joined Jul 2003
Originally posted by Jack E Dawson
Caviar gal,
I have been following this thread as I share similar concerns with JohnCoMo. Following your suggestion I checked out Amadeus Line (with a la cart excursions) and think this my be the answer. Their web site has very detailed information about each of their trips including excursion information and costs. Amadeus seems slightly upscale to Viking but about the same cost. While the excursions are included with Viking, afternoon and evening wine and beer is included with Amadeus. That would probably be a wash for our group.

Thanks,
Harold
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the Amadeus Provence last year in France and was very impressed by the ship. Cabins were very nicely appointed and much more spacious than the French balconies on Viking, and the ships hold far fewer passengers. We booked our Amadeus cruise shortly after that. For us, it seems a great fit and we very much like the ala carte options for excursions as we are not group people (unless with our own) and generally prefer DIY.

Amadeus is family owned, rather than being a large corporation. Berlitz rates them very highly as well. Those factors are important to us as we want and appreciate quality and good food comes high on the list.

I have seen several of the Viking ships and they are not for me. The cookie cutter design, small cabins, number of passengers on board, lack of gym - all are negatives for me. Their pricing is higher than Amadeus - even with their bogus 2 for 1 sale that never ends.

Keep us posted when you make your decision.
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143 cruises since 1964, 16 on the river.
Looking forward to:
MS Joy - Magic of Advent, December 2017

Amadeus Silver III, May 2018
AmaStella, Christmas Markets, December 2018
Scenic Eclipse, April, 2019

Our river cruising history:
Avalon Luminary B2B- Christmas Markets, 2009
Avalon Affinity - Christmas Markets 2010
Avalon Panorama - Danube New Years Cruise, 2011
AmaDante -Vineyards of the Rhine and Moselle 2012
AmaCerto - Budapest to Nuremburg, 2013
AmaBella - Tulip Time, 2014
AmaDagio - Provence, 2014
AmaReina - Holiday on the Rhine 2014
SS Catherine - Provence 2015
AmaSerena Christmas on the Rhine, 2015
Scenic Diamond, Bordeaux, April 2016, October 2017
AmaVida, Douro, August. 2016
AmaSonata, Romantic Danube - Oct. 2016
Joie de Vivre, Paris and Normany - April 2017

Recent ocean cruises:
Le Lyral, The Adriatic, September 2017
#37
Scotland and France
498 Posts
Joined Jan 2016
Originally posted by JohnCoMo
Thanks everyone. Lots of great suggestions. I love the idea of chartering my own barge so I can stay in towns longer and eat in local restaurants more than on the ship. That sounds like a really good compromise, where i would still get to enjoy river cruising while at the same time having the feel of an independent vacation.
If you hire a canal boat/barge for the Canal du Midi or similar, you could also hire a bicycle so that at least one of the group can cycle alongside on the towpath - exercise and a change of perspective! It's also handy for nipping into local villages/small towns to pick up fresh croissants/pains au chocolat (hence the exercise) etc from local boulangerie. We do similar when we take our trailer tent to municipal campsites in France - it's a lovely change to prepare lunch al fresco and on an improvised basis and it counterbalances the formal restaurant meals! If you're lucky and pass a town when the fresh produce market opens (often start at 06:00 and pack away starting at 11:30 'ish), you can get ham, cheese and eggs that are far tastier than shop-bought produce - half a baguette, filled with ham and cheese or cucumber and freshly boiled eggs, followed by an artisan baked flan or chausson au pomme and freshly ground coffee is to die for - and is another excuse to use the hire bicycle! We did all this whilst camping this year and never paid more than €18 per night for the 2 of us, including electricity supply! And we met some great people - as you invariably do! Blissful!
#38
395 Posts
Joined Mar 2010
Originally posted by papa B me
I do think you may find a good compromise where it would increase you from a 3 to maybe a 6 or 7. Here would be my recommendations:

#1. Choose a high end river cruise line such as Uniworld, Tauck, Crystal or Scenic where it is all inclusive with 5 star food and service.

#2. Choose a suite instead of normal cabin where the square footage will be close to 300 sq ft. With all the lines I mentioned above except Tauck this will include butler service which can greatly enhance your experience

#3. If you choose the higher end lines they are very likely to have smaller tour group sizes as opposed to a mid to low end line. I've been on excursion with Uniworld with less then 10 as they divide up the tour groups into manageable sizes.

#4. Choose an itinerary that is likely to have later stays in the evening and/or over nights and has fewer bus rides or at a minimum shuttle service back and forth to the main town. For us that has been the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel. Many of the stops you walked right off the boat into the old town and the ones that didn't had shuttle service back and forth. I think the longest bus ride we had was 15 minutes

#5. Only take one included excursion per day and use the rest of the day to explore on your own. Or simply use the included excursion as transportation or as an overview of the town. We often start out on the tour then tell the guide we are heading out on our own. Then we either meet them back at the appointed time or walk back to the ship. OR we take a taxi back if we aren't ready to leave as long as you are back in plenty of time before sailing,

#6. Choose a line with active excursions such a biking, hiking, kayaking, etc... These tours are are often much smaller and have a DIY feel to them.

