Culinary shore trips, onboard cooking classes and new ships with savory dining features are among the draws for upscale cruisers to European rivers in 2017. Most notable is that during winter 2016-17, Scenic Cruises will actually rebuild its main dining rooms on the 167-passenger Scenic Diamond, sailing the Bordeaux region of France, and the 169-passenger Scenic Emerald and Scenic Sapphire, both sailing on the Saône and Rhône rivers, to incorporate a new, private cooking emporium.
Called “Scenic Culinaire,” this new culinary space will accommodate up to 10 guests for cooking classes on all France itineraries (for those three ships). Guests can expect cooking stations, a cheese-and-wine cellar and a real-time camera and screen for easy viewing of the cooking instruction. Chefs accompanied by class participants will source fresh ingredients from local French markets, before returning to the ship for a cooking class. Budding culinary stars can learn to create a seafood dish with fresh Arcachon mussels, concoct a decadent dessert with Bordeaux chocolate or cook an entrée with Provençal ingredients. While Scenic will schedule many classes on each cruise, the experience is intimate and the space limited. We’d suggest that guests visit the cruise director immediately upon boarding to register for a class.
Scenic also fields themed culinary sailings on these ships — 14-day “Tastes of Southern France” cruises departing July 16 and August 18, 2017, and 12-day “Tastes of Bordeaux” voyages on July 9 and August 28, 2017. Guests can head ashore for foodie-focused excursions such as lunch at the Michelin three-star Maison Pic in Valence, a visit to a traditional Bouchon in Lyon or an outing to Rémy Martin for canapés prepared by a Michelin star chef and matched with Rémy Martin cognacs.
Guests can also stroll through coastal Arcachon’s Baltard Market, famed for its fresh oysters, strawberries, vegetables, fresh fish, local cheeses and flowers. We particularly like the “Tastes of Bordeaux” itinerary for its complimentary, exclusive Scenic Enrich outing. Guests will visit Farm Suzanne on the Giscours estate to enjoy four-course dining with Grand Cru Classé wines and a live concert of classical masterpieces.
During the upcoming winter re-build, these three Scenic vessels will also become more intimate with their guest counts reduced to just 155 each. The ships will receive two new 506-square-foot Royal Owner’s Suites, a larger reception area, new staircases, a larger wellness center, including gym and spa and a new vitality pool.
In 2017, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection will increase its “Connoisseur Collection” themed voyages from 15 to 24 departures. These savory journeys are offered on select “Paris & Normandy,” “Burgundy & Provence,” “Bordeaux, Vineyards & Châteaux,” “A Portrait of Majestic France,” “Grand France” and “Ultimate France” itineraries.
What’s special? Travelers can participate in Valrhona chocolate tastings and wine pairings; enjoy a cooking demonstration and tea party at the Institut Paul Bocuse; taste apples, cheeses, cider and calvados (a brandy made from apples and pears) at a local apple farm; and, head out for cognac tasting at the Rémy Martin Estate. Guests can also watch a truffle hunt at a French truffle farm or visit La Couronne, where Julia Child enjoyed her first French meal.
Also for 2017, Uniworld will launch a new vessel, the 128-passenger S.S. Joie de Vivre on France’s Seine River; it will be shorter than most river vessels on the Seine, thus allowing it to dock in the heart of Paris. Onboard, guests will relax amid Uniworld’s signature ornate and detailed décor, which includes French-inspired, hand-crafted furniture and rich fabrics. We expect the ship’s Salon de Beaux-Arts to be a stunner for its fine arts and antiques curated from auction houses and private collections. Le Club l’Esprit has a pool with a hydraulic floor that can transform into a dance floor or movie theater setting.
It’s not just France that beckons foodies, though. For those sailing on Uniworld’s “Castles Along the Rhine” or “Legendary Rhine & Moselle” itineraries traversing Germany, Austria and other central European countries, we recommend asking the concierge to set up a gourmet vinegar cooking class ashore on a port call at Germersheim (Speyer), Germany. This isn’t part of the regular line-up of shore excursions listed in the brochure, but a more specially curated option Uniworld has created to give guests more personalized shore trips.
