Itineraries incorporating the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers provide a vast landscape of Europe, viewable from the railing of a river cruise. And though these cruises can span longer than two weeks, you’ll find yourself not wanting your cruise to end.
From trading posts to water-powered factories, these rivers have long served as the lifeblood of this western continent. That being said, it’s important to mention something: River cruising views aren’t always that of the Monet and Rembrandt variety. Factory smokestacks often greet your arrival instead of castle turrets and fortress walls. This is something that shouldn’t serve to dissuade you by any means, quite the contrary, but understand that given the cultural clout of these destinations, some river cruisers visiting the city must dock in an industrial port more suitable for loading and unloading gravel and grain than river cruise passengers.
While that might be contrary to the gloss and glamour of ocean liner terminals, it also encapsulates the essence of river cruising: you are being delivered to culture’s doorstep, where locals coexist with visitors and life unfolds before you.
Speaking of industrial influences, the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal is one that changed the face of river cruising on the Rhine, Main and Danube. The man-made canal runs between the German towns of Bamberg and Kelheim via the historic city of Nuremberg, transporting thousands of river cruise ship passengers every year between this famous trio of rivers. While it may go largely unnoticed today, this technological marvel remains a surprisingly recent addition to the German landscape.
Although an early version of the canal existed prior to World War II, heavy damage during the war years destroyed many of the early locks that lined the river. To complicate matters, bridges had been destroyed and waterways were clogged, making the resumption of river traffic at the end of World War II anything but easy. By the early 1950s, plans for the reconstruction of the canal were no longer a priority, and the idea was shelved.
Just a decade later, it became apparent that a link between the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers was greatly needed after all, thanks to an increase in both passenger and freight traffic on the waterways. The canal would also serve as a sign of German unity in a Europe that rapidly sought to forgive and forget after the horrors of the Second World War. But rather than a simple reconstruction of the locks that existed prior to 1945, plans were drawn up for a new system of locks that would unite the rivers once and for all and finally allow ships to travel uninterrupted from Amsterdam to the Black Sea.
By the time the last section was completed in 1992, the canal had grown to span a distance of 106 miles. But this journey is anything but a straight line between two rivers. The canal rises and falls with the surrounding landscape and because of the extreme height differences between the two rivers, a total of 16 locks had to be constructed to alternately lift and lower ships along their journey. At their highest point along the Continental Divide, locks carry ships to a height of more than 1,000 feet above sea level.
River Cruise Advisor’s Peak Season Charts
River Cruise Advisor’s peak season 2019 price comparisons should be viewed as general guidelines for comparing prices across the major companies operating on a particular river (or region) in Europe or for a particular itinerary.
The intent of the charts is to provide a baseline for matching a cruise company to your budget. I’ve calculated what I believe to be the “true per diem” for each cruise company, after factoring in, or out, the various items that are included, or not included, on a particular river cruise.
Pricing is anything but straightforward among the major river cruise companies, as many companies offer two-for-the-price-of-one river cruises, reduced or free airfare incentives, early-booking discounts and many more pricing tactics that make purchasing a river cruise vacation a complex and confounding exercise. Using a spreadsheet until we were bleary-eyed, my team and I have tried to decipher the various offers and inclusions to arrive at meaningful guidelines for comparisons.
The bottom line, the true per diem, is what you can expect to pay per person for each day of your cruise for a lead-in standard stateroom, or where applicable, a lead-in balcony stateroom.
Price, however, should not be the only consideration when selecting a company for your river cruise. There are a boatload of variables to be considered, not the least of which is what’s included in your cruise. If you’re someone who prefers everything included, an open bar, for example, and prepaid gratuities, you’ll want to look to companies that provide those as part of your cruise fare. For help in figuring out which cruise company includes what, see “Attributes Of The Top River Cruise Companies,” a chart that outlines inclusions.
As always, I welcome your comments and feedback. While I try to get things right, I do goof now and then, which is why I am extremely grateful to readers who bring errors to my attention so that I can correct them as quickly as possible.
Bon voyage, Ralph Grizzle
Rhine-Main-Danube 2019 Peak Season Price ComparisonsThe duration of this cruise typically ranges from 12 nights to 17 nights. That amount of time is perfect for those who desire a truly immersive European experience.
The majority of itineraries operate between Amsterdam and Budapest, sailing on three rivers, through six countries and with plenty of scenic cruising through the heartland of Europe. Rivers include the Rhine, the Main and the Danube. You’ll also transit the Main-Danube Canal.
The Main-Danube Canal runs between the German towns of Bamburg and Kelheim via the historic city of Nuremberg, transporting thousands of river cruise ship passengers every year between the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. While it may go largely unnoticed today, this technological marvel remains a surprisingly recent – and crucially important – addition to the German landscape.
Cruising from Nuremberg to Budapest, in fact, passengers witness an amazing spectacle: the crossing, by a river cruiser, of Europe’s Continental Divide. To accomplish the seemingly impossible task, our vessel must transit a series of 16 locks over a distance of more than 100 miles to lift itself nearly 1,400 feet above sea level.
