What to Expect in 2018 and Beyond in River Cruising

Basel, a city in northwestern Switzerland on the river Rhine, is known for its museums.

As this year’s European river season is in full swing, some luxury travelers are already planning their next continental “river float.” So, what’s new for upscale lines on the Seine, Rhone/ Saone, Rhine, Danube or other European rivers for 2018 or beyond?

Cycling enthusiasts have new riding options next year as Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Butterfield & Robinson will expand their bike tour partnership to the Rhine River. During May, June and September 2018, an eight-night cycling adventure on the 154-passenger S.S. Antoinette sails on Uniworld’s “Castles Along the Rhine” itinerary from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam. During port calls in France and Germany, avid cyclists can head out for flat Rhine bike trails, easy downhill rides or more challenging uphill climbs. For example, riders can visit the Johannisberg Castle and its Middle Rhine area winery before a lengthy ride on the Rhine path from Rudesheim to Boppard.

Onboard, S.S. Antoinette is artistry in motion with Brazilian marble walls and floors, a 19th-century Venetian glass mirror and the atrium’s blue Strauss Baccarat chandelier that formerly hung in New York’s Tavern on the Green restaurant. Fun public spaces? We love the ship’s stylish Bar du Leopard. For the ultimate in luxury accommodations, cruisers can select the 391-square-foot Royal Suite (No. 400) with an open-air balcony; elegant living room; separate bedroom with a handcrafted Savoir of England bed; marble bathroom with separate rain shower and tub; and pampering butler service.

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Uniworld and Butterfield & Robinson will expand their bike tour partnership to the Rhine River in 2018. Above, cruisers are seen cycling along the Danube

If travelers wish to delve into Jewish heritage, exclusive complimentary tours on that topic are on tap for Uniworld’s new nine-day 2018 “Remarkable Rhine” itinerary from Amsterdam to Basel. It’s also designed for art lovers, who will receive special access to museum art collections in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Cologne and Basel. At Amsterdam’s Hermitage, cruisers can peruse Dutch art treasures during a private “Morning with the Masters” tour at the Portrait Gallery.

Separately, U by Uniworld, a totally new brand created just for Millennials and Generation Xers, launches in early 2018. Part boutique hotel, part yacht and part resort, the brand will operate two dedicated vessels, both refurbished / reconfigured. With sleek black exteriors, The A (the former River Ambassador) will sail the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers in central Europe while The B (the former River Baroness) will sail France’s Seine River. Research showed the line that younger generations prefer to sail with travelers of their own age, so all U by Uniworld guests must be between 21 and 45 years of age.

U By Uniworld’s Rhine itinerary from Amsterdam to Frankfurt offers three days to explore Amsterdam and port visits to Haarlem, Cologne, Bonn, Koblenz and Frankfurt. It’s not your grandfather’s river cruise, as new twists on activities, both ashore and onboard, include a U Time Dutch cheese tasting and a Gothic Evening in Cologne. Cruisers also can dance the night away at a virtual onboard disco with live local DJs. However, they’ll listen to music and commentary via headsets so others won’t be disturbed.  

U by Uniworld is a new brand created just for guests who are 21 to 45 years old. Above, a group of Millennials in Budapest

Sailing the Rhine and Danube rivers during 2018 are Tauck’s freshly refurbished / reconfigured Treasures and Esprit. On the Ruby Deck, 30 150-square-foot staterooms will be replaced by 20 225-square-foot staterooms, and overall, capacity will dip from 118 passengers to 98; that will give guests more stateroom space plus public spaces should feel a bit more intimate. On the Diamond (upper) Deck, the Bistro, the ship’s second dining venue, will gain its own dedicated kitchen and chef, offer expanded menu choices and be renamed Arthur’s.  

Among Tauck’s new 2018 itineraries is the 10-day “Savoring France: Paris, Lyon & Provence,” essentially a combination of two other Rhone regional itineraries. Operated by the 98-passenger Emerald, it includes two nights in Paris and a seven-night Rhone River cruise. For those seeking a bit longer vacation, the line’s new 14-day “Royal Danube, Berlin and Krakow” itinerary includes three nights at Berlin’s Hotel Adlon Kempinski and two full days of guided sightseeing in Berlin, plus a high-speed train ride to Nuremberg and a seven-night Danube cruise on the 130-passenger Savor.