Wine Tasting sessions at Châteauneuf-du-Pape is part of Tauck’s signature culinary itinerary, “A Taste of France.”
Guests will join a chef in a 300-year-old village home near Doktorenhof for a four-course cooking class that elevates the vinegar experience by using orange blossom vinegar to season prawns or cherry vinegar to flavor chocolate tartlets. Along the “Castles on the Rhine” itinerary, the line offers another special excursion, a Black Forest trip to the Vogtsbauernhof outdoor museum and House of Black Forest Clocks with lunch and sampling of the region’s famed Black Forest cake.
New for Tauck in 2017 is an exclusive dinner for guests of the “French Waterways” and “French Escapade: Monte-Carlo to Paris” itineraries at the 12th-century Duché d’Uzès, the Duke’s castle in Provence, France. Travelers can tour the historic castle and enjoy a Tauck-exclusive reception with a favorite cocktail or an excellent regional wine. Did you know that vines have been cultivated in the Rhône region since the 6th century BC?
Duché d’Uzès gained AOC status a few years ago with its blended wines made using Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Clairette grape varieties. Reds are spicy and fruity, with a hint of black olive, pepper or licorice. Rosé wines have a white floral and red berry bouquet. For a savory white, we suggest the Viognier and Grenache Blanc vintages.
Separately, Tauck’s signature culinary offering, “A Taste of France” itinerary begins with a two-night hotel stay and a guided, culinary-themed sightseeing of Paris before guests travel by high-speed train to Lyon for a seven-day Rhône culinary cruise. Departures for 2017 are slated for April 12, June 15, August 24 and October 27. Special experiences in Paris include dinner at Fouquet’s brasserie, pastry-making, chocolate-tasting and an epicurean walk. Shore-side highlights of the Rhône cruise include a tasting tour at Lyon’s famous Les Halles de Lyon market, private wine tastings in Beaujolais and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, dinner at Abbaye de Collonges, a Paul Bocuse restaurant in Lyon, and a demonstration and tasting session by a chef at a cooking school in Valence.
Next year, Tauck will also introduce its newly re-designed Emerald and Sapphire; 70 percent of staterooms in these ships will measure 225 square feet or more. More new offerings will include shore-side events, such as exclusive evenings at castles, châteaux and royal palaces. A new “Family Fun along the Seine” itinerary includes two nights in Paris plus a five-night river cruise on Sapphire that includes exploration of towns and villages along the river, a visit to the Normandy D-Day beaches and an excursion to the Palace of Versailles near Paris.
Earlier this year, AmaWaterways enhanced its onboard culinary offerings by launching a new tasting menu at the signature Chef’s Table restaurant. Rudi Schreiner, co-owner and president, AmaWaterways, and Primus Perchtold, the line’s executive chef, personalized the menu to create tastings of three starters, three main courses and three decadent desserts.
One starter menu features marinated heirloom tomato, watermelon and caramelized goat cheese; marinated salmon trout, papaya salsa, scallops, carrots, miso cream, apple, beetroot celery salad; and a parsnips cream soup with beef pastrami, mustard dill, pear sorbet and champagne. Main courses on the menu are grilled pike perch, spinach-nettle and crayfish; porcini ravioli, nuts-flavored chive butter and vegetable pearls; and Japanese glazed short ribs, cauliflower mash, quinoa and broccoli. Guests can top off the meal with chocolate truffle cake, brûlée cheese cake and vanilla ice cream; fresh fruit; and European cheeses.
AmaWaterways has also expanded its French river experiences. This year, AmaDolce operates the line’s first seven-night “Taste of Bordeaux” cruises roundtrip from Bordeaux along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Highlights include a visit to Cadillac’s Roquetaillade Castle, Grand Cru Classé wine tasting in Pauillac and an excursion to Château de Montaigne in Libourne. Optional pre- and/or post-cruise extensions include Paris, château visits and wine tasting in Loire Valley. An added advantage is that multiple “Taste of Bordeaux” departures this year and eight next year are wine-themed. For the ultimate pampering, travelers can choose the Violin Deck’s 255-square-foot Suites (No. 301, No. 303 and No. 304), with double balconies, a seating area, and large bathroom with separate tub and shower.
The new 158-passenger AmaStella and AmaViola were launched this spring in Europe, with new accommodation options for multigenerational groups and families. Guests are now sailing on “The Romantic Danube,” “Melodies of the Danube” and “Christmas Markets on the Danube” itineraries and the vessel is operating AmaWaterways’ first cruises with Adventures by Disney. The 12 staterooms can accommodate up to three family members each; six sets of adjoining cabins can be connected via an internal doorway, accommodating families of up to five; and, four suites with convertible sofa-beds will suit families of up to four.
For 2017, Crystal Cruises’ fleet will launch four new vessels — Crystal Debussy, Crystal Ravel, Crystal Mahler and Crystal Bach. Crystal also just announced plans for two more new river vessels between 2017 and 2019. This month, the line’s first ship, the 158-passenger Crystal Mozart launches on the Danube River. With stylish new décor by London’s AD Associates and Toronto’s II by IV Design, the ship will have a calming onboard color palette of cream, gray and white accented with deep blue, green and the occasional vibrant print.
All guest suites have pampering butler service, king-size beds, Nespresso machines, 40-inch flat-screen TVs and marble bathrooms. The ship’s window suites and deluxe suites with a French balcony will both encompass 219 square feet. For the ultimate in space, though, we’d opt for either the 330-square-foot Penthouse Suites or the two-bedroom Crystal Suites of 883 square feet; both will have French balconies, walk-in closets, separate showers and oversized bathtubs.
We can’t wait to see the pop-up bar area on the top “Vista” deck, complete with a vanishing movie screen for al fresco evening shows, as well as the “living” rooftop garden area with teak bench seating areas. Crystal Mozart’s Waterside is the main dining venue with indoor and outdoor seating, elaborate breakfast and lunch buffets, and upscale dinner service. Blue, an aft indoor dining area with a casual aura, will offer a menu comprising global comfort food, while the Vintage Room is an intimate dining room hosting winemakers’ dinners and special occasions for approximately a dozen guests.
In addition to existing culinary offerings, Avalon Waterways will introduce “Avalon Fresh,” a new collection of wholesome, healthy cuisine specialties, in 2017. Developed by rising culinary stars Karl and Leo Wrenkh (who founded the Wrenkh Vienna Culinary School 2.0), Avalon Fresh will spotlight fresh, local ingredients from small farms and producers. Guests can sample a dish or two, or stick to the veggie-friendly menu for the entire cruise. Some options will be gluten-free.
The upscale line also offers select culinary-themed cruises for 2017, including an eight-day “Paris to Normandy” sailing roundtrip from Paris, departing April 25, 2017. Along with seeing the City of Light and French countryside, guests can witness an onboard pastry demo, plus a Master of Wine will host a cheese-and-wine tasting session as well as a special food-and-wine pairing dinner. A longer culinary-themed voyage is “Grand France,” which departs April 17, 2017 and includes one night on the Côte d’Azur, a 14-night cruise itinerary from Arles to St. Jean de Losne, and Paris.
This year, Viking River Cruises launched six more 190-passenger Viking Longships — the Viking Kadlin, Viking Alruna, Viking Egil, Viking Vilhjalm,Viking Rolf and Viking Tialfi — on European rivers. These feature the popular indoor-outdoor Aquavit Terrace with retractable floor-to-ceiling glass doors and al fresco dining, plus other dining options. Foodies can sample the best of European cuisine on Viking’s 2017 “Grand European Tour” itinerary between Budapest and Amsterdam on Viking Egil; travelers can visit nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, make Rüdesheimer coffee, visit a Viennese market and taste the famed sachertorte.
New for A-ROSA Cruises next year include A-ROSA VIVA sailings on the Seine River between Paris and Le Havre, where guests can explore history and savor French cheeses, cider and calvados. Among the choices are a four-night “Seine Mini-Cruise with Paris” and a seven-night “Seine Experience the Normandy.” Across Europe, river lines have introduced voyages that seem as though they are sent from heaven for foodies because of the plethora of new options in 2017.