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A Guide to European River Cruising

A Guide to European River Cruising
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A river cruise through Europe is truly a treat for your senses.  Imagine the different cultures that line each river.  The diversity of food, architecture, history and traditions you’ll find as you pass through each captivating country, each more fascinating than the last.  A European river cruise promises visually stunning panoramas around every bend. Lush rolling green hills, medieval castles, villages, and forests are right outside your window.  And on shore await famous museums, churches, ruins, cathedrals, outdoor cafés, and cobblestoned villages for you to explore.

The Top Reasons Why Your Next Cruise Should be a River Cruise

The travel industry’s hottest trend, river cruising, provides a wonderful alternative to mainstream cruises and megaships.  With hundreds of options to sail the amazing waterways of Europe (the Danube, Rhine, Rhone, Seine, Saone and Moselle rivers) and exotic destinations via the Yangtze, Mekong, Irrawaddy. and Amazon, small-ship cruising is becoming one of the most popular ways for Americans to both experience and explore the world.

Part of the appeal of the modern river cruise is that it delivers a cruise vacation completely unlike other cruise experiences.

River cruises – and river cruise vessels – are built differently.  Instead of thousands of passengers, there might be 150 on a river cruise vessel.  Instead of miles and miles of ocean views (if you have an outward-facing room), 100 percent of modern river cruise ship staterooms face outside, many with floor-to-ceiling windows, affording panoramic views at every moment of villages, castles, and vineyards. And, while deals drive megaship bookings, river cruising provides travelers a different value:  An inclusive, destination-focused vacation where in-port excursions and activities, as well as drinks and dining, are included in the price of the cruise.

“Each time cruisers disembark from our contemporary river cruise ships, they are in a new location, often within walking distance of the village square or city center,” says Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways.  “Our cruisers cannot only experience metropolitan areas like Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, Budapest, or Ho Chi Minh City, they’ll cruise to off-the-beaten-path gems such as Bruges, Bernkastel, Lyon, and Durnstein, where passengers can take part in included excursions or even rent a bike to explore on their own.”

For travelers interested in embarking on a river cruise for the first time or choosing a river cruise company that best fits their needs, Avalon Waterways has created the following tips to choose the perfect, intimate escape:

New, newer, or newest ship?

Clark says there’s a whole new group of river cruise ships released since 2004.  Older ships offer travelers limited space and views (with small windows that don’t open). The new class of river cruise ships – including the industry’s only “Suite Ships” – features large, contemporary spaces, as well as floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows that open wide to enjoy the fresh air and magnificent landscapes.

Room to relax and unwind.

With a new class of ships from which to choose the perfect cruise experience, travelers should pay attention to the square footage of their stateroom.  While some ships feature 200- and 300-square-foot suites, others offer less than 130-square-foot spaces.  Know what you’re getting when you book (172- to 200-square-foot staterooms come standard with Avalon’s fleet).

To balcony or not to balcony?

Unlike ocean cruise ships, river cruise vessels have very specific height and width requirements:  They must fit under medieval bridges and through locks.  As a result, space on river cruise ships is a top commodity.  And, while some river cruise companies have chosen to limit stateroom space by offering travelers a small balcony, others have created innovative ways to provide both space and fresh air.

Avalon Waterways, for instance, unveiled the first Open-Air Balconies in 2011.  The Open-Air Balcony features an entire wall of windows that open wide, seven feet. When the doors are open, travelers enjoy the feeling of sitting comfortably outside as amazing views of castles and rolling green hills pass by.

Culture and cuisine.

While most river cruise ships do not offer a variety of restaurants like megaships, it doesn’t mean they don’t offer a menu of options (something you should look for when you book).  If you like light fare with grilled lunches or a la carte, local chef offerings, you should have that option.  If you want to experience drinks off the ship at a local pub or grilled, outdoor lunches on board, go for it.  Choose a cruise and/or cruise line that marries cuisine and culture while catering to your dietary interests and needs.

Discovery by your design.

On a river cruise, land programs should not be an afterthought.  And these experiences should be offered as part of the inclusive price of your cruise.  From guided tours to a customized sightseeing adventure, choose a company with a great reputation that offers a plethora of experiences.  Also, consider booking a themed itinerary if you’re interested in exploring a passion like food, wine, music, art, photography, or history on your vacation.

Themed Itineraries Are Among the Most Coveted in River Cruising

From wine and wellness to culinary and culture, year after year, “special interest” river cruises sell out.  And they sell out early.  Some of the most popular themed itineraries may focus on art, wine & beer, culinary, golf, music, history, and more.  For example, Avalon Waterways’ festive cruises, which sail around the holidays, have been particularly popular. These river cruises allow travelers to experience the holiday season the Central European way on festive Christmas-themed departures.  Cruisers will delight in the sights, smells, and tastes of local Christmas markets, where you’re sure to find the perfect traditionally handcrafted souvenirs.  Also enjoy Christmas carols, sung by an area chorus; attend onboard lectures to learn about Christmas and New Year’s traditions in Europe; and savor a very merry Christmas holiday lunch and dinner.

About the author – Amy Jones is a travel consultant with Leisure Travel Enterprises located at 2752 Pleasant Rd Ste 107 Fort Mill, SC.  She enjoys all kinds of travel and helping others plan their dream vacations.  For more information, contact Amy at (803) 548-9163 or amyj@ltetravel.com www.ltetravel.com