That journey features visits to Bayreuth, Kelheim, Straubing, Linz, Krems and Vienna, before concluding with a three-night hotel stay in Krakow, Poland and more guided sightseeing (including an Auschwitz visit option if guests so desire). Talk about a memorable farewell dinner? It’s at the subterranean Wieliczka Salt Mine.

Tauck's 130-passenger ms Savor cruises on the Danube and has 67 cabins

We’d opt to stay in one of Savor’s 300-square-foot Category 7 Suites. They have two floor-to-ceiling French balconies; a seating area with a pull-out sleeping couch; minibar stocked with complimentary water and soft drinks; a pillow-top, queen-sized bed (convertible to two twins); and a bathroom with large shower (no bathtub).

Another new Tauck itinerary, “Rhine Enchantment, Milan to Amsterdam,” begins with a three-night hotel stay at Milan’s Hotel Principe di Savoia and guided sightseeing, including viewing of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Then guests board a high-speed train for a journey through the Alps to Basel, Switzerland, where they embark either Grace or Inspire for a seven-night Rhine River cruise. Cruisers will visit Breisach, Germersheim, Heidelberg, Rudesheim and Dusseldorf before the cruise ends in Amsterdam. Among the nifty inclusions are either a beer-themed or history-and-architecture-themed walking tour in Dusseldorf and a Tauck exclusive evening at a wine estate overlooking the Rhine.

Since “the destination” is so important to luxury travelers, in 2018, Tauck is adding more included European shore excursions. For example, on the “Rhine Enchantment” itinerary, guests could choose wine tasting at Riquewihr, France or a guided Black Forest bicycle ride. Big perk? This year, Tauck provided exclusive visits for its land travelers to Versailles and the Louvre (after hours), but we’ve learned that next year it plans to expand that to Seine river voyages. All “Cruising the Seine plus Versailles, Paris & London” departures will feature an early, pre-opening Versailles visit, while most “Rendezvous on the Seine” departures will offer after-hours Louvre entry.  

In big news, AmaWaterways is building its largest river vessel ever, the 194-passenger AmaMagna, which will be twice the width of most European river vessels when it launches on the Danube River in 2019. The new ship will feature luxurious public spaces, many dining options, including an al fresco glass-enclosed restaurant, more onboard activities, enhanced evening entertainment and a quieter, more fuel-efficient engine.

We can’t wait to see the ship’s new open water sports platform outfitted with Zodiacs, canoes and recreational equipment. AmaMagna also will have a large heated sundeck swimming pool with whirlpool and sky bar, a spa area with new treatments and a fitness room large enough for small group classes. Adding to the luxury equation? Travelers will have plenty of room to spread out as most accommodations will be more than 300 square feet.

This spring, the new 156-passenger AmaKristina began sailing Rhine itineraries, and in 2018, a sister ship, AmaLea, will launch on Danube cruises and seasonal “Tulip Time” itineraries. One plus for multigenerational families and small groups are the connecting staterooms and triples. We appreciate the versatility of the line’s signature twin balconies, available in many accommodations; guests can soak in the views and enjoy natural light whether the weather is good or not. As for top accommodations, four Suites on the Violin Deck (Nos. 301 to 304) measure 350 square feet and have those twin balconies, a separate seating area, deluxe hotel-style bedding with Egyptian linens, down pillows and duvets, plus a master bathroom with twin vanities and separate tub and shower with multi-jet showerheads.

New in 2018, AmaWaterways will introduce 10- and 11-night cruises with two new itineraries on the Rhine and Moselle Rivers — “Rhine & Moselle Delights,” a 10-night cruise from Basel to Amsterdam with an optional three-night land extension in Zurich, Switzerland, and “Rhine & Moselle Fairytales,” an 11-night cruise from Amsterdam to Basel, also with an optional three-night Zurich extension. Also new next year, the line will launch “Sip and Sail,” a complimentary cocktail hour onboard its European fleet.   

