River Rambling

 

AMAWATERWAYS visits Myanmar this year where cruisers will see the Shwedagon Pagoda.

AMAWATERWAYS visits Myanmar this year where cruisers will see the Shwedagon Pagoda.

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River cruising is now solidly a “bucket list” item for many travelers. So what’s new and what’s next for the major upscale global river lines in 2014?

Continuing a fast-paced fleet expansion, Viking River Cruises will launch 14 new Viking Longships on European rivers this year. The line also has two new itineraries. Foodies will savor the new eight-day “Châteaux, Rivers & Wine” itinerary, which explores the beauty and history of Bordeaux and France’s Aquitaine region. Expect tastings of wine, oysters, truffles and cognac.A-ROSA adds a new vessel this year and is adding free Wi-Fi as an amenity.

When the ship docks on Day 2 at Pauillac in the Medoc region, guests will head out for a wine country tour. One highlight is a chance to taste the region’s full-flavored Margaux. In the evening, guests have time to explore Pauillac’s marina and the Plaza Lafayette, the place from which the Marquis de Lafayette set sail to America. The region is also home to Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Mouton Rothschild. You’ll also spot the Ile de Patiras lighthouse in the middle of the Gironde River.

Picture: A-ROSA adds a new vessel this year and is adding free Wi-Fi as an amenity.

On day six, cruisers will also tour the working town of Cadillac to view an ancient harbor and fishing boats. Peruse an elegant 16th-century chateau with courtyard and moat, and the historic city walls with both clock and sea gates. In Bordeaux, visit Place des Quinconces, one of the Europe’s largest squares; the neoclassical Grand Theatre

de Bordeaux; and several spectacular churches. Check out Bordeaux’s Place de la Bourse with its mirror-like reflecting pool—impressive by day but stunning at night. On the line’s Arcachon excursion, you’ll peruse Victorian-era villas, walk along the boardwalk and taste fresh oysters, a local delicacy.

Viking’s second new itinerary is much more exotic. The 16-day “Memories of Mandalay” itinerary begins in Bangkok and includes a land stay in Yangon, Myanmar, and then a cruise along the Irrawaddy River. While in Yangon, tour the Shwedagon Pagoda, often called the Golden Pagoda. The journey’s highlight, though, is likely a visit to Bagan, a former Burmese capital that overflows with thousands of monuments and temples.

Also new? Viking is increasing the number of “Explore More” land extensions with customized touring guidance by Viking’s onboard concierges. New destinations added this year include Bruges, Belgium; Krakow, Poland; Nuremberg, Germany; the French Riviera; The Hague in The Netherlands, and Lake Geneva in France and Switzerland.

Three new ships will also launch for AmaWaterways in 2014.The 164-passenger AmaSonata and AmaReina (sister ships to AmaPrima and AmaCerto) will debut in Europe. The AmaSonata will cruise the Danube and Rhine Rivers on seven itineraries while the AmaReina will operate the week-long “Enchanting Rhine” itinerary.Uniworld‘s S.S. Catherine will debut this spring with an elegant design style, sailing along the Rhone and Saone rivers.

The new ships will feature the lines’ signature twin balcony (inside and outside balconies) staterooms and suites. Also expect Chaîne des Rôtisseurs culinary creations, complimentary fine wines and beer at lunch and dinner, multiple dining venues, a heated pool with swim-up bar, massage and beauty salon, fitness center, free in-room Internet and “infotainment.”

Picture: Uniworld‘s S.S. Catherine will debut this spring with an elegant design style, sailing along the Rhone and Saone rivers.

New AmaWaterways ships and other select ships operating in Europe this year will feature a Mozart Café, a Viennese-style coffeehouse, as well as the intimate Erlebnis Chef’s Table Restaurant with a gourmet tasting menu and wine pairings. Watch the chef cooking in a glass demonstration kitchen, dine at elegant tables, and soak in panoramic views, perfect when the ship enters river locks or sails close to local castles or villages.

On the line’s new Limited Edition Tours, you might indulge their personal passion for a culinary themed tour or, alternatively, a guided bicycle tour, among many other options. Also new this year in Europe, the line will now include complimentary, unlimited fine wines, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; the only exception is AmaKatarina in Russia.