The six countries on a Rhine-Main-Danube cruise are the Netherlands, Germany, France, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. For those who value daytime cruising past the beautiful landscape of Europe, this itinerary is hard to beat.
Current incentives when I compiled the chart in May of 2018: AmaWaterways, $500 per person off; Avalon Waterways, $1,000 per person off; Emerald Waterways, free air for all Horizon Deck guests; $295 for Vista Deck and $495 for Riviera Deck; Crystal offers savings of $4,020 (nope, not a typo); Emerald offers $500 per person off; Scenic offers free air valued at $1,699; Uniworld offers 10 percent off when paid in full; and Viking offers two for one cruises and free air.
|Ship||AmaStella||Imagery II||L'Europe||Crystal Mahler||Emerald Star||Charles Dickens||Scenic Jewel||Esprit||River Duchess||Mimir|
|Sailing Date||June 2, 2019||June 20, 2019||April 9, 2019||June 5, 2019||June 10, 2019||June 23, 2019||June 10, 2019||June 16, 2019||June 14, 2019||June 7, 2019|
|Itinerary||Magnificent Europe||Jewels of Central Europe||Amsterdam-Budapest||Grand Europe||Splendors of Europe||Heart of Europe||Jewels of Europe||BUD-AMS||European Jewels||Grand European Tour|
|Cabin Category||Category E||Category D,E||Main Deck||Petite Suite S5||Stateroom E||Lower Deck||Standard suite E||Category 1||Classic||Standard F|
|Room With A View?||Window||Window||Window||Balcony Window||Window||Window||Window||Window||Window||Window|
|Per diem *||$493||$482||$303||$893||$378||$325||$506||$614||$487||$828|
|Port Charges *||$22.75||$26||Included||$13||Included||Included||Included||Included||$11||Included|
|Gratuities (on ship) *||$18||$18||$11.25||Included||Included||10||Included||Included||Included||$15.87|
|Gratuities (on shore) *||$2.50||$2.50||$2.50||$2.50||included||2.5||Included||Included||Included||$2.50|
|Optional Shore Excursions *||Included||$11||Included||$20.00||$12.50||$12.50||Included||Included||Included||$12.50|
|Current Incentive *||$500||$1,000||$545||$4,020||$905||$0||$1,400||n/a||$730||$7,498|
|Value of Incentive *||$36||$71||$30||$268||$65||$0||$100||$0||$49||$536|
|True Per Diem||$503||$481||$286||$661||$339||$376||$406||$617||$449||$293|
|Per Diem/Square Foot *||$3.15||$2.80||$1.91||$3.52||$2.09||$2.49||$2.54||$4.11||$2.98||$1.95|
|Balcony Upgrade *||$1,198||$2,298||$545||$0||$300||$690||$1,995||$650||$1,710||$1,100|
|Balcony Per Diem||$589||$645||$316||$661||$361||$425||$549||$663||$563||$371|
Pricing Charts Explanation & Clarification
* Nights – A 7-night river cruise spans 7 days, but one of those days is the disembarkation day. Unlike checking out of a hotel, you won’t linger until noon (or later) on disembarkation day. Some guests will depart before 6 a.m. for transfers to the airport and their flights home. Others may be able to stay as late as 9 a.m. Either way, you’re not getting a full day on your river cruise on that last day. For that reason, the “per diems” are calculated based on the number of “nights” on board. The result is a fairer assessment than calculating the cost per “day.”
* Per Diem – The rate divided by the number of nights on board, indicated per person but based on double occupancy. Solo travelers will, in most cases, pay single supplements. Solo travelers can learn more about single supplements at this link, Avoiding Single Supplement Fares
* Port Charges – Not all river cruise companies include port charges. What are port charges? Ports of call, where river cruise ships dock, set their own fees, and these fees are then passed on to the river cruise passengers. See our post on port charges, Port Charges: Which River Cruise Companies Include Them?
* Gratuities (on ship) – Some companies include gratuities for crew, others leave it to their guests to take care of gratuities. If your cruise is one of the latter, you may want to have some euro notes handy for stuffing into envelopes (or into the hands of your favorite crew members) on the last night of the cruise. Guidelines of how much to tip also vary by river cruise line. See Prepaid Gratuities: Which River Cruise Companies Include Them?
* Gratuities (on shore) – Just as with crew gratuities, some companies take care of on-shore gratuities for guides and drivers; other companies leave it to their guests. If you’re traveling with a company that operates by the latter policy, be sure to carry euro coins with you for tipping guides and drivers.
