Rhine River Cruise

After doing a Rhine River cruise, I can see why it is one of the most popular choices for travelers.  It takes in everything – from the canal lined city of Amsterdam, the historical city of Cologne, the picturesque city of Rüdesheim, the imperial city of Speyer to one of my favorites which was the contrasting city of Strasbourg with its French and German culture.

Of course the many benefits of river cruising also factor in:

  • unpack once
  • docking near the heart of the cities & towns
  • your ‘hotel’ cruises along the river while the mesmerizing scenery floats by
  • the almost all inclusive value
  • flexible sightseeing – you can go on the tours or off on your own
  • fewer passengers onboard so can get to know fellow travelers

This list goes on and you will understand once you have taken a river cruise as you’ll be hooked and want to do them all and I haven’t even mentioned the food and wine yet!

We had wonderful meals onboard Ama Waterways and the wine flowed freely at lunch and dinner.  They also have a 24 hour coffee/tea station in their lounge area so if you happen to be up at odd hours, could always find a nice hot cup of something plus various pieces of fruit and those darn good cookies that I kept saying I didn’t need.

The staff onboard were also very friendly and it didn’t take long after a day of touring off the ship to feel like you were coming home as you were welcomed back onboard.

I’ve made a short video of the trip, hope you enjoy and may it lure you to journey down the Rhine !

The highs and lows of River Cruising

High water, low water – not too long ago I was asked by a reporter if I warn my clients about the possibility that the water levels on the river could affect their river cruise. I replied honestly that I didn’t and it got me thinking about whether or not I should.

However I also book their airline tickets and does this mean that I should be warning them about the possibility of the flight being delayed or being re-routed or worst of all, cancelled ?

United Airlines has been in the news lately for a couple of unexpected re-routed flights where the passengers were stranded in foreign airports overnight, some having to sleep on the airport floor with no access to their baggage. The key here is “unexpected” because even if these people were told in advance that this could happen, no one thinks it will ever happen to them.
I believe it comes down to how the situation is treated as in the United’s case, most passengers were very angry about the lack of support and no communication.

This is where it differs from the river cruise lines (and I do realize the they are dealing with much smaller numbers) but our company had some passengers who were to get on a Rhine river cruise in Basel and due to high water, the ship was not able to get under the bridge into the city. The company had staff on hand to assist guests, they ordered extra coaches to bus people up the river to where the ship was located and generally tried to keep people informed and the disruption to a minimum. In speaking with our clients when they returned, they said they felt well taken care of.

Now I know that many will say, well the airlines could never be like that but I had a scenario with Singapore Airlines that I will never forget. I boarded a flight once in Bali and then the power went out in the terminal so we sat on the tarmac for quite a while before we were able to depart. I was supposed to connect in Singapore for a flight to Hong Kong, however after our delay, realized that I was going to miss my connection. So I was dreading getting off the plane not knowing when I could catch another flight. However, this is where superior customer service came into play as an airline representative was waiting with my name on a sign & when approached, was handed my new ticket for a flight three hours later, a meal voucher and offered an apology for missing my connection. I was absolutely astounded and kept looking around thinking I was on TV or something because I had never seen anything like it.

So instead of warning clients about the possibility of disruptions, will always try to book them with companies that will take care of them with some old fashioned customer service.

High water mark level in Passau Germany

High water mark level in Passau Germany

This was a picture that I took in Passau Germany in 2011 which shows the high and low water mark level from the Danube River. In 2013, they suffered the highest water levels in 500 years and it went up over the top mark shown by at least another foot, it was an unbelievable sight.

Would you buy a river cruise without heated seats ?

Since my husband has been in the process of buying a newer car lately, it got me thinking about the similarities between purchasing a car and purchasing a river cruise.

It really depends on where you are in your life cycle that steers you towards a certain type of car or cruise. For instance, most cars do exactly the same things, they go forward, reverse, have windshield wipers, headlights and it will get to and from your destination. Same with a river cruise, most of the companies do the same routes on the rivers, stop at the same towns, offer meals, drinks and entertainment onboard and get you to and from your destination.

Now the “extras” are what sets them both apart.

For the cars, you can buy a basic one like a Ford Fusion for just over $20,000 that has power windows, locks, keyless entry and air conditioning. More upgrades would include a sunroof, navigation system, and that wonderful in winter feature – heated seats.

It’s a great car but you find many choosing the popular Audi A5 which cost wise with the prestige trim, will put you over the $50,000 range but comes complete with auto-dimming exterior mirrors, adaptive Xenon Plus headlights, a Parking System Plus with a reversing camera, and side assist blind-spot warning system, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with Bluetooth capability plus more. (whew)

Well the same goes for river cruises, it is not as though one company is better than the other, some just offer more “extras” where everything is included.

