I recently attended a European river cruise line conference in Budapest, Hungary. I’ve sold river cruises for years and have a good knowledge base, and I’ve experienced river cruising, but it’s something different to actually be on the different ships in person: to walk onboard, tour the cabins and the ships, eat the food, and interact with the onboard staff. I went to Budapest wanting to get even more of a sense of the similarities and differences between the ships and the cruise lines, and I was not disappointed!
The six cruise lines which attended the river cruise conference were: AmaWaterways, Amadeus River Cruises, Avalon Waterways, Scenic Luxury Cruises, Viking, and Riverside Luxury Cruises (formerly Crystal Cruises). Here’s a quick summary of my experience with each of the six cruise lines.
Before I start, just a note. River cruise lines are a luxury product. I think the saying that ocean cruises take you TO countries, and river cruises take you THROUGH them, is accurate. River cruises are amazing in that you unpack once and then have the luxury of visiting towns and villages all along the rivers, experiencing the local culture, while receiving luxury service along the way. Meals are included, excursions are available, and onboard entertainment and service are wonderful.
Viking is the river cruise line that everyone’s heard of, thanks to a huge advertising budget. Their 70+ river cruise ships are all identical, patterned after a luxury longship from Scandanavia. Viking is a luxury product, and their ideal market is people ages 50+. They include one excursion per day in their pricing, and they offer a variety of onboard activities. Viking does not have a gym or spa, like some other river cruise lines do. They have buffet options for breakfast & lunch, along with a table menu. Dinner is served from a menu. The bathrooms have heated floors, which is a huge plus getting out of the shower!
Riverside Luxury Cruises
Riverside is a smaller, more intimate cruise line with only two ships currently, the Riverside Mozart and the Riverside Revel. (They’re a remake of the former Crystal Cruise line, which went out of business during Covid.) Riverside wants to attract a younger crowd, and as a result, they offer a variety of active and also less-active excursions, lots of bikes, including a couple of e-bikes, two BBQ grills on the upper deck, and also shorter cruises (3- and 4-day), rather than the traditional 7-day cruises offered by other cruise lines. If you’re interested in a fantastic suite, the Riverside Mozart has the most impressive suite I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship, including a fireplace! One difference on the Riverside ships is that there are no traditional balconies, only French balconies onboard.
Scenic Luxury Cruises
Scenic is known as a full-luxury experience. Their pricing includes complimentary door-to-door transportation, all excursions, and unlimited drinks throughout the day as well as onboard gratuities (and food, of course). Scenic offers a variety of options for excursions, including private concerts and behind-the-scenes tours that some of the other cruise lines don’t include. They also provide independent walking tours on their app for people who don’t want a guided excursion. Scenic offers a small single cabin for solo travelers, and one wheelchair-accessible cabin onboard. All passengers have butlers onboard.
Three of the best things about Avalon Waterways, at least in my opinion, are: the rooms with a view (all of their cabins have a huge glass window on the opposite wall from the bed, so you can see the world go by from your bed), their extra-comfortable beds, and their roomy bathrooms. Avalon has done a great job in maximizing the space in their cruise ship cabins. One excursion is included per day, usually the walking tour of the town or city, with extras available for purchase. They have a fitness center, bikes (including e-bikes), and a self-service water station onboard. Some of their cruises are Active & Discovery, providing more in-depth insight into the areas they visit.
Amadeus River Cruises
Some of the stand-outs on the Amadeus ships are: EVERY cabin has a walk-in closet, cabins have a good-sized shower, and the Amadeus ships include a gym, a massage room, and onboard bikes. Amadeus has a pay-as-you-go type of idea for excursions; you pay for them only if you’d like to go on an excursion. They have a weekly pirate night; they’re the only river cruise line I know of which offers a themed party night onboard. For drinks, water is included at lunch, and water and wine are included at dinner; you’ll pay for additional drinks. They typically have a really wide variety of nationalities sailing; you’ll likely meet people from everywhere.
Three things that stand out with AmaWaterways are: 1) all excursions are included (and you can change your mind at the last minute); 2) water and drinks are plentiful (bottled water is replenished in your stateroom daily); soft drinks, coffee, tea, beer & wine are all included with meals and at happy hour; and 3) they have a wellness specialist, an onboard gym, a spa, and bikes. Having experienced an AmaWaterways river cruise, I can also vouch for the amazing free WiFi on board. Ama doesn’t do buffet meals at all, instead opting for a la carte menu dining which is all included during your cruise. AmaWaterways also has cruising which includes kids ages 4 and up.
I loved my in-depth look at all of these different cruise lines! If you’re wondering about the possibility of taking a river cruise in the future, let me know. We can plan up to 1.5 to 2 years in advance—and you need to, in the case of Christmas market cruises and other popular cruise times! I’m sure there’s a river cruise which is right for you.
Best pricing on October river cruise
And of course, I can’t forget to mention that if you’d like to dip your feet in the river cruise experience (no pun intended!), you should come with me in October! I’m sailing on an AmaWaterways ship in France. It’ll be amazing, and I’d love to have you come along. The best pricing goes away TOMORROW, so respond to this e-mail if you’re interested in possibly putting down a deposit!
Just a little plug for Budapest. Oh. My. Goodness. What a hidden gem this city is! If you'd love to see a beautiful old European city with tons of old-world charm, cathedrals, cobblestones, and breathtaking views, you will love Budapest! It's got great history, good food, an amazing river (the Danube), and beautiful hotels.