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October 06, 2009

Choosing the Right European River Cruise

That's the AMAWaterways ship M.S. Amadagio on the Danube River in Durnstein, Austria.

by Wendy Perrin

This question came in from reader RScime:

"We're planning our first European river cruise. The itinerary offered by AMAWaterways for Amsterdam to Basel is the most attractive, but AMAWaterways doesn't seem as well known as, say, Uniworld or Viking River Cruises. How would you rate them?  Should we go with the better named with known reputations?"

Good question. True, Conde Nast Traveler readers rate Uniworld and Viking River Cruises higher than AMAWaterways in our Readers' Choice Awards. (Here's a list of Conde Nast Traveler readers' favorite small ships.) Still, I've heard good things about AMAWaterways -- its ships are fairly new, with cabins with French balconies and bicycles for shoreside exploration -- and we did recommend it in our August issue, in our round-up of best cruise deals around the world.

I've never taken a European river cruise myself, but I can tell you that if it were me, I'd choose the ship that spends the most time in the cities I want to explore.  And I'd book the trip through a dead-honest,  well-informed, and super-connected European river cruise specialist who has sailed on all three cruise lines.  Margret Propper of Brownell Travel (you can read a description of her here) is on my annually updated list of Top Travel Specialists and can provide an in-depth and reliable comparison of the ships and itineraries you're choosing among. I strongly recommend you contact her.  Keep in mind that AMAWaterways has several sales going on right now. 

Anybody else have an opinion or advice for RScime? If you've taken European river cruises yourself, be sure to let us know which specific ships you've sailed on. Thanks!


I have only cruised on the tiny and luxurious River Cloud. This is more of a boutique vessel than those of the other river cruise lines mentioned but it was a wonderful and relaxing experience. It's important to remember that river cruising is NOTHING like ocean cruising. It's imperative that you choose the vessel that most suits your tastes (with cabin size, meal options and entertainment) as you spend so much more time on a river vessel than you do a "regular" cruise ship.

I have only cruised on the small luxury boutique barges on the Canal du Midi in France. It is such a luxurious way to see towns and cities up close and personal and with only 3-5 cabins per barge it's very private. A former barge owner that we know quite well (was owner of La Tortue), Sally Shaw, lives in the Languedoc has a company, that books barges and gourmet holidays. I am familiar with many of the barges having seen them as we were barging and they are all top notch. She has a unique insiders knowledge of th barges and crew and area so you willo be well served. Have fun! There is nothing quite like floating down a river by ancient villages sipping wine and eating fabulous food!

I have only barged on the Canal du Midi in France, but can tell you that floating down a river passing ancient villages, all the while sipping regional wines and eating fabulous food all on your own small boutique barge is like nothing else you’ve ever done. Sally Shaw of is a former barge owner, La Tortue, and now has a great company booking the other barges. She and her husband Peter live in the Languedoc and know the region very well and all it has to offer. You will be well served by them I am sure. Have fun!

oops sorry about dup postings, it said unable to post try again so i did and now they both appeared. so have twice the fun!

I'm also considering a cruise like this, and my search for a boat has another angle. I want to travel with my mom, who can't handle stairs very well. So we're only considering boats that have elevators. Many do not, especially the older ones. If you're dealing with an older traveller, it's something to keep in mind.

There's something else to consider as well. I'm looking for a cruise like this to take with my mom, who can't handle stairs well. So we're only looking at boats that have elevators. Many of them do not, especially the older ones. It's something to keep in mind if you're travelling with an older person.

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