Many veterans and history buffs will journey to Normandy’s Beaches on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. All AmaWaterways’ “Paris and Normandy” cruises between April and November will offer special D-Day commemorative excursions. Choose either a U.S. sector excursion or a British/Canadian sector tour. Both begin at Arromanches, a village renowned for its artificial “Mulberry” harbor, used by Allied troops during the June 6, 1944 landings. Today, the ghostly remains of large concrete structures are still visible offshore. Each tour then visits sites either focused on the American or British/Canadian experiences of D-Day.

Seeking a decidedly exotic itinerary? Cruise Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River onboard the newly built, all-suite AmaPura. With a mix of traditional Asian and modern décor, this 56-passenger ship is an oasis of pampering with a restaurant, main lounge and bar, gift shop, spa, pool and a Sun Deck. You’ll have your choice of a French balcony, step-out full balcony or twin (indoor and outdoor) balcony configuration.

The line’s new 10-night and 14-night Myanmar cruises visit Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Mount Popa, and four ancient royal cities. One recommended option is the post-cruise extension at the freshwater Inle Lake, one of the world’s most secretive and mysterious places. Guests will view water villages, floating gardens, ruins and temples. What’s really special, though, is watching local fisherman as they navigate by standing on one leg and wrapping the other around an oar; this one-legged steering technique allows them to free their hands for using nets.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection will launch its newest ship, S.S. Catherine, one of the largest ships in its fleet, on a “Burgundy & Provence” itinerary. What can river cruisers expect? Look for three elegantly appointed decks featuring spacious public areas and lavish staterooms and suites. The most spacious will be the Royal Suite at 410 square feet.

S.S. Catherine’s design style will complement her new home along the Rhone and Saone rivers. Expect hand-selected art, classic furnishings, old world antiques, marble, and creative use of mirrors in public areas, as well as hues of green, brown, beige, and gold adorning the walls and floors.

Similar to S.S. Antoinette, S.S. Catherine will have the whimsical Leopard Lounge with such safari touches as leopard print furnishings and elephant-head bar rails. The pool and spa area will feature mosaic tiling. Cruisers might dine alfresco at the main restaurant’s outdoor dining terrace or head for the cozy bistro restaurant.

With the S.S. Catherine sailing the Rhone/Saone, Uniworld’s River Royale will move to a new home in the line’s newest location, France’s Bordeaux region. New itineraries include “A Portrait of Majestic France,” sailing through northern and southern France, and “Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux,” focusing on Bordeaux.

Guests who go ashore independently in the region will have a foodie’s cornucopia of dining options, everything from Pauillac lamb to wood pigeon in red wine sauce, Arcachon Bay oysters, lampreys, eel, local beef and foie gras. One good dining choice is Le Chapon Fin, 5 rue Montesquieu, serving classy regional cuisine for lunch and dinner. Past diners have included artist Toulouse-Lautrec, modern celebrities and presidents. For lunch, order the fresh charr, mashed potatoes with vanilla, pickled leeks with tangerine juice, pepper and grapefruit foam, or, alternatively, grilled chuck of beef, rice vinegar, sweet and sour marinade of lime and peanuts. For dessert, try the yummy gingerbread with candied apple in “Tatin Spirit.”

What’s new onboard for Uniworld? In 2014, Uniworld introduces an all-inclusive European product, with cruise fares that include all gratuities onshore and onboard; all meals onboard; unlimited wine, beer, spirits, and non-alcoholic beverages; hosted excursions; and all transfers.

Tauck River Cruising also has several new river cruise itineraries. On its new 14-day “Cruising the Seine Plus Versailles, Paris & London” itinerary, guests spend two nights at Versailles and at The Savoy London, with guided sightseeing in both cities, plus sail on a nine-day cruise with two nights in Paris onboard the vessel.

A new 10-day “Rendezvous on the Seine” includes a two-night hotel stay in Paris with guided sightseeing, plus a seven-day cruise on the Seine. The new 10-day “Danube Reflections” tour includes a pampering two-night hotel stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Vienna, with guided sightseeing plus a seven day cruise on the Danube.

