River Action

Porto, Portugal, a historical port city, offers hiking opportunities in the nearby hills for active cruisers.
Porto, Portugal, a historical port city, offers hiking opportunities in the nearby hills for active cruisers.

European river cruising is definitely sailing away from its “past.” Sure, travelers can still relax and do nothing, but increasingly, luxury river lines are welcoming more active travelers, younger cruisers and more families.

What’s to do? Guests hike, bike, kayak, go horseback riding or head off for independent walking, running or even hill-climbing outings. Back onboard, they work out in the ship’s fitness center or circle a top-deck walking track. For 2015, new luxury ships, active experiences and themed cruises await.

Tauck’s Swiss Jewel near Durnstein, Austria. The line carries its own fleet of bicycles for guest use, making it easy to head out.
Tauck’s Swiss Jewel near Durnstein, Austria. The line carries its own fleet of bicycles for guest use, making it easy to head out.

In 2015, families have a new option with Tauck’s seven-night “Castles on the Rhine: Family Riverboat Adventure,” sailing on the new Inspire from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam. Parents and kids can take a cogwheel train ride up Mt. Pilatus’ steep slopes in Lucerne or go on a family group bike ride from Koblenz using the easy riverside trails of the Rhine-Moselle (Rheinradweg) bicycle route.

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Tauck carries its own fleet of bicycles for guest use, making it easy to head out. In this family-friendly itinerary, we particularly like the French language sing-along and chocolate sampling in Strasbourg and costume/dress-up Carnival evening onboard. For adults, the ship has a fitness center, golf-putting area and whirlpool.

Also new this spring is Tauck’s 23-day trip linking cruises on the Rhone and Seine rivers via high-speed train with included hotel stays in London and Monte-Carlo. In addition, the luxury line will launch the 118-passenger Esprit, a Jewel-class vessel, on the Rhine, Danube and Main rivers.

We suggest sailing in the best “digs” onboard Esprit, which are the 300-square-foot suites with brocade upholstery, two French balconies with floor-to-ceiling windows, a marble bath and walk-in closet. With this ship’s new accommodations and those of its two ships launched last year, Tauck is getting a much-needed 80 percent capacity increase in just a year.

Uniworld affords fitness-conscious guests an opportunity to do laps in the heated pool.
Uniworld affords fitness-conscious guests an opportunity to do laps in the heated pool.

Two new 164-passenger river vessels—sisters to the popular AmaCerto and AmaPrima—set sail in Europe this year for AmaWaterways. The new AmaSerena will operate “Enchanting Rhine” voyages this spring between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland, while the new AmaVista will ply Rhine, Main and Danube waters.

Each has 210- to 235-square-foot staterooms plus four pampering 300-square-foot suites. We love the line’s signature “twin balcony” concept found on the Violin and Cello decks; cruisers have sliding glass doors to a traditional outside balcony plus a cozy interior space with a French balcony, so guests enjoy the views no matter the weather.

Gourmet dining with free-flowing fine wines unfolds at both a main dining room and an attractive aft-facing alternative venue; it’s fun to savor a good meal as the ship sails through a “lock.” Both new ships have a fitness center and spa, and offer multi-paced walking options. Fit guests should choose the “active walkers” tour for a bit more of a work-out.

Alternatively, travelers can reserve one of the bicycles onboard and head out for a leisurely “pedal” around a small village or a more robust 30-mile riverside biking trip from Durnstein to Melk, Austria. Seeking a more strenuous work-out? Consider climbing the mountain behind the town to reach castle ruins; hill-climbing options are also available at other European destinations including Bratislava, Slovakia.

Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Impression has an expanded fitness room.
Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Impression has an expanded fitness room.

On certain dates this year, the new AmaSerena offers “themed” wine and Jewish-heritage cruises on its “Enchanting Rhine” itinerary. The wine cruise includes lectures and tastings hosted by wine expert Christopher Silva, president and CEO, St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, Santa Rosa, CA. Alternatively, the Jewish Heritage-themed cruises transport guests to synagogues, Vienna’s Jewish Museum and other Jewish history sites, including Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice.

Also new for AmaWaterways in 2015 is a beer-themed cruise, offered during the “Tulip Time Cruise,” sailing roundtrip from Amsterdam on March 31, as well as a “Christmas Time Cruise” on December 14. Brew fans can expect regional beers and cuisine, a beer-pairing dinner, brewery tours including one at a Dutch windmill, and discussions and tastings by author and beer connoisseur Don Russell.

Expanding its upscale “Suite Ship” product onto French rivers this spring with plenty of fitness options is Avalon Waterways. Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander books, will christen the new 128-passenger Avalon Tapestry II on March 24 in Les Andelys, France. It will then set sail on “Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches” and “Grand France” itineraries.