* Beverages – Nearly all river cruise companies offer complimentary soft drinks, specialty coffees, beer and wine during lunch and dinner. In between mealtimes, though, you’ll pay for most beverages when traveling with Avalon, Emerald, Riviera and Viking. Beverages are included on CroisiEurope, Crystal, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld. AmaWaterways introduced a “Sip & Sail” Happy Hour in 2018, which includes complimentary cocktails before dinner. For that reason, I’ve indicated AmaWaterways as “Beverages Included,” though you should be aware that you could leave the ship with a balance on your bar tab if you consume beverages outside of Happy Hour or breakfast (sparkling wine is included), lunch or dinner. Riviera does not include wine and beer, even during lunch and dinner. For those who don’t imbibe – and who don’t wish to pay for an inclusion they won’t make use of – Riviera’s a la carte pricing structure makes a lot of sense. For those who want to add a touch of the all-inclusive to their Riviera experience, the company offers drink packages for its 2018 river cruises that start at roughly $129 per person for an average weeklong voyage (the package will be $159 in 2019). This adds draft and non-alcoholic beer, red and white house wine, bottled water, soft drinks and juices on a complimentary basis to lunches and dinners served onboard. Spirits, or drinks purchased outside mealtimes, come at an additional cost. Viking River Cruises has a similar package. While Viking includes beer and wine with lunch and dinner, the company also offers a Silver Spirit Beverage Package. At €300 per cabin, double occupancy, the cost of Viking’s all-inclusive beverage package may seem steep at first glance, but it can be quite a value when you consider the quality of the beverages offered. Are you a Scotch drinker? Then you may know of Highland Park Ragnvald, which goes for more than $500 a bottle on the internet sites I researched. Yet on Viking, you can enjoy as many glasses as you like of the single malt Scotch whiskey as part of your Silver Spirit Beverage Package. Without the package, a 4 cl shot of Ragnvald goes for €22. Now you know which one to order when you belly up to the bar on Viking.
* Laundry – All-inclusive river cruise companies may provide free laundry service during your cruise. Some companies also provide access to washers and dryers free of charge and even include the soap. Most river cruise companies offer laundry and pressing services for a fee if it’s not part of an all-inclusive package. Either way, you’ll likely need to do some laundry while traveling, unless you pack like I do. See What I Pack When I river Cruise, What About You? If you don’t pack like me, you’ll need laundry services. See Laundry Services: Which Cruise Lines Include Them?
* Optional Shore Excursions – All river cruise companies include complimentary excursions in most, if not all, ports of call. However, some companies offer optional shore excursions for a fee. Avalon, Crystal, Emerald, Riviera and Viking are among the companies that offer optional shore excursions. On my April 2017 Rhine cruise on Viking, for example, complimentary excursions were offered at each stop along the way. Viking also offered about a dozen optional tours, ranging in price from €49 per person to €189, the latter being a full-day excursion called Taste the Best of Alsace. Viking Hlin’s program director, Candi Finkelstein, told me that this was the number one rated tour on the Rhine Getaway itinerary, so sometimes paying for something you would not otherwise experience is not a bad thing. On Crystal’s Danube Dreams & Discoveries, more than two dozen shore excursions are offered, and most of those are complimentary. Crystal’s optional shore excursions on that itinerary range from a complimentary Culinary Walking Tour in Bratislava to Michelin-star dining experiences for $249 per person. On Emerald Waterways’ Danube Delights itinerary, you can pay extra for its DiscoverMORE excursions for such exclusive events as Tastes of Vienna and a Viennese Concert.
* Current Incentive (per person) – Riviera does not offer booking incentives, CroisiEurope rarely does. The rest offer a range of incentives, ranging from early-booking savings to two-for-ones and reduced or free air. The incentives are always changing so be sure to check with your travel seller or the cruise company about current offers.
* Value of Incentive (per day/pp) – I’ve divided the amount of the incentive by the number of nights to arrive at a per-diem value. Calculating the value of the incentives was a bit challenging, especially when it comes to air. One challenge: Free air isn’t really free air. While Scenic offers free air, for example, the company caps the fare at $1,400 for its lead-in cabins. Emerald Waterways offers free air for all Horizon Deck guests (also capped at $1,400); guests on Vista Deck pay $295 and those on Riviera Deck pay $495. Viking claims its free air is a $1,699 value. When searching peak season air from my home in Asheville, North Carolina to key river cruise destinations, I found that economy air was nearly always above $1,600 per person
* Per Diem/Square Foot – Why provide a square-footage per-diem? Why not? The idea is to provide a guideline of how much space you’re getting for the rate you pay for your river cruise. Though I caution that you should not plan to spend heaps of time in your room. There’s too much to see and do outside of those four walls.
* Balcony Upgrade – Nearly all of the entry-level staterooms feature fixed windows. The exception is Crystal, where even entry-level staterooms on its new vessels feature “Panoramic Balcony-Windows” that raise and lower, and basically function like a balcony (except on Mozart, which does have some fixed windows). CroisiEurope does not offer balconies on the majority of its vessels, but it too has windows that open, and though not as elaborate as those on Crystal, CroisiEurope’s windows provide fresh air and river views. With other cruise companies, you may want to upgrade to a balcony stateroom. I’ve provided price differentials for upgrades to entry-level balcony staterooms. Note that some of the entry-level balcony staterooms may be smaller than entry-level fixed window staterooