For travelers curious about cruising but not ready to take the plunge into mega ships and the high seas, river cruising is_ the _way to go. Europe is the natural setting for such a trip, with routes along the Rhine, Douro, Elbe, Rhône and more, allowing easy passage across borders. Read on for nine upcoming cruises we're crazy about, from an intimate tour through southern France to a journey around Germany's Christmas markets.
AMA Waterways Christmas Markets on the Rhine
Setting off in Amsterdam, this seven-night River Rhine cruise is a celebration of the festive season, taking in Christmas markets in Cologne, Rüdesheim, Mannheim, Strasbourg and Breisach. The pick-and-mix itinerary also includes bike tours, optional hikes and visits to famous attractions like Cologne's Gothic cathedral and Rüdesheim's vineyards. Accommodation is on one of Amawaterways' three ships, all with space for 150 - 170 passengers, a choice of restaurants, a heated pool, and twin balconies in most cabins. Disembark in Basel and add on an optional post-cruise land tour of Zurich or Lucerne. From $2,049 per person
AMA Waterways Enticing Douro
Discover Portugal and Spain via the Douro River on this seven-night, round-trip voyage to and from Porto via the ancient city of Lamego and the Spanish city of Salamanca. Meet your fellow passengers over a welcome dinner aboard the AmaVida, a 106-passenger vessel with all the modern comforts including WiFi, a spa, fitness room and sun deck. The regionally-inspired meals are served in the main restaurant or al fresco dining area and come with unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks. You'll soak up the history of ancient Lamego, tour the fortified village of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, embark on a drive to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Salamanca and much more. From $3,099 per person
Viking Cruises Rhine & Amsterdam to Catalonia
This expansive itinerary covers highlights along the Rhine and farther-flung destinations across the English Channel and into the Iberian Peninsula, traversing 15 European cities in just 18 days. Spend the first seven nights aboard a state-of-the-art Viking Longship (award-winning vessels for their full verandas and oversized suites), dropping anchor in Basel, Germany's Breisach and Cologne, and the Netherland's Kinderdijk. Stops cover the cultural spectrum from visits to Medieval castles to tours of Holland's windmills and waterworks. In Amsterdam, transfer to the Viking Sky ocean cruiser and set sail for France, England and Spain, with a passage through the Gibraltar Straits, before disembarking in Barcelona. From $6,048 per person
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Viking Cruises Poland, Prague & the Elegant Elbe
Cruisetours unlock inland destinations beyond the river banks, with a mix of river cruising and tours by motorcoach. During this 16-day deep dive into European history, travelers head south along the Elbe aboard Viking Cruise's Beyla or Astrid ships, then transfer to four wheels to explore Kraków, Warsaw and other parts of Poland. Other highlights include excursions with expert guides in cultural hubs like Berlin and Prague; an onboard ‘Culture Curriculum,’ which covers baroque chamber music and language lessons; and a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Come nighttime, you'll retreat to your Riverview stateroom, with a personal room steward, 40" LCD TV and glass-enclosed shower. From $4,499 per person
Uniworld Gems of Northern Italy - Milan to Venice
A tour for foodies, oenophiles, art lovers, architecture buffs and just about anyone interested in Italy, this 10-day voyage begins in Milan and ends, naturally, in Venice. In between, there’s wine tasting in Valpolicella, an exclusive evening opening at St. Mark's Basilica, bike tours to the coastal city of Chioggia, pasta making in Bologna and stops in the Venetian islands of Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello. All meals, wine, beer and spirits onboard are included, as well as guided walking programs, flexible shore excursions, and portable audio headsets. For families, select summer departures include activities for junior river cruisers. From $4,249 per person.
Crystal Cruises Dazzling Danube Celebration - Vienna round trip
This 13-day cruise stops in nine European cities in Austria, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia. Setting off along the Danube from Vienna, you'll pass through the beautiful Wachau Valley; go for a guided walking tour in Melk; visit historical landmarks in Budapest, and discover the modern art scene and Communist-era architecture of Slovakia's capital, Bratislava. Cabins aboard the Crystal Mozart start at 219 square feet, and all have large picture windows, king or twin beds, 40" TVs and coffee machines. Unique to Crystal River Cruises, the all-inclusive rate covers one meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant in each destination. From $4,735 per person
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours Gems of the Seine and Southern France
Scenic Luxury Cruises is distinctive for its truly all-inclusive pricing, bespoke "Space-Ship" vessels, and customizable shore excursions with real insiders. For this 23-day tour along the Seine and Rhône, a maximum of 128 passengers set off aboard the Scenic Gem, with ship amenities like a walking track, spacious terrace, multiple restaurants, a wellness center and sun deck. The trip begins in Paris and includes excursions in the Île-de-France region and walking tours in Rouen (with an optional visit to the Somme battlefields), before transferring to the Rhône and continuing south to the Beaujolais wine region, Lyon, Tournon, Viviers and more. From $13,779 per person.
Tauck Budapest to Amsterdam
For culture vultures, this two-week cruise along the Danube covers five countries (the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary) and myriad cathedrals, monasteries, castles and vineyards on shore excursions from the ms Esprit or ms Treasures vessels. With just 98 passengers aboard the 361-foot ship, cabins are around 225 square feet, and most have floor-to-ceiling windows and French balconies for admiring views of the Rhine Valley, Budapest skyline, the Main-Danube canal and more. Meals in the Compass Rose or Arthur's restaurants are all included in the rate, as are all guided tours and crew gratuities. The flexible itinerary lets passengers personalize their excursions; in Vienna, there's the option to explore the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg or spend a day at the magical Schönbrunn Palace. From $6,590 per person
Belmond Alfoat in France
With Afloat in France, Belmond takes its signature brand of sophisticated luxury to the waterways around Burgundy, Cote d'Or, France Comte, Saone, Provence, Valle du Rhône and Canal du Midi aboard seven sumptuously styled barges. With room for between four and 12 passengers, the six-day voyages are more private charter than classic cruising, with staff on hand to customize everything from the regionally-inspired French meals (ingredients are picked fresh from local markets as you cruise) to unique shore experiences with insider access. Two new barges joined the fleet in summer 2017, adding routes between Meaux and Châlons-en-Champagne and to the heart of the Alsace region. You can expect hotel-like perks onboard including outdoor swimming pools, open kitchens for cooking classes, a petanque court and even a grand piano. Book an individual cabin on the larger vessels, or take over an entire cruise with family and friends. Price on request.