Rivers of Gold

Mahar agrees with Santangelo that the Danube and Rhine are favorites, especially with first-time river cruisers. “All seven of our river cruises are popular, but The Rhine & Moselle and The Blue Danube are doing particularly well,” says Mahar. “The Danube, Europe’s most storied river, showcases a number of classic cultural cities along the way, including Prague, Salzburg, Regensburg and Vienna.” He recommends Tauck’s The Blue Danube (12 days from $3,990 pp dbl, plus air) for first-time river cruisers.

He adds that Tauck is offering for the first time a river cruise designed specifically for families: the Tauck Bridges’ Cruising the Blue Danube itinerary (eight days, from $3,290 pp dbl, plus air). It begins in Budapest and visits Bratislava, Vienna, Dürnstein, Linz, Passau and Regensburg, with a full-day excursion to Salzburg along the way. The itinerary incorporates a number of special components crafted specifically to provide family fun, including an adventure rally race in Bratislava featuring kayaking, an archery competition, ropes course and a scavenger hunt. Other fun activities include a hands-on strudel-making demonstration at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, a visit to quirky, whimsical Hellbrunn Castle near Salzburg, and a marzipan sculpting class.

uniworld Uniworld president Guy Young says, “I don’t know of any other form of travel that provides such an incredible opportunity to experience the destination up-close while providing customers with such a relaxing and pleasant experience between destinations. River cruise ships dock in the heart of the cities and towns that we visit; passengers can easily disembark the ship and be in the heart of the city. The experience is so different to an ocean cruise that I would recommend any of our itineraries to a past ocean cruiser and let the deciding factor be the countries they would like to visit.”

For first-time river cruisers, Young suggests the Enchanting Danube (nine days from $1,799 pp dbl, plus air), sailing from Budapest to Passau. “The Danube is the most popular river in Europe and you get to see some of the great cities of Europe, such as Budapest and Vienna. You also get to sail the beautiful Wachau Valley stopping in quaint towns and villages. Most of our passengers also do a pre- or post-stay in Prague—one of the great cities in Europe.”

The river cruise industry’s competition is not the cruise line industry, Young emphasizes. “We actually compete with land-based vacations but there is no doubt in my mind that river cruising provides more value for money and is a much better experience than land-based vacations, particularly FIT travel.”

value world tours Nancy Toussaint, CTC, sales manager at Value World Tours—a U.S.-based river cruise operator—agrees that value for value, river cruising comes out ahead.

“Since our inception in 1992, our motto has always been to offer the ‘Best Value That Money Can Buy!’ Best value means keeping our prices as low as possible so that the average international traveler can afford us, instead of making a river cruise experience exclusively for the wealthy. Value also means adding extra cultural experiences in the country visited that would be hard to have if one were traveling on their own—such as a homemade feast at a Serbian farmhouse where the family provides the food, music, plum brandy, and a fine party or tea and cakes at ‘Grandma Veyla’s’ peasant home in Goritsy, Russia or an ox-cart ride through a small river village in Cambodia.”

Toussaint goes on to say that additionally, compared to ocean cruising, river cruising is a much better way to travel. “Going ashore is easy and does not involve standing in a long line to disembark. There are no ‘extras’ that mount up: the shore excursions, restaurants upgrades, beverages, photographs, the list goes on and on. With our river cruises most of the shore excursions are included, all meals are included, and there is not the constant pressure to ‘buy, buy, buy.’”

Toussaint’s suggestion for first-timers is a little off the beaten track: China. She believes the Three Gorges Deluxe experience (15 days, $3,199 pp dbl, including air from LAX) will make keepers out of first-time cruisers when they see China’s treasures and experience that country with ease when traveling aboard the Victoria Empress, a top-notch ship that caters exclusively to U.S. clientele.