For example, you could take a 7 night river cruise on the Seine with Avalon Waterways and it would be wonderful – they include wine/beer with dinner and include most excursions. Their ship holds 140 passengers and for some, they will purchase the optional excurions, everyone pays gratuities at the end and depending on how many drinks you’ve enjoyed throughout the week, will have a bit of a bar bill to settle.

Take that same cruise with Tauck and everything is included from the drinks, excursions, transfers to and from the airport or train station plus all gratuities onboard and on the tours. (they also include fancy extras like a private dinner at a chateau in Normandy) Their ship only holds 118 passengers for the same size of vessel so you’ve got more space. Plus they have 14 suites at 300 sq feet each compared to only 2 on Avalon’s (which are 258 sq feet) Tauck also has bicycles onboard that you can sign out on your own or on a bike excursion.

The price difference?

For a mid summer departure in 2015, the Avalon river cruise will start at approx. $3150usd, the Tauck one will start at $5990usd per person based on double. If you want an even longer experience where your ship is docked right at Honfleur (which is only a stones throw from the D-Day landing beaches) then a 10 night all inclusive cruise with Scenic cruises would be your choice and their starting price for this itinerary is $6330usd and up.

So it really does depend on where you are in life as to how much you want to spend on your river cruise. I find the older we get, the more we are willing to spend because frankly, we’ve earned it. We have worked hard all our lives starting out with the basics and now we are in a position where we can enjoy all the bells and whistles. (and heated seats !)

We were all taught the phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ and it is so true when it comes to river cruising, you can sail with many of the companies and it will be wonderful or you can sail with a few of the all-inclusive lines & the trip will be amazing.

Whichever one you choose, you will love the experience of getting into the heart of your destination.

What cabin should I book for a river cruise ?

I decided to write about what cabin you should book from having a conversation with my parents.  They received a brochure in the mail about a European river cruise and when I was visiting, they pointed out that the company was offering FREE AIRFARE for a few of their departures.  They exclaimed enthusiastically to get them booked right away to take advantage of the deal !

I then showed them the fine print which was that it was only applicable on their “window” category cabins.  To which they replied – “how bad could that be ?”

So I dug out my close up picture that I took of the outside of one of the ships when I was on the Danube  (plus also showed them on the front of the brochure they received)

Outside view of a river cruise ship

Outside view of a river cruise ship

When I showed them the very small window cabin located on the bottom deck of the ship, they understood.  I explained that these cabins are the hardest to sell because most people want either the French balcony or full balcony cabin to take full advantage of being able to open up the doors and experience the river going by.  Whenever you see a river cruise company advertising sale pricing, it is usually on these type of cabins because they are the only ones available.

The other point that they were shocked to learn was that the suite cabins are actually the FIRST to sell out.  This is because most ships may only have 2 suites and if anyone is crossing over from ocean cruising and used to a large suite, they also want one of those on the river.  Due to this fact, many of the companies are changing the way they build their ships.  Take a look at the new SS Antoinette that Uniworld built – they now have one huge Royal Suite at 391 sq feet, then 8 suites at 294 sq feet to tap into that market that is willing to pay for a larger cabin.  For comparison, their cabin sizes in category 1 through 3 are 196 sq feet and 4/5 are 163 sq feet.

SSAntoinette Uniworld

SSAntoinette

So to answer what cabin should you book for a river cruise ?     Well, that all depends on you – get the suite if you have the funds and book far enough in advance, get the French balcony for wonderful river views and get the window category if you want a bargain!    Whichever one you choose, you will love the experience of getting into the heart of your destination.

 

How to pack a carry on suitcase for a 3 week trip

When I met my travelling companion before the start of our Rhine river cruise and she showed up with this small carry on bag and backpack, was thinking that wow she’ll be wearing the same clothes every day. Well was I wrong and you can see in the video how much stuff she actually fits into this carry on. I was so amazed that I had to share this with to show you that it can be done and I’m going to try her ideas when packing for my next trip. Enjoy !

Which is the best River Cruise Company for Europe ?

This is a question I get from my clients all the time and to answer it would be like choosing which child was the best of your children!

They all have their redeeming qualities and differences and it could really depend on ones own preferences as to the outcome. Let me give you an example – Uniworld River Cruises  www.uniworld.com has announced that they are going totally all inclusive for their 2014 European River Cruises (which means they will include unlimited beverages onboard including wine, beer, spirits, cocktails, soft drinks, juices, plus all shore excursions) which sounds the best except for the non-drinker who ends up paying more for their river cruise for those beverages they won’t consume. These people might think its best to choose Avalon Waterways www.avalonwaterways.com who only provide wine, beer and soft drinks at dinner which is reflected in the price.

