Europe River Cruise Company Comparisons
By Hank Schrader -- Accredited Cruise Counselor Europe River Cruise Expert & European Destination Specialist
All river cruises are very good values & special trips.
There is no official rankings of river cruise lines & many have won awards from various travel organizations.
These are my personal ratings & should be considered as such.
My ratings are based on sailing 15 river cruises, selling river cruises to clients, personal research & attending numerous webinars by these individual companies, earning specialist designations from individual river cruise companies and ratings from The Berlitz River Cruising in Europe & the USA Guide.
8 Main River Cruise Companies for the US Market
AMAWaterways—“Leading the Way in River Cruising”
Avalon-- “Comfortably upscale... more- spacious-than-average-cabins.”
Crystal—” All the hallmarks of the legendaryCrystal experience “
Emerald—sometimes refers to itself as the next generation of river cruising
Scenic “5-star, all-inclusive luxury river cruises throughout Europe and Asia”
Tauck—“ Never Settle for Ordinary”
Uniworld-- “The world's only authentic boutique cruise line”
Viking– “Exploring the world in comfort”
AMAWATERWAY’S dream is to provide the most exceptional river cruise experience possible. They believe they achieve this by:
Providing custom-designed ships
Providing the Premium Experience
Being the only River Cruise Line inducted into the Chaînes Des Rôtisseurs, the oldest & largest food & wine society in the world—most observers feel they have the best food & wine in Europe River Cruising
Small group Excursions led by expert local guides
Providing Complimentary Limited Edition Tours
Complimentary Bicycles & guided bicycle excursions
Avalon has two goals in their approach to river cruising.
First, they believe their clients deserve more choices and they follow through with a long list of options that can be added for an extra fee.
Second, they want to be known as the “floating room with a view”—most cabins have floor to ceiling windows that open up.
Crystal River Cruises
All the hallmarks of the legendary Crystal experience to include:
Six star service
The largest suites in river cruising aboard an exquisite new class of river vessels
Delightful shore adventures amid expertly curated-itineraries, taking you to the heart of world-renowned European cities in world-class luxury.
Emerald Waterways features include:
Complimentary wine, beer & soft drinks at lunch and dinner; all on board meals; balcony cabins on the upper 2 decks; bikes (without electronic assisted feature); & complimentary Wi-Fi.
As with most river cruise lines, there are included tours in every sailing.
They also have an EmeraldPLUS no addition cost tours to enhance the standard offerings. There are also Discover More tour options that cost extra and require a minimum number of passengers.
Gratuities are included in the basic cruise fare.
The long ships (135 meters or 443 feet) carry 182 passengers.
Scenic cruise line features:
your own butler (services vary by stateroom category)
complimentary beverages all day, every day; six dining options
the Tailormade GPS device
balcony suites on the 2 upper decks electronically assisted bikes
complimentary Wi-Fi; laundry and airport transfers.
There are no extra charges for tours or gratuities but massages and the hairdresser are extra charges.
The long ships (135 meters or 443 feet) carry 167 passengers.
Tauck River Cruise
4 Cornerstones of Tauck River Cruising
Uncommon Access to included shore excursions
Personalized Cruising from 4 on-board Tauck tour staff
Intimate Club-like atmosphere
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise
Uniworld is the world’s only authentic boutique river cruise line
one-of-a-kind ships—operates 13 in Europe--each is different
thoughtful personal touches
U by Uniworld
Uniworld has added a new brand aimed at younger cruisers—it is called U by Uniworld.
There are 2 riverships—the A and the B—and are painted all black.
Originally there were age limits—21-45 but these have been lifted.
Idea is a more party central themed cruise in the cities.
Viking provides good itineraries—a great value.
A Viking journey includes:
Enriching Daily Shore Excursions
Engaging Cultural Enrichment
All Onboard Meals
Complimentary wine, beer & soft drinks with lunch & dinner
Free onboard internet service
Has 54 ships deployed in Europe by my count. 50 are longships (135 m or 443 ft) & carry 190 passengers.
Has over 25 % of all river cruises ships in Europe.
Heavy advertising campaign—brand is most well known river cruise company.
What to Consider When Comparing River Cruise Companies
Number of on board passengers
Quality of the vessels
Cost—are you getting the value for your money?
How Many River Ships in Europe?
How Many Passengers?
Passengers on the Giants on the Danube
Crystal River Cruises first rivership is named the Crystal Mozart. It is a double wide vessel that carries 154 passengers.
Coming in May 2019, the AmaMagna, also a double wide vessel, will carry 196 passengers.
Both have expanded on board facilities.
Both can only sail on portions of the Danube, as their extra width does not allow them to use some of the locks on the Danube River
Quality of Vessels
Designing & putting new river cruise ships on Europe’s rivers is a constant source of competition between companies.
There are many different approaches.
The Berlitz guide evaluates riverships by 5 criteria. They are Hardware; Accommodations; Cuisine; Service and Miscellaneous. It is probably as objective a rating system as currently available to potential river cruisers.