#7. Plan a precruise or post cruise or both stay at each end of the trip to have the best of both worlds of the river cruise and diy. When we did the Rhine we spent 2 days in Amsterdam before and 5 days in Switzerland at the end.

#8. Only choose a 1 week cruise so if you find it isn't for you at all it isn't that long.
Originally posted by Gourmet Gal
I do most of my travel on my own with my DH and even though we prefer independent travel we take a cruise about once every 18 months and I must say, it's nice to let go of dealing with logistics and detail planning once in a while.

You mentioned that friends have invited you to join them. Have they already selected a cruiseline? Based on your description of your travel style you should definitely shoot for a more high-end line: Scenic, Uniworld, Tauck or Crystal and make it a short cruise and book a suite as the basic cabins tend to be tiny.
These two posts really sum up my thoughts. We, too, prefer higher end accommodations and flexibility in our travels, and always plan pre- and post-trip arrangements of about 3 nights (or more) on each end of a river cruise. We have done a couple of river cruises and enjoyed them immensely - and already have another planned for 2018 - but we also enjoy independent travel. We just returned from 3 weeks in Italy, and it was wonderful having complete flexibility over where we ate and slept, and where we traveled. We ended that trip with a stay at the Four Seasons Firenze after initially staying at a luxury apartment in the shadow (literally) of the Duomo, spending about a week in the Siena countryside at a lovely agriturismo, and then heading up the the coast near the Cinque Terre. On the coast, we stayed in a small B&B in a lovely small town that most tourists have never heard of. The B&B actually had it's own Michelin rated restaurant downstairs and was completely off the beaten track. The trip was beyond all expectations. With all of that said, I'm still looking forward to some of the simplicity of planning our next river cruise, where all I'll really have to focus on are booking drivers, accommodations, and certain meals for what will probably be two locations for pre- and post-cruise. I also enjoy the 'all-inclusive' nature of the Uniworld cruises, although we never feel obliged to participate in every single tour.

Whatever you decide, I'd definitely suggest booking a suite on a higher end cruise line if you opt to do a river cruise.
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#39
FL
14,454 Posts
Joined Jul 2003
Originally posted by bubbulz
. We just returned from 3 weeks in Italy, and it was wonderful having complete flexibility over where we ate and slept, and where we traveled.
We are headed back to Italy for 2 weeks next fall and can't wait! I have our hotels/apartment booked and we will be spending time in Sicily, Liguria and ending with 4 days in Florence. I cannot imagine visiting Italy any other way as, for us, it is all about the local food, wines, markets and of course, the passagiata!
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143 cruises since 1964, 16 on the river.
Looking forward to:
MS Joy - Magic of Advent, December 2017

Amadeus Silver III, May 2018
AmaStella, Christmas Markets, December 2018
Scenic Eclipse, April, 2019

Our river cruising history:
Avalon Luminary B2B- Christmas Markets, 2009
Avalon Affinity - Christmas Markets 2010
Avalon Panorama - Danube New Years Cruise, 2011
AmaDante -Vineyards of the Rhine and Moselle 2012
AmaCerto - Budapest to Nuremburg, 2013
AmaBella - Tulip Time, 2014
AmaDagio - Provence, 2014
AmaReina - Holiday on the Rhine 2014
SS Catherine - Provence 2015
AmaSerena Christmas on the Rhine, 2015
Scenic Diamond, Bordeaux, April 2016, October 2017
AmaVida, Douro, August. 2016
AmaSonata, Romantic Danube - Oct. 2016
Joie de Vivre, Paris and Normany - April 2017

Recent ocean cruises:
Le Lyral, The Adriatic, September 2017
#40
395 Posts
Joined Mar 2010
Originally posted by caviargal
We are headed back to Italy for 2 weeks next fall and can't wait! I have our hotels/apartment booked and we will be spending time in Sicily, Liguria and ending with 4 days in Florence. I cannot imagine visiting Italy any other way as, for us, it is all about the local food, wines, markets and of course, the passagiata!
Absolutely feel the same way! Sounds like you have a great trip planned, too! Where are you staying in Liguria?

(Apologies to the OP for straying a bit OT (but I guess it's not TOO off topic since we're all talking about our travel preferences? )
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Upcoming:
2018 - Uniworld SS Maria Theresa - Danube Holiday Markets, Budapest - Passau
Past:
2016 - Uniworld SS Maria Theresa - European Holiday Markets - Vienna to Nuremberg
2015 - Uniworld SS Antoinette - Castles Along the Rhine - Amsterdam to Basel