Separately, we’ve learned AmaWaterways is thinking about expanding its new wellness program, launched in April on AmaLyra, to some other vessels in 2018. That program fields healthy food choices and a dedicated wellness instructor offering group yoga, running and tai-chi classes and health / wellness lectures. Four to six wellness events daily include yoga and stretching classes, walks and bike rides and a cross training circuit.

In Holland, Crystal Debussy’s inaugural seven-night “Tulips & Windmills” itinerary will sail from Amsterdam on April 9, 2018

Following the launch of its new all-suite, all-balcony Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler in the next few weeks, Crystal River Cruises will introduce two more pampering sister vessels, the 106-passenger Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel, in spring 2018. Originally designed for Seine River or Bordeaux area cruises in France, those two vessels are instead being modified / enlarged and now will sail seven, 10 and 14 days between Amsterdam, Basel and Vienna on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers.

On April 9, 2018, Crystal Debussy’s inaugural seven-night “Tulips & Windmills” itinerary sails from Amsterdam (overnight) to Rotterdam, Ghent, Antwerp, Middleburg and Amsterdam (overnight). Crystal Ravel’s inaugural voyage, the 14-night “Majestic Europe” itinerary, should certainly appeal to “destination collectors” for its array of port calls. Departing May 10, 2018 from Basel (overnight), the river vessel will call at Kehl, Speyer, Mannheim, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Miltenberg, Wertheim, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Regensberg, Deggendorf, Passau (overnight), Melk, Krems and Vienna (overnight).  

In all accommodations on all four new river vessels, guests can expect a king-sized bed that faces panoramic balcony windows; walk-in closet; dual bathroom vanity in most categories; wall-mounted, flat-screen TVs and Nespresso machines; and complimentary Wi-Fi. Guests can relax with ETRO robes and slippers as well as private butler service in every accommodation category. We’d ask the butler to help unpack or arrange for optional private experiences.

For the ultimate pampering and space, we’d opt for the 759-square-foot, two-bedroom Crystal Suite with panoramic balcony window (CS) on Crystal Deck 3. Nice suite touches include an entry vestibule, seating area with sofa, a flat-screen TV over a fireplace, dining table for four, guest powder room and more. Techies will appreciate the bedroom nightstands with wireless charging pads and USB outlets. The River Suite Deluxe (Category S1 on Crystal Deck 3 and S2 and S3 on Seahorse Deck 2) is the next best option at 237 square feet to 253 square feet.

When it’s time for lunch or dinner, Crystal’s farm-to-table, Michelin-inspired cuisine will be offered in multiple, open-seating eateries, including the Waterside Restaurant, Bistro café, Palm Court and the exclusive Vintage Room for wine pairing dinners. What’s nifty? Similar to some ocean ships, the two new river vessels will have a swimming pool with a glass roof, allowing guests to swim and relax at the pool in any weather.

The Royal Panorama Suites on Scenic Tsar have 334 square feet of space and come with a full-length private balcony

Next year, Scenic will operate a new 18-day cruise-tour, “Imperial Russia with St. Petersburg.” It starts with three nights at the Moika Kempinski (or similar), St. Petersburg. Then guests take a train trip to Moscow and embark Scenic Tsar, a boutique ship serving just over 100 guests; it’s modern, having been launched as a new build just four years ago. Nearly all staterooms and suites have a private full-length balcony and all have an en-suite bathroom, satellite TV, in-room safe, minibar and complimentary Wi-Fi. Top accommodations are the 334-square-foot Royal Panorama Suites (No. 200 or No. 203) on the Volga Deck’s bow.

Cruisers will spend three nights in Moscow prior to the ship’s Volga cruise. In Nizhny Novgorod, cruisers can visit the city’s Kremlin plus Maxim Gorky’s Museum House. In Ulyanovsk, cruisers will tour the Vladimir Lenin memorial complex and his family’s home and the Simbirsk classical gymnasium museum. Other ports on this itinerary include Uglich, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Pylos, Kazan, Samara, Saratov and Volgograd (Stalingrad), with two nights there.

