Continental Preview: New River Cruise Options

Cochem, Germany, will be one of the ports visited by Crystal Bach during its 14-day itinerary between Frankfurt and Amsterdam on July 30.

With spring just around the corner, Luxury Travel Advisor examined what’s happening on the waterways of Europe; what are the most anticipated new upscale vessels to launch in 2017 on the Danube, Rhine, Seine and other European waterways; what new itineraries await, and what’s new for active travelers who can’t wait to walk, hike or bicycle along the river routes?

It will be a big year for Crystal River Cruises, which debuted its first luxury European river vessel, the all-suite, 154-passenger Crystal Mozart on the Danube River last summer. Now, another chapter begins as the line’s first new builds, the 110-passenger Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler, begin sailing the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers on June 18 and August 29, respectively. To support the day-to-day operations of the expanding European river fleet, a new Crystal River Cruises office also recently opened in Amsterdam.

AmaWaterways will offer a new seven-night “Taste of Bordeaux cruises” in 2017, which would include special wine tours. Seen above is St. Emilion in France.

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One nice inclusion on all three vessels will be a Michelin-starred restaurant experience ashore (one per guest, per cruise), which the line introduced on Crystal Mozart last year. Top digs on the two new ships? We’d suggest spreading out with 759 square feet of space in the two-bedroom Crystal Suites (CS), which are located on Crystal Deck 3 and can accommodate up to four adults. The “wow” feature will be the suite’s main living area with an entry vestibule, fireplace, a seating area with sofa and two armchairs, a large, wall-mounted TV over the fireplace, powder room, and a dining table with seating for four. Guests can order “breakfast in bed,” delivered by their butler as they lounge on the king-size bed (convertible to two twins) that’s nicely configured to face the panoramic balcony-window. Techie fans will love the nightstands with a wireless charging pad and USB outlets.

Other accommodations onboard include a 253-square-foot River Suite Deluxe with panoramic balcony window (S1 and S2 categories) or a slightly smaller (S3) version of that suite. In addition, there are 188-square-foot Petite Suites. Among the new itineraries, Crystal Bach, for example, will operate a 14-day itinerary between Frankfurt, Germany and Amsterdam on July 30. We particularly like that the itinerary has plenty of cruising time, including one full day “on the river,” plus several half days of sailing in daytime. That said, luxury travelers will still have significant shore time during stops at Breisach, Kehl, Mainz, Speyer, Koblenz, Cochem and Cologne, Germany; Nijmegen, Netherlands; and Antwerp, Belgium. Additionally, the itinerary features three overnight calls allowing for even more in-depth exploration at Basel, Switzerland; Rudesheim, Germany; and Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Uniworld’s “Paris & Impressions of the Seine” itinerary has a shore option for retracing Van Gogh’s footsteps in Auvers-sur-Oise.

Two more sister vessels will join Crystal’s fleet in spring 2018, Crystal Debussy on Rhine and Moselle sailings and Crystal Ravel on Rhine, Moselle, Main and Danube itineraries. Two other vessels are planned for the future as well.

Another upscale line, AmaWaterways, is expanding its European fleet with the spring launch of the 158-passenger AmaKristina, a sister ship to AmaViola, on the Rhine River. One 11-night itinerary it will operate is “The Enchanting Rhine,” a seven-night cruise from Amsterdam to Basel, followed by two nights in Lucerne and ending with two nights in Zurich. Onboard, AmaKristina has a good mix of accommodations, many featuring the line’s signature twin-balcony concept (one full balcony as well as a French balcony).

The vessel also has an onboard fitness center, spa and a heated sun deck swimming pool with swim-up bar. Foodie fans will appreciate the gourmet cuisine, free-flowing regional wines with dinner, and, among several dining venues, the intimate, 24-guest Chef’s Table, which now has a newly revamped tasting menu as do all Chef’s Table venues in AmaWaterways’ European fleet.

Guests on Uniworld’s 10-day “Rhine-Maine Discovery & Munich” itinerary could choose to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle.

Top digs on AmaKristina are the four 350-square-foot SS suites (301 to 304) on Deck 3. We’d opt for 303 or 304, both slightly farther down the guest accommodations corridor rather than adjacent to the atrium area. All SS suites have an open concept — a sitting area with a sofa and two chairs, separated by space from the bedroom area. Guests enjoy exterior views via floor-to-ceiling glass windows with the twin-balcony concept. The suite’s bathroom has both a bathtub and separate shower. Other AmaKristina staterooms range from 210 square feet to 235 square feet in space.

In 2018, AmaWaterways will launch another sister ship, AmaLea, on the Danube River. It will offer connecting staterooms and triple accommodations and many of the features of AmaKristina. Also planned for 2018 is a daily “Sip and Sail” cocktail hour.