Another example is with Viking River Cruises  www.vikingrivercruises.com and all their brand new “longships” that they have recently christened.  While it is so nice to be able to travel in the comfort of a new ship, in order to keep their pricing competitive, they made the decision to put in more staterooms which in turn hold more people.  All river cruise ships that travel on the Danube are regulated and cannot be longer than 443 feet.  The new Viking ships have 95 staterooms or 190 passengers where if you compare that to AMA Waterways www.amawaterways.com whose new ships are the same size, they only have 82 staterooms holding 164 passengers.  So Viking River might have the best pricing, but AMA Waterways have more public space onboard.

Talking about having more space onboard brings me to Tauck River Cruising  www.tauck.com/river-cruises  as they step it up a notch with their new ships having larger rooms, more dining options and capping the passengers at 130 in 67 cabins to get the best space ratio category. They include all beverages, the gratuties, a signature special experience and all shore excursions.

Unique for 2014 is Scenic River Cruise www.us.scenictours.com introduction of their new lower priced line Emerald Waterways www.emeraldwaterways.com which will be a first in the industry where one company has two distinct types of river cruises to choose from.  Scenic Tours originated in Australia selling package tours and is still privately owned there. Scenic also  offers the all inclusive concept but Emerald will only have wine and beer with lunch and dinner. Their aim with the new Emerald line is to target a younger demographic with their two ships having swimming pools that inventively convert into a cinema and their open-air balcon system that allows you to enjoy it no matter what the weather.

A new player in the North American market is A-Rosa Cruises www.arosacruises.com which has been operating in Europe for years but has now picked a few of their departures to cater exclusively to English speaking passengers. It will be interesting to see if they are able to keep up with the other big operators.

So you can see that its tough to pick the “best” one as each has their own unique benefits.  Viking River claims to have the “greenest” ships featuring diesel-electric hybrid engines specially designed for low vibration and minimal environmental impact. AMA Waterways is famous for their fresh food brought on from local ports. Avalon Waterways have the most innovative design in their cabins where they’ve turned the bed to face the french balcony sliding glass doors. Uniworld offers an interesting mix of programs for their shore excursions including Go Active, Gentle Walking, Do as the Locals Do and Village Day.

If you would like some additional information on any of these companies, ships or their itineraries, please feel free to drop me an email.  If you’ve already sailed on any of them – which one was your favourite and why ?

RiverCruiseLadyLinda

linda@therivercruiselady.com

 

Scenic Tours Launches Emerald Waterways

Scenic Tours announced the launch of a new premium river cruise line called Emerald Waterways, which will debut two new ships in early 2014 and is aimed at attracting a younger audience. The 182-passenger, 443-foot long sister ships Emerald Sky and Emerald Star, will debut in spring of 2014 and will cruise 7 to 14 night itineraries on the Rhine, Danube, Main and Mosel rivers.

 

Managing Director for Scenic Tours and Emerald Waterways, Chris Townson said “We believe we can attract a younger demographic, too, with value for money as the emphasis”, although he stressed the line would not be actively marketing to families.

 

Townson also said Emerald Waterways is positioning itself as a competitor to brands such as Viking Cruises and Avalon Waterways. He said the line would be competitive within the four-star range of cruise products while also boasting a handful of innovative design touches and nearly all-inclusive pricing. The most innovative new bit of design planned for the twin ships is a dual-purpose area at the aft of the ship that transforms from an indoor, heated pool with retractable roof during the day to a cinema at night. The rest of the ships’ new features have become standard, these include: good-sized suites, balconies in a majority of cabins and an open-air alternative dining space.

 

Emerald Waterways will include beer, wine and soft drinks at meals, shore excursions, transfers and tips within the cost of the overall fare, as does Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. Additionally, the line will offer free return flights to U.K. passengers traveling from London’s Heathrow airport and other regional airports. For passengers traveling from cities and countries outside the U.K., a spokesperson for the line said: “We can arrange flights for guests on a case by-case basis — however if the cost of the flight from a country other than the U.K. goes over an allocated budget, we would charge the guest extra. Or they can take the cruise as a ‘cruise only’ and book their own flights.”

 

River views right from your bed

It’s amazing to see how the river cruise companies come up with such innovative ways to design their staterooms. You’ll see in the video below how Avalon Waterways changed the configuration of the cabin and now have the bed facing the window – genius idea !

(I joked that maybe it was designed by a woman because the old way used to face the TV and now it faces the spectacular scenery going by)

Do all river cruise companies have bikes onboard ?

This is popular question that I get asked when clients are inquiring about European river cruising so thought I would post the answer here for others to benefit from.

 

No, all of the river cruise companies do not have bikes onboard in Europe so if this is important to you, then you’ll want to look at:

 

1) AMA Waterways
2) A-Rosa
3) Scenic Tours
4) Tauck Tours
5) Uniworld

 

Avalon Waterways and Viking River Cruises are the two that do not have bikes onboard.

 

Happy sailing and cycling !

 

RiverCruiseLadyLinda
www.therivercruiselady.com

Bicycles on river cruises

Bicycles on river cruises