Without a doubt, the most asked question I get is “which company should I book my river cruise with ?”
So I thought I would pick out three companies and do a comparison (there are many river cruise lines out there but to keep this article from going overboard in length, keeping it at three)
They are Viking River Cruises, Ama Waterways and Tauck River Cruises.
I am going to use the analogy of an airplane going overseas that has three classes of service – economy, premium economy and business class. All three sections are going to the same destination but as you move up, you’ll get a bigger seat, better amenities and more inclusions (and a higher price of course)
I will be comparing a similar seven night Danube River itinerary in Europe for July 2016 departing from Budapest in a French Balcony category cabin (they all offer lower window categories and higher suite categories but will just be comparing the French Balcony)
On an airplane, economy class has the most seats for passengers then fewer in premium and even less in business.
For the river cruise ships, have listed the number of ships each company operates in Europe, the number of guests each ship carries and lastly, the square footage of their French balcony cabin category.
Viking has 58 ships
Ama has 16 ships
Tauck has 9 ships
Viking carries 190 guests*
Ama carries 164 guests**
Tauck carries 130 guests***
Viking cabin is 135 sq feet
Ama cabin is 170 sq feet
Tauck cabin is 225 sq feet
Just like what is included in each section of the airplane, each of the cruise companies offer more inclusions as the price increases.
Viking provides wine/beer/soft drinks with lunch and dinner, using the same wine throughout the cruise. They include most excursions with four optional tours (excursion group size is up to 20 guests) Gratuities and transfers are extra.
Ama Waterways also provides wine/beer/soft drinks with lunch and dinner but they use different wines from each of the regions they are travelling through. They include almost all excursions with two optional tours. (excursion group size is up to 12 guests) Some of their excursions are divided into Gentle Walkers, Active Walkers and even a Late Starter group for those who prefer to sleep in. They also offer bicycles onboard that you can do a tour with or sign out on your own. Gratuities and transfers are extra.
Tauck provides unlimited complimentary beverages onboard which includes regional wine, beer, soft drinks and premium spirits. They include all excursions, all gratuities to staff, cruise/tour directors (noting that most companies have one onboard but they have three) and even local guides. They often have private exclusive shore excursions such as an evening in Vienna inclusive of dinner and a private performance in a palace. They also have bicycles onboard and include airport transfers to and from the ship (even when you don’t book your flight with them)
For the compared itinerary, here is the per person price (based on two sharing) that each company has:
Viking River $3655usd
Ama Waterways $4198usd
Tauck River $5440usd
Just like many travelers who are unable to splurge on the luxury of business class, the higher price of the Tauck River cruise puts it out of reach for many but once you factor in their larger size cabins, fewer people onboard and everything that is included, you can understand why they are at the top of the market.
Although Viking has the lowest price, you will still have a enjoyable experience with them. Their new Longships feature a very contemporary Scandinavian design with several dining venues including the Aquavit Terrace which functions as an indoor/outdoor restaurant for Alfresco dining. They also purchased quite a few of their own docks in Europe so receive priority docking in some places.
Instead of building just one new ship a year like most companies, they went on a building frenzy recently which provided them with a lot of buying power plus they can keep costs lower since they have more people on each ship. They are the largest and most well-known because of their huge advertising budget with ads on shows like Downton Abbey, plus have a very aggressive print campaign (if you ever get on their mailing list, I swear you receive a brochure a week!)
Due to their middle of the market price range, Ama Waterways has been gaining popularity and fast becoming a guest favorite. Since they are family owned, it creates a very friendly atmosphere that resonates throughout the ship when you’re onboard. They have also introduced a new dining concept onboard with an intimate chef’s table restaurant that features a tasting menu.
So back to the question of “which company should I book my river cruise with?” As you see, just like when you are offered choices of where to sit on an airplane, there are many choices for river cruising too. All you have to decide is how much you want to have included within your budget, pick the best one for you and then relax with the comfort of realizing that all of the choices will have you floating past spectacular the scenery!
*Viking Atla July 10th sailing/ **AmaSerena July 10th sailing/ ***Tauck Savor July 9th (all three ships compared are 445 feet long and 38 feet wide)