Luxury travelers heading to Paris have a new choice this spring with Uniworld Boutique Cruise Collection’s newest ship — the 128-passenger S.S. Joie de Vivre (or “joy of living”). It’s the first of the line’s Super Ships to sail along the Seine River and it will operate the line’s popular “Paris & Normandy” itinerary. Hardware-wise, this river vessel is a bit shorter in length than the typical Super Ships, so it can easily dock in the heart of Paris. As with Uniworld’s other vessels, luxury cruisers can expect to find “one-of-a-kind” interior décor (not cookie-cutter design from vessel to vessel), including French-inspired handcrafted furniture with rich fabrics, antiques, art, gilded and wrought-iron accents, and touches reflecting the French appreciation for food, wine, art and music.

For the most pampering accommodations, we’d recommend either 401 or 402, both Royal Suites adjacent to the atrium and not far from the Salon de Beaux-Arts on the Victor Hugo Deck. Within these 410-square-foot suites, cruisers will be duly pampered with butler service. They can also spread out within a separate sitting area, a bedroom with a queen-size, handcrafted Savoir bed from England (convertible into two twins), and a marble bathroom with shower. The en-suite amenities include an infotainment system with a flat-screen TV and complimentary on-demand movies and entertainment shows, built-in closets, individual climate control, Nespresso coffee machine and an iPod docking station.

Avalon Waterways’ nine-day “Active Discovery on the Danube” voyage allows cruisers to bike, hike and canoe along the river; explore an ice cave; take an archery lesson; or trek into Danube-Ipoly National Park.

The next most spacious choice is one of the eight 260-square-foot Junior Suites. The new ship also has 54 additional staterooms. One new guest perk? For 2017, Uniworld will launch 24-hour room service and concierge services.

After rapidly introducing a slew of new Longships over the past few years, Viking River Cruises, which operated 52 European vessels in 2016, is finally slowing European growth a bit. This year it will add two new Longships, the 190-passenger Viking Herja and Viking Hild. Their Rhine-Moselle itineraries will pass ancient castles, vineyards and the famous Lorelei, as well as call at Cochem, Mainz and Bernkastel, Germany. Guests will also visit Luxembourg City and Strasbourg, France.

On Viking Herja’s eight-day “Rhine Getaway” itinerary from Amsterdam to Basel, we’d suggest one unusual, pre-cruise option — a fully escorted three-day Edinburgh, Scotland tour. It includes three nights in Edinburgh at the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh or a similar property; three breakfasts and one lunch; services of a Viking tour director and three guided tours. Maritime fans will likely appreciate one Edinburgh city tour that includes a private visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia.

As with other Longships, the two newest vessels are “green ships” with solar panels, hybrid energy-efficient engines and an organic herb garden. Most notable among the mix of accommodations on each ship are two 445-square-foot Explorer Suites with separate living and bedroom areas. We love the clean lines and interior layout with separate living and sleeping areas. Explorer Suites also have an amazing exterior balcony that wraps around the bow and along one side of the vessel; the bedroom also features a floor-to-ceiling French balcony.

The new Viking Hild, along with Viking Alsvin, will offer a new 12-day “Paris To The Swiss Alps” cruise tour itinerary in 2017. Highlights include exploration in four countries, and hotel stays in Paris and Zurich. What’s to do? Along the route, guests will taste local Riesling vintages, visit the wine town of Bernkastel-Kues, explore Roman history, including a massive gate in Trier, and see the Lorelei rock and the Romanesque Speyer Cathedral.

New Routes & Excursions

When it comes to 2017 itineraries, cruisers have many new choices. Among them is Uniworld’s new 10-day “Rhine-Maine Discovery & Munich” itinerary, operated by River Ambassador between Munich and Cologne, Germany. Guests can choose from typical shore tours or Jewish heritage excursions on all departures. For example, in Munich, guests can choose between a fairy tale Bavaria tour to Neuschwanstein Castle, a trip to Hitler’s alpine lair or a Jewish Heritage excursion to the Dachau Concentration Camp, where guests will learn about what transpired prior to camp’s liberation by American troops in 1945.

In northern France, Uniworld’s new 10-day “Paris & Impressions of the Seine” itinerary showcases the landscapes and villages that inspired famous artists, including Monet and Van Gogh. Guests can also stroll through Le Havre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s often called “the cradle of Impressionism.” We like that this itinerary has a shore option for retracing Van Gogh’s footsteps in Auvers-sur-Oise, where he spent two months creating more than 70 paintings. If time permits and it’s lunchtime, one cozy restaurant that we like is Le Chemin des Peintres.

Want to head out on an exclusive visit to northern France’s Domaine Coeur de Lion, a fourth-generation family estate that produces ciders and Calvados? Or, how about entering Churchill’s famous War Rooms in London on a private, pre-opening-hours visit? Those are among the fresh new experiences for a small group of 24 guests who take Abercrombie & Kent’s (A&K) new “London, Paris & Seine River Cruise” itinerary this year. Luxury cruisers will sail the Seine River on Amadeus Diamond, and the itinerary includes 13 days of exclusive Connections sightseeing in a private small-group vehicle, escorted by an A&K resident tour director, as well as stays in centrally located London and Paris boutique hotels.

