Have you ever met anyone who didn’t like the European river cruise that they went on? Probably not, or very rarely, because the satisfaction rate for river cruising is through the roof. And now that the world is fully open to travel again, river cruising continues to draw in new and repeat guests at impressive rates.
“For a relaxing way to travel, river cruising is the easiest - just step off the boat and enjoy the local sights, cafes, and life at each port of call. Our favorite rivers are the stunning Douro and the historically rich Danube River, enhanced with pre and post-packages for a wonderful experience,” explains Linda Nilsen, co-owner of Blue Ribbon Cruise & Travel.
“River cruising is still definitely on many travelers' bucket lists, even those that have done every other type of vacation and traveled the entire world - yet they have not experienced these amazing adventures on the rivers,” says Fred Filippi, co-owner of ETM Wine Tours. “This continues to be a growing market, especially after Europe was basically shut down for 18 months.”
Adding further to the appeal of river cruises are the themed and seasonal itineraries being offered. Here are five of the best such river cruise adventures for travel advisors to consider recommending to clients.
1. Christmas Markets on the Danube and Rhine
In the heart of Europe’s grand waterways, the festive Christmas Markets twinkle and delight visitors. Patrick Jones, travel advisor and group specialist, Blue Skies Travel, describes: “From the first Sunday in Advent through Christmas Eve, all across Europe, magical Christmas Markets spring up along the Danube and Rhine Rivers, allowing guests to celebrate, in authentic style, where many Christmas traditions were first created. In my opinion, the very best way to travel back centuries and truly experience these traditional holiday towns throughout the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and other idyllic places, is on a luxurious river cruise visiting the very best of Europe’s Christmas markets.
“Guests have the opportunity to explore some of the most famous Christmas Markets while sailing down the beautiful Danube (Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt, Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, and Budapest’s Christmas Fair) or the Rhine (Amsterdamn, Cologne, Rudesheim, Strasbourg). It's an experience like no other … The spirit of the Christmas season is captured as guests visit the Christmas Markets and that Christmas spirit and festive mentality is brought back to the ship where everyone adopts the ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ philosophy.”
2. Tulips & Windmills on the Rhine
There is something irrepressibly joyful about nature springing to life, particularly when it comes to the tulips in full bloom in beautiful Holland and along the Rhine River. River cruise guests see fields of tulips and flowers on this voyage; visit the world's largest floral park (Keukenhof Gardens); and pass by famous windmills, canals, timeless bridges, and unique architecture. This is one of the best river cruises travelers can take in the spring, ideally in mid-to-late spring.
“We have seen from our FIT bookings that the Tulips in Spring on the Rhine River and the Christmas Markets in December are the most popular,” offers Nilsen.
Jones agrees, explaining further: “Both of these options are great first-time or repeat river cruises. They provide a lasting impact on guests experiencing river cruises. First-time river cruise experiences expose guests to the true joy and nature of river cruising - the very essence and ‘best kept secret of river cruising,’ the ease of discovery - and a pace that is in sync with the silky smoothness of the water as the ship glides silently along the riverbanks. Guests get to experience the feeling of harmony between the ship, the river, the towns, the cities. Each place you visit provides a sense of wonder and joy, and kind of serves, if you will, like you are experiencing a sampler plate of fine food and wine … In my opinion, once you experience a river cruise, you won't want to return to other types of travel. The ‘ease of discovery’ takes hold.”
3. Oktoberfest on the Danube
For some, taking a river cruise in Europe during Oktoberfest checks off two bucket list items in one journey. Oktoberfest has been celebrated for about 200 years, and this year it occurs on September 16-October 3. The original event takes place in Munich, Germany. But Oktoberfest is widely commemorated, including many river cruise lines that weave the festivities into their itineraries.
The Danube is the gold standard for Oktoberfest river cruising. With stops along the waterway, guests partake of a lively atmosphere including customary beer steins filled to the brim and traditional German food in the jam-packed beer halls; Bavarian music, dance, and parades; authentic festival attire (they can even bring or buy their own lederhosen for men and dirndl dresses for women); and an experience of how Bavarians play and enjoy life with new friends and old during this far-reaching, historical festival.
4. Wine Lovers Dream in Bordeaux
The beautiful waterways of Bordeaux (Garonne, Dordogne, and Gironde) are replete with food, romance, passion, art, and history. But the region’s most coveted gem is the exceptional wine that is produced just beyond the riverbanks. River cruisers have the pleasure of sampling the local wine as they leisurely amble along. Bordeaux is simply a wine lover’s dream.
“River cruising is a perfect complement for wine lovers. With the diverse rivers offered to cruise on in Europe, it makes it enticing to have an annual cruise with the wineries exploring each of the rivers,” says Nilsen, whose agency specializes in luxury river cruises for group travel with wineries.
Filippi, who also has built a successful wine niche within travel, regularly books river cruises for large wine groups in Bordeaux, on the Rhine River, and in Southern France. He recounts one of his personal favorite river cruises as: “Being able to travel with winery owners and the winemaker from prestigious California wineries, and be with them every day, and watch their excitement as they experience Europe's winemaking techniques and compare it to their own.”
5. Celebrating Historical & Personal Milestones
An emerging trend in travel related to river cruising is what Jones describes as “people looking at river cruising to celebrate significant milestones in their life, to celebrate seasons that are meaningful to them, or celebrate historic events in the world. For example, the 80th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy in 2024. Visiting Paris and Normandy, and cruising the Seine in a commemoration year, created a great amount of interest for my guests. I instantly had 30 people booked for Normandy and the Seine in Paris. “
Whichever waterways and itineraries travelers choose, river cruisers have an extraordinary travel experience ahead of them. Jones aptly sums up this travel segment: “Without question, river cruising has become my favorite mode of group travel. It's fun, it's luxurious, and most importantly, it is (in my opinion) one of the best ways to explore inland Europe visiting cities, towns, and villages that traditional big ships usually can't access.
“River cruising puts intense emphasis on the places visited. Every day a new port is featured with guided tours included. River cruise itineraries in Europe feature sophisticated and historic cities like Amsterdam, Vienna, Budapest, and Paris; and picturesque villages like the Rhone's Provence, the Danube's Durnstein, and the Rhine's Rudesheim. History, culture, food, wine ... river cruises in Europe create amazing stories and memories for life.”
FROM THE SPONSOR:
Scenic Group, which encompasses Emerald Cruises and Scenic Luxury Cruises, includes award-winning, intimate river and ocean cruises that take guests to many of the world’s most fascinating destinations covering all seven continents.
With only up to 228 guests, Scenic’s world-class, custom-built ships enable unique access to small ports by river or sea. Guests enjoy an extensive range of truly all-inclusive luxury, while immersive experiences await on shore with handcrafted Scenic Freechoice activities and exclusive Scenic Enrich events. On Scenic Eclipse ultra-luxury voyages, exploration is enhanced by an expert Discovery Team, who lead fascinating discoveries in remote landscapes.
Emerald Cruises launched Emerald Azzurra in March 2022 - a 100-guest luxury yacht that sails the warm waters of the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Caribbean; followed in 2023 by its sister, Emerald Sakara. On the rivers, Emerald Cruises sails in Europe and on the Mekong. The line offers innovatively designed ships, outstanding service, and a focus on active shore excursions and onboard wellness offerings through their EmeraldACTIVE program.