Overall Ratings by Douglas Ward River Cruising in Europe & the USA
River Ship Size
There are basically 2 sizes of river cruise ships. River cruise ships have some limitations in width & height. To fit under bridges, they generally have only 3 decks (not counting the sun deck which is basically a roof).
All are generally 38 ft wide but 2 river ships are now double wide.
The big difference is their length. The two types are: Longships are 443 ft (135 m) & 360 ft ships, known as 110 m Class Ships.
How the limited space is used on the vessel is an important factor in your choice of which company to use.
Why is river ship length important?
One of the real subtle differences in river cruising is what the cruise line has on board their ships. For accommodations, this includes # of passenger cabins, what is in the cabin & views from the cabin.
Unlike Ocean Cruising, there are no inside cabins, but there is a significant difference in window size & balconies.
On board facilities & equipment is another factor that should be considered.
Stateroom Size/Views Longships
Stateroom Size/Views 110 m Class
Longship Onboard Features
Hardware Ratings by Berlitz
The next slide needs a little explanation. Hardware includes the condition and maintenance of the vessel, its age, and public areas. It also includes floor & wall coverings, passageways and stairwells. It also includes pools (or lack of them), and lifts (elevators—or lack of them).
(Ratings from Berlitz River Cruising In Europe & the USA)
Cuisine & Beverages
(Ratings from Berlitz River Cruising In Europe 2016-17)
(Ratings from Berlitz River Cruising In Europe Guide 2016-2017)
Comparing prices is difficult at best.
In our 2016 guide, I was able to make a price comparisons, but river cruise companies have recently added so many add-ons and seasonal price points, that these comparisons are no longer accurate or meaningful.
Also, some companies are not actually publishing fare prices and require their guests to call.
The best we can do now is to advise of what is included in the fare.
Here is a price range (all 8 cruise lines) for a balcony cabin in August 2019--$3,880 to $5,769 per person for a 7 day Danube cruise (based on my personal research for a client).
What is included in the fare?
Fine dining—all meals are first class
Chef ’s Table—an intimate dining alternative that features delicious dishes
Complimentary, high-quality unlimited red & white wine with lunch & dinner, or beer, or soft drinks.
City tours at all stops, limited edition tours & bicycle trips, all led by qualified, local guides. All excursions tailored to guest’s walking pace.
Impeccable service—guests are treated like family
Great onboard entertainment
Fleet of onboard bikes/wellness instructor
Choice of spacious outside staterooms with plenty of room to relax (price varies).
Special touches, like regional wines and beer at every onboard dinner.
Complimentary Wi-Fi access
Good shore excursions, led by Certified Local Guides
VIP entrance into the must-see sites.
Unique Local lectures designed to bring your destination to life.
Expansive panoramic views throughout the ship – included—bed faces window.
All meals included, featuring Crystal’s innovative & acclaimed six-star cuisine, highlighted by regional specialties.
Each cabin has butler service.
Choice of Crystal Adventures Shore Excursions.
Unlimited soft drinks and premium beverages including champagne, fine wine and spirits. All soft drinks, beer and bottled water in-suite.
24-hour self-service pantry featuring specialty coffees, teas, wines and non-alcoholic beverages.
24-hour room service.
Free Wi-Fi/Internet usage of 60 minutes per person, per day.
Gratuities included for all shipboard staff .
Carefully selected wine, beer & soft drinks at lunch & dinner
An included shore excursion in each port using local guides
Bikes on board for daily use
Complimentary Wi-Fi onboard
Airport transfers to & from ship
Most guests will never buy anything extra—it’s all included except massage & hairdresser or gift shop
Your own butler (services vary)
Complimentary beverages all day, every day. Mini bar in room.
Six dining options (some are limited to higher paying guests)
Exclusive Tailor made GPS for self guided tours
Electronically assisted bikes
Virtually every river cruise expense is included in one upfront price
Unlimited complimentary beverages onboard (including all liquor—even stocked mini bar in stateroom)
Pre/Post stays depending upon itinerary
There are no little extras to pay for, no hidden expenses, no options sold.
All gratuities onboard and onshore
All meals onboard
Unlimited beverages onboard, including extensive selection of distinctive wines, craft beers, spirits, soft drinks, specialty teas and coffees
Carefully crafted shore excursions—many exclusive to Uniworld—hosted by English-speaking local experts with options to personalize
All scheduled airport transfers
All entertainment & cultural enrichment programs onboard
Internet and Wi-Fi access onboard
Choice of staterooms, including Suites, Junior Suites and Staterooms with verandas and French balconies & window cabins (price varies).
Complimentary internet service
In-room Infotainment system
Complimentary beer, wine & soft drinks served at lunch & dinner
Daily shore excursion - led by friendly, knowledgeable local guides utilizing a high- tech audio headset system.
Cultural enrichment - itinerary includes informative talks, performances, hands-on cooking and craft demonstrations.
All onboard meals - the exquisite cuisine created by Swiss-trained chefs, features fresh ingredients and regional specialty options.
My Personal River Cruise Line Ratings
Best food & fine regional wines that change daily—added free cocktail hour—included Chef’s Table
Best Active line—added wellness instructor
Good tours—usually 3 groups & at least 2 options—sometimes more
Crew becomes your friends—service is excellent & consistently high standards
Slow, steady growth—new ships have high staff standards
Owners hands on—they read every critique—always improving
Great Cruise Managers go the extra mile for your trip
Great Partners with Backroads (bike touring) & Disney
No gratuities included in price
If food & wine are not of high importance, price may be considered too high by some.
They deliver a good product at a fair price.
Since they are owned by Globus Corporation (tour company), they have good tours.
They claim to have the newest fleet in Europe market—oldest ship built in 2008 but with Crystal, Scenic & Emerald no longer true.
Cabin bed faces window—has larger windows & French balconies compared to others
Added more active options during shore visits
A lot of extra services for a fee
Food is described as “bland” by some observers & wines “are low quality” but Avalon Fresh (vegetarian option) very good.
Lease, do not own, riverships.
Crystal Mozart has many features others do not due to larger size. Trying to replicate Crystal Ocean going ships with facilities on a smaller scale.
4 new longships highly rated—all suites above waterline, no river line cabins.
Butlers & room service (24 hour)
Included e-bikes, kayaks & jet ski—even has a high speed boat (extra for boat)
Mozart is so large, it limits itineraries—can not go through some locks
4 longships common areas just bland looking compared to elegant suites
Only 220v on Crystal Mozart—most other lines have 110v.
While most normal items covered, exclusive liquors, meal in exclusive 12 person dining room & exotic high speed boat & helicopter extra.
Some tours extra..
Very good quality cruise at a good price.
2 upper decks on most ships have 1⁄2 window balcony that opens with touch of a button.
Pool has retractable roof & converts into evening cinema—it is awesome!
Even with higher guest capacity (182) has bikes, spa & fitness area—Viking (190) does not—does not feel crowded.
182 passengers—only Viking carries more
Only 7 boats at present, limits access
All inclusive—all is included—most guests will not pay anything more unless they get a massage or use the hairdresser.
Onshore tours are awesome—includes Scenic enrich (exclusive experiences) & sundowner (hosted cocktails in Europe’s most beautiful locations).
Seafood buffet is excellent!
Offers 6 reds & 6 whites wines at dinner for free.
More expensive cabins get more services, especially diamond deck guests
Exclusive Table La Rive located in main dining room—other guests get to see the 6-course degustation menu while served a lesser meal
Service & meals inconsistent on our cruise with them
Generally fewest passengers on Tauck ships as compared to other river cruise companies, but Crystal has less
Many feel they offer the best tours & on-shore experiences—mostly due to 4 onboard staff members who lead all tours—others disagree, like local guides
Generally has more large sized staterooms than others but only French Balconies. Crystal has larger sized staterooms but fewer available.
Has best window first deck staterooms
Has a good family program called Tauck Bridges
Usually the most costly cruise line
8 ships provide limited availability to take a Tauck River Cruise—they often sell out very early.
Lease, do not own, riverships but have refurbished 110 m. riverboats.
Each ship is different—big emphasis on boutique aspect for the client
Only cruise line on the Po River (Italy) & has a Burgundy region cruise
Rate very high on most comparison lists—a lot to like about their product & service.
Some find interiors just “too much”
Higher price point
110 m ships have no French Balconies—only windows
U by Uniworld controversial product
Sometimes best pricing but often requires full payment at booking while other river cruise companies allow deposit + 90 day prior to departure final payment.
Only company that cruises Elbe (special shallow water design)
Herb garden; solar panels (most green ships)
Since long ships are identical; in low water situations; Viking has been able to switch ships to avoid extended bus tours—generally successful but does not always work
Has best port docking locations
Carries 190 passengers on long ships—all others carry around 165-170 or less on longships except Emerald at 182.
No extras—no bikes, no exercise room, no pool
Dinner meals sometimes only has 2 choices & they often use same 2 wines for all 7 days of a cruise
Some cruisers feel they are crowded--not enough room in lounges & main dining room
Only major river cruise line that caters to US market that is not CLIA member (more protections for cruise clients)
On most cruises only 6 tours provided for free; if more than 2 tours per day it may require an extra fee.
How Best to Use This Comparison Guide
First, realize that all river cruises are a good value!
The most important info is to first select the itinerary and make sure it visits the sights you desire to see, then pick the line.
To select the line, match the items you consider most important from the river cruise line—this guide is a good place to start.
Use price last—look for value!
This is very complicated—why not seek our advice to get the best possible trip?
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The river cruise scene is constantly changing.
I have tried to provide accurate information but changes happen rapidly.
Also, companies change policies.
Every effort has been made to communicate correct information. We apologize for any errors, omissions, but assume no liability should they occur.