Another new A&K itinerary is a nine-day “New Year’s Along the Danube,” spotlighting the storied waterway with an Amadeus Silver II cruise. As with the other A&K itinerary, guests enjoy Connections sightseeing in a private small-group vehicle and services of an A&K tour director. In addition to this, cruisers receive a pre-cruise boutique hotel stay in Munich, Germany; a waltz lesson in Vienna with an experienced local instructor; and an array of small-group experiences. One perk we particularly like is a hands-on cooking class in Bratislava, Slovakia.

In 2017, AmaWaterways will offer more than 40 wine-themed cruises, including a new seven-night “Taste of Bordeaux cruises” along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Highlights include visits to chateaux, special wine tours, tastings at local wineries and private cellars, strolls through vineyards, and wine expert-led informative sessions. Looking ahead to 2018, fans of the grapes will find even more choices. For 2018, the line is planning 50 wine-themed cruises throughout the wine regions of Austria, Germany, Portugal and France.

Coming up, Viking plans several other enticing new European shore options in 2017 and beyond. On Portugal’s “River of Gold” itinerary, the line will introduce a new port wine dinner for connoisseurs via an exclusive agreement with Symington Family Estates. In Germany, the “Elegant Elbe” itinerary will offer a new full-day Berlin tour that delves into the history of Cold War, taking cruisers to Tempelhof airport, a subway station still divided by a wall and the real-life “Bridge of Spies” of recent movie fame.

We’re particularly intrigued by one new shore trip planned in Heidelberg this year (the specific itinerary / ship to offer this is yet to be decided, the line tells us). Guests will spend the day with local university students as their guides. Cruisers will not only see the sites, but also get an intimate look at student life while visiting dorms, clubs and other university facilities not on the normal visitor circuit.

Tauck has doubled its Tauck Bridges family river cruise departures this year. Families with kids can opt for Danube, Rhone or Rhine river itineraries, or, new for 2017, the Seine River. Each itinerary includes cooking classes, storytelling, cultural explorations and exclusive experiences.

As part of a two-year initiative to reconfigure more than half its European river fleet, Tauck will radically update ms Sapphire, which sails the Seine, and ms Emerald, which sails the Rhone. Middle deck cabins are being enlarged, thus reducing the ships’ overall passenger capacity, and the alternative dining venue Bistro is being upgraded to match Arthur’s, the alternate dining venue found on Tauck’s newer ships.

New for Active Cruisers

One new special-interest itinerary added by Avalon Waterways for 2017 is a nine-day “Active Discovery on the Danube” voyage on the 138-passenger Avalon Luminary between Linz, Austria and Budapest, Hungary. We’d opt for this itinerary’s unusual excursion to descend into an underground salt mine, or perhaps hike and retrace a World War II smuggling route. Throughout the voyage, cruisers can bike, hike and canoe along the river; explore an ice cave; take an archery lesson; or trek into Danube-Ipoly National Park. Luxury travelers should choose the ship’s 258-square-foot Avalon Suite, which is the ship’s largest. Also new on Avalon? In addition to its regular culinary line-up, it will launch the new Avalon Fresh this spring, creating new healthy, vegetarian choices for guests.

Scenic has new active itineraries within the Danube and Bordeaux regions. Cyclers will head out on specialized bikes provided by the line along with cycling guides, a bicycle mechanic plus a support vehicle that will follow each group. During the 11-day “Bordeaux Cycling Endeavor,” guests can cycle along the Arcachon Bay coast and other routes, sample local dishes such as oysters at local markets, and enjoy lunch and wine tasting in Saint-Émilion. Departures are in July and August. It’s also possible to add an extension to Champagne and the Loire Valley of France, as well as Madrid, creating a 19-day itinerary. Separately, guests on Scenic’s eight-day “Gems of the Danube Cycling Discovery” can cycle along the Wachau Valley’s Danube Path, one of Europe’s most famous cycling paths. A full-day tour from Regensburg involves cycling a trail of five rivers. Multiple departures are offered throughout the summer season, and Scenic offers a Prague add-on.

Starting in 2017, Scenic is also partnering with Trek Travel to offer new biking and river cruise tours on select “Gems of the Danube” departures (May 10, May 22, May 31, July 26 and Aug 30) as well as “Rhine Highlights” departures (June 12, June 26, Aug 16 and Sept 13) from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Perks include use of a Trek Domane 5.9 carbon road bike, daily route support, experienced bicycling guides and additional shore excursions provided by Scenic in every port.

And there’s more… AmaWaterways has expanded its 2017 line-up to 56 active voyages in partnership with Backroads, which hosts walking, hiking and bicycling tours; one option is a new Douro Region walking tour. Uniworld also fields many active options. On its “Rhine-Maine Discovery & Munich” itinerary, guests can hike from Braubach through the mountains to the Marksburg Castle, one of the only Rhine castles never destroyed.

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