Also new for Scenic are such combination cruise-tours as the 15-day “Jewels of Russia” itinerary that can be combined either with Copenhagen or “Berlin and the Baltic States” or “Spectacular Scandinavia.” Among many other new combinations are the Danube Christmas Markets with Prague, or the “Jewels of Europe” itinerary with “Majestic Britain and Ireland.”

When guests go ashore in Europe next year, Scenic will debut many new Freechoice excursions. Among them are Jewish heritage in Budapest; Szentendre, Hungary, known for its museums, galleries and artists; the Belvedere Museum or biking in Vienna; hiking to Belogradchik Castle, Bulgaria; and visits to wineries in many stops, including Vila Nova de Gaia in Porto, Portugal.

Scenic guests visiting Uglich, Russia, will have the opportunity to see the Church of St. Dmitry on the Spilled Blood

After this year’s launch of Avalon Fresh, farm-to-table vegetarian cuisine by rising culinary stars Karl and Leo Wrenkh, Avalon Waterways is further enhancing its dining with the recent hiring of Joerg Penneke as its new director of culinary; he’s a veteran cruise industry corporate and executive chef. Separately, a perk for solo travelers is that the line has waived single supplements on all 2018 European departures.

In addition, the line continues to expand its Active Discovery voyages. For example, a nine-day “Active Discovery on the Rhine” itinerary on multiple 2018 summer dates includes a seven-night sailing on the 138-passenger Felicity between Frankfurt and Amsterdam. Fit travelers can take a guided hike in Duisburg; climb stairs and visit rooms and Rhine battlements at Marksburg Castle; and head out on a running tour of Amsterdam with stops at attractions and running commentary by native Amsterdammers. Guests can immerse themselves in history, take a culinary tour or painting class, and even dress up in Roman attire to reenact the Roman Games.

Top digs? Felicity’s 258-square-foot Avalon Suite has a window-facing queen-sized bed, seating area with a couch and chair, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door with French balcony, and a bathroom with a marble counter and full shower.

Avalon Illumination will operate a special interest cruise with best-selling author Diana Gabaldon, who penned the Outlander books. The vessel is seen here in Esztergom, Hungary

We’d suggest travelers review Avalon Waterways’ robust line-up of special interest cruises. Best-selling author Diana Gabaldon, who penned the Outlander books, will host an author’s cruise onboard Illumination’s 11-day “Legendary Danube” itinerary, departing June 5, 2018 from Prague to Budapest. If gardening is more of interest, a new eight-day “Tulip Time Cruise for Garden and Nature Lovers” itinerary begins on April 13, 2018. Cruising on Impression roundtrip from Amsterdam, guests can enjoy “bloom” encounters during visits to Keukenhof Gardens near Lisse, an Antwerp botanical garden and secret gardens in the heart of Amsterdam.

Using Amadeus river vessels, Abercrombie & Kent is offering several new 2018 European “Connections by A&K” river itineraries. Small groups of up to 24 A&K guests receive such perks as A&K exclusive transport, a chef’s highlights dinner onboard; pre- and post-cruise touring and boutique hotel stays. A new 11-day “Prague and the Blue Danube” itinerary includes a seven-day cruise between Budapest and Passau, Germany, plus hotel stays in Budapest and Prague. We particularly like the included “Garden Party” lunch at a Budapest villa and a tour of a World War II art bunker in Nuremberg. 

Into Egypt
Europe isn’t the only region with enticing new river offerings. Starting in March, Viking River Cruises will add Egypt to its 2018 global river program. Just 48 guests will be pampered onboard the all-suite Viking Ra on a 12-day “Pharaohs & Pyramids” cruise tour, roundtrip from Cairo on multiple dates between March and May, and August and September 2018. The journey includes an eight-day cruise between Luxor and Abu Simbel. Recently acquired, the vessel is being stripped down to the steel to undergo a complete renovation. Among the accommodations are 20 Veranda Suites with a full-sized balcony in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom. An expert Egyptologist will lead excursions, plus guests will be treated to a Nubian evening event, camel riding experience and privileged access to Nefertari’s tomb in the Valley of the Queens. Add-ons include Jerusalem pre-cruise and Petra, the Dead Sea and Amman post-cruise.

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