Avalon also christens a second ship, Avalon Tranquility II, in Strasbourg, France, this spring; it will sail the Rhine and offer week-long voyages as well as a two-week vacation that pairs up the Rhine experience with another Avalon sailing on the Rhone and Saone rivers.

Avalon Luminary cruises the Moselle River in Germany. The 138-passenger ship visits some of Europe’s oldest cities.
Avalon Luminary cruises the Moselle River in Germany. The 138-passenger ship visits some of Europe’s oldest cities.

Creative design is a hallmark of Avalon’s ship building, so Tapestry II, as with other Suite Ships plying European waters, boasts two full decks of Panorama Suites. We like the creativity of stateroom design that slightly angles the bed to give more space in the bathroom; also nifty is that the bed directly faces the wall of floor-to-ceiling glass panels, unusual in European river accommodations. When travelers slide those glass panels aside, they create their own “interior open-air balcony.” Seated on a loveseat, chair or the bed, guests then clearly view the outside scenery through a nine-foot, open-air space.

Mirroring the experience found on all Avalon ships, the Suite Ships have a state-of-the-art fitness center. They also feature contemporary design and such features as a main lounge, dining room with scenic views, hair salon, Sky Deck whirlpool and open-air bistro for outdoor, grilled lunches.

The July 28 departure of the “Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches” is an exclusive “Art & Impressionist Cruise,” which includes special lectures and art-themed excursions. Cruisers will do much walking as they visit Claude Monet’s Giverny, Paris’ Musée d’Orsay, the Place du Tertre artist district in Montmartre, Honfleur in France and the Musée des Beaux-Arts André Malraux in Le Havre.

A new river star setting sail this spring is the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s S.S. Maria Theresa, a sister to the S.S. Catherine which launched earlier this year. Sailing the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, the 155-passenger vessel will operate “Tulips & Windmills” and “European Jewels” itineraries, plus two holiday itineraries—“Danube Holiday Markets” and “Enchanting Christmas and New Year’s Cruise.”

Onboard, travelers can work out in the fitness center or do exercises or laps in the heated pool. The ship also will have an elegant restaurant, terrace, Sun Deck with chess and shuffleboard, Serenity River Spa and a main lounge with full-service bar. As for the line’s Leopard Bar with jungle décor, we can’t wait to see what Uniworld has planned for that signature space on S.S. Maria Theresa, given the stunning jungle-green swimming pool visible through glass from the Leopard Bar on S.S. Catherine.

Clients who book on the Main and Upper decks can spread out in French balcony accommodations. We’d suggest booking Upper Deck accommodations where cruisers can push a button to raise the balcony glass and turn the space into an enclosed conservatory. Uniworld pays great attention to detail in design and décor, so whatever room or suite is chosen, guests can expect hand-crafted Savoir of England beds, high-quality fabrics, marble bathrooms and more. Suite guests enjoy butler service and a complimentary suite well-being treatment.

Not to be outdone, luxury Scenic Cruises launches the 169-passenger Scenic Jasper and Scenic Opal, the newest of its so-called “Space Ships,” in April 2015. They’ll sail the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers and their tributaries.

If private space and pampering is desired, the new ships deliver that with high-end staterooms and suites. If luxury travelers really want room to spread out, the Royal Panoramic Suites are a whopping 476 square feet, although every suite has a butler and 24-hour room service. Most accommodations have Scenic Sun Lounges—balconies that can be enclosed to become a solarium.

Another “wow” feature on the two new ships will likely be the new “split pool” on the Sun Deck—comprised of both a warm-water pool and a separate swim-against-the-current pool, perfect for fitness buffs desiring to keep up the pool workout they have at home. Guests can also expect a bit larger onboard fitness center. Luxury cruisers will relax in a redesigned lounge as well as a restaurant with windows that can be opened in good weather.

Heading ashore? Scenic offers concierge service at every port to help with independent exploration. A nice perk provided to guests is a Scenic Tailormade GPS Device so cruisers can head out for a walk, run or self-guided day-trip without getting lost. Also, electric-assist bicycles allow guests to pedal farther for an extended scenic trip ashore.

Demonstrating sizable growth, Viking River Cruises will launch 12 new European river vessels this year. That includes 10 of its signature “Viking Longships” plus two smaller vessels—the 98-passenger Viking Astrild and Viking Beyla—that will join the refurbished Viking Schumann and Viking Fontane in operating Viking’s “Elegant Elbe” itinerary in eastern Germany.

As with all Viking ships, they’ll have modern Scandinavian-style design with “clean lines.” The Elbe voyages, though, are attracting experienced European river cruisers seeking something different. The 10-day cruisetour includes an Elbe River cruise plus stays in Prague and Berlin. We recommend asking the Viking concierge to assist with bicycle rentals and arrange for self or guided tours by bike.