For luxury travelers, the Ritz-Carlton, Vienna, created from four historic palaces on the Ringstrasse, is a pampering place. If you have free time, refresh with the Guerlain Spa’s half-day “So Chic” package including a footbath, Vienna chic massage, radiance facial and deluxe manicure. Want something unusual? Take a dip in the hotel’s heated pool and listen to the underwater music.

Tauck’s new eight-day “Romantic Rhine: Amsterdam to Basel” includes a Tauck-exclusive dinner at Reichenstein Castle. Definitely head for the large, impressive “Knight’s Hall” at the top of the castle’s stairway; it has spectacular stained-glass windows and 3D paintings.

Two new Tauck ships launch this year, the 130-guest Savor and Inspire, both Inspiration-class vessels that have fewer guests onboard than other similar-sized ships of other lines. Among the accommodations are spacious suites furnished with a pull-out couch, roomy walk-in closets with built-in drawers, a marble bath with his-and-her sinks, two French balconies with floor-to-ceiling windows and brocade upholstery. Each ship also has four dedicated cabins for solo travelers.

For something really special, book the innovative Loft design accommodations on the lower or Emerald deck. These have a raised platform seating area with a small table, two chairs and a raised ceiling that allows use of a much taller window than can normally be incorporated into lower-level cabins. The upper portion of this window can be opened for fresh air, and being higher than usual, the window will allow far more natural light to fill the cabin.

Each new Inspiration-class vessel will have a Tauck Cruise Director and three Tauck Directors onboard to attend to guests’ needs and provide top-notch service. In addition, these employees will accompany shore excursions, where they’ll divide guests into small groups of no more than 25, with each group personally guided by a local expert.

For 2014, Tauck also will expand its complimentary onboard beverage program, so beer, wine, premium quality spirits, coffee, tea and soft drinks will be available anytime as part of the cruise fare.

This year, A-ROSA Cruises will add the A-ROSA Flora to its fleet of North American-branded ships. On her April 10 maiden voyage, A-ROSA Flora will sail through The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany along the Rhine River. This new ship has 83 staterooms and suites including two family staterooms capable of accommodating families of four.

The Viking Aquavit Area on longships lets guests dine casually indoors and out and enjoy the scenes along the river.Keeping in touch will be easier this year on A-ROSA with free Wi-Fi for all guests. Listening to guest feedback, the line also added a week-long “Rhine North Tulips” cruise this year onboard the new ship. The bucket-list experience starts in Cologne, and traverses Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Gent, Antwerp and Amhelm. Peer outside to see tulips blooming in fields, gardens, parks and areas lining the canals.

Picture: The Viking Aquavit Area on longships lets guests dine casually indoors and out and enjoy the scenes along the river.

A “must see” attraction is Keukenhof Gardens, where it’s easy to tip-toe around the flower beds and admire the seven million-plus colorful tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. What’s new? Ask the garden’s employees to point out the best spots to view 17th-century tulip varieties such as the Lac van Rijn, planted just last fall in a joint project of the gardens and the Rijksmuseum.

To kick-off the 2014 season throughout the wine regions of France, A-ROSA will also host celebrity guest Chef Sara Moulton on the May 24, 2014 “Taste of Burgundy & Provence on the Saone & Rhone” cruise. Head out with Sara on a market tour; enjoy two cooking presentations and an evening featuring her favorite recipes for dinner. In addition to the themed excursions and wine tastings, head out for a complimentary lunch on A-ROSA at famed Chef Paul Bocuse’s Lyon restaurant.

The hottest offerings for Avalon Waterways this year are special interest cruises. A new beer tasting cruise departs Oct. 13 on an “Austrian Highlights and Bavaria” itinerary. Enjoy beer tastings, visits to historic breweries and onboard lectures about European beer-brewing techniques.

Golf enthusiasts might tee off on the July 7 departure of a golf-themed “Austrian Highlights and Bavaria” cruise. Cruisers have tee times set up on local courses along the route and non-golfer spouses or friends can alternatively take excursions.

Health-focused cruisers have a “Blue Danube Discovery” cruise option on July 7. On this wellness cruise, begin the morning with onboard exercise programs featuring stretching and yoga, and throughout the cruise, attend lectures on healthy lifestyles.

It’s been 100 years since the start of World War I, and for history enthusiasts, Avalon commemorates the “Great War” on its July 14 departure of “Grand France,” and its July 22 departure of “Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches” itinerary. Avalon’s other special interest cruises this year focus on art and impressionism; wine and culinary cruises; European history and politics; Jewish heritage; jazz or classical music cruises; festive time; and President’s Cruises.

Into the exotic? Avalon’s new 11-day “Inca Empire to the Peruvian Amazon” includes a five-star luxury experience on the Amazon, Yarapa, Yanalipa and Ucayali Rivers onboard MV Aria. Built in 2011, this intimate ship has just 16 suites, each designed for stellar landscape views. Guests arrive in Lima, Peru, for VIP sightseeing, including the Larco Museum, before flying to Cusco to enjoy the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. On Day 7, guests head for Iquitos to board the Aria and spend three nights onboard. What’s to do? You might go piranha fishing; head out on dolphin, bird and monkey expeditions; visit a Magdalena village and explore the Yanalipa Flooded Forest.

During 2014, Avalon also expands its capacity by 10 percent as it launches three more Suite Ships in Europe—Avalon Poetry II, Avalon Illumination and Avalon Impression.

Debuting two new ships this year is Scenic Cruises. The 169-guest Scenic Jade will have 85 suites including one solo balcony suite. Most of the suites have full walk-out balconies, including the “Sun Lounge” factor—in which you just push a single button to convert the space into an all-weather lounge.

The new Scenic ships will allow the ships to sail in near silence, with double-insulated enclosures and a new engine configuration and props that reduce vibration. But if guests can’t sleep for other reasons, the good news is Scenic has 24-hour room service.

Look for a new 11-day “Gems of the Seine” itinerary, operated between July and October by the 126-passenger Scenic Gem. Active cruisers will appreciate the new ship’s 24-hour fitness center with top-rated equipment and electric assist bicycles.

Scenic Gem will be the only river ship from a major river line able to transit the Seine’s length from Paris to the ocean. Experience this itinerary’s sights with the line’s exclusive “Scenic Enrich” events, such as a private classical concert within the grandiose Chateau-de-Champlatreux in Vernon.

With “Scenic Free Choice” activities, guests also may choose from such pursuits as a Rouen tour; cooking demonstration and tasting at a French Baking and Patisserie Institute; or a hike up St. Catherine Hill for the views that inspired Monet’s Panorama of Rouen.

In Honfleur, Scenic offers a full-day excursion to the D-Day landing beaches of Normandy. Or, simply take an alternative tour of Deauville, the long-time beach playground of the rich and famous, where you can taste the region’s calvados, the region’s tasty apple brandy.

If you go independently to Deauville, one dining recommendation is The Spinnaker, 52 Rue Mirabeau, where savory entrees include steamed sea bass and sautéed diced beef. This restaurant also has a good wine selection. Try a Bordeaux vintage such as a Chateau Falfas Cuvee Les Demoiselles de Falfas 2008.

Another new Scenic offering is a 14-night “Danube Delta to Passau River” itinerary between Passau and Cernavoda, Romania. You’ll also have two days to explore the Romanian capital of Bucharest. Sailings depart April 5 and 21. In Budapest, enjoy a classical music concert at the Godollo Royal Palace, and in villages surrounding Osijek, share a traditional dinner in the home of a Croatian family. On this itinerary, also see Vienna’s key sites, trace the Turkish origins of paprika during a Spice Museum visit in Kalocsa, and learn about the history of Arbanassi, a northern Bulgarian village.

A plus for independently minded travelers is that Scenic’s Tailormade GPS device will be rolled out to all itineraries and ships in Europe—from Russia to France. Head off on your own walking tour or use an electric-assist bicycle. You’ll be guided by the line-provided GPS-guided handheld device with audio and mapping. It’s pre-loaded with themed tours focused on food and wine, gardens and nature, history, arts and culture, architecture and other topics.

This GPS device also includes Scenic Riverview, which provides expert commentary via a GPS-guided tour system for guests as they’re relaxing on board. So as the ship passes landmarks, just listen to the handheld unit to get commentary about the sites.

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