Smaller than Viking’s Longships, the two new Elbe ships accommodate just 98 guests in 49 staterooms. The best “digs” on the ship are forward-facing Explorer Suites with separate sleeping and sitting quarters, a wraparound veranda with 270-degree views and a separate French balcony.

Also new for Viking this year are two new Rhine River spring itineraries, including a seven-night Amsterdam-to-Frankfurt “Legends of the Rhine” voyage and a nine-night “Rhine Rhapsody” cruisetour which combines a trip to Paris with a Rhine/Moselle cruise. Highlights include Trier, Rudesheim and Cochem in Germany as well as Strasbourg, France, and Basel, Switzerland. For a good cardiovascular work-out, we suggest creating a self-guided walking tour of Trier’s many Roman-era sites, including the Porta Nigra (city gate), Imperial Baths, Constantine Basilica with a throne hall built for Emperor Constantine, Roman amphitheater and a Roman-era bridge spanning the Moselle.

For 2015, A-Rosa Cruises, which sails Rhine, Main, Moselle, Danube and Rhone/Saone river voyages, has added “more choice” in its upscale onboard product. Previously, the line only served complimentary wine at lunch or dinner. Now, travelers can choose from an all-day, open-bar menu of mixed cocktails, fine regional wines and spirits, plus nonalcoholic soft drinks, juices, coffee and tea.

New this year, A-Rosa also is giving each guest a 200-euro shore excursion credit ($280 at press time). Guests pick the specific outing best fitting their style rather than having certain walking tours just included automatically. Active travelers can use the credit for “Kayaking in the Ardeche,” or a “Camargue by 4 by 4 with a Barbecue in the Countryside” shore excursion during a seven-night “Toast to Burgundy” itinerary of the A-Rosa Stella.

Bicycles are carried for A-Rosa guests to use, and other activities include kayaking or walking with the chef as he or she shops at local food markets.

Debuting in Asia

What new upscale river vessels will be plying Asian waters in 2015 and 2016?

Replica of what AmaWaterways’ AmaDara will look like. The 124-passenger ship is scheduled to be launched in August.
Replica of what AmaWaterways’ AmaDara will look like. The 124-passenger ship is scheduled to be launched in August.

AmaDara: Launching in August, the new 124-passenger AmaWaterways’ AmaDara will sail 16-day “Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong” itineraries, including Hanoi, Halong Bay and Ho Chi Minh City stays. Cruisers can expect 226-square-foot staterooms and 334-square-foot suites with “twin balconies,” dining on western, Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine and a swimming pool. www.amawaterways.com

Avalon Myanmar & Avalon Siem Reap: Avalon Waterways will launch the 36-guest Avalon Siem Reap on the Mekong River and the Avalon Myanmar on the Irrawaddy River. A new 14-day “Golden Myanmar & the Alluring Irrawaddy” itinerary includes a Began-to-Bhamo cruise plus Yangon hotel stays. Avalon Suites have a slide-to-open wall of glass to create open-air balconies. www.avalonwaterways.com

Ganges Voyager II: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s “India’s Golden Triangle & Sacred Ganges” itinerary combines five nights at Oberoi Hotels in New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur with a seven-night cruise on the new 56-passenger Ganges Voyager II, sailing roundtrip from Kolkata in eastern India. Why not reserve the Grand Maharaja Suite with butler service and other perks? www.uniworld.com

Laos Pandaw: For “been-there, done-that” guests, a new 10-night Laos cruise will be operated starting this year by Pandaw River Expeditions’ new 10-stateroom Laos Pandaw. Guests embark at Vientiane, visit Mekong River ports, spend two days at Luang Prabang and disembark at Chiang Khong, Thailand. Watching monks receiving alms, swimming in jungle pools and visiting tribal villages are among the activities. www.pandaw.com

Scenic Spirit: In 2016, Scenic Cruises sails the Mekong River with its new 68-guest, all-suite Scenic Spirit. Itineraries range from eight days between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap to 27 days on a land-cruise adventure from Hanoi to Luang Prabang. The ship has a pool deck, spa with sauna and steam room, Sun Deck with open-air cinema, lounge and four dining venues. The 868-square-foot Panorama Suite is the largest suite on any river vessel. www.sceniccruises.com

Other exotic river happenings elsewhere? Uniworld will return to Egypt with River Tosca, starting in October 2015. Abercrombie & Kent offers a “Family China” river itinerary on the Yangzi Explorer with calligraphy and Mandarin lessons, crafts and games. Also, International Expeditions has launched Wi-Fi onboard La Estrella Amazonica in the Peruvian Amazon, a region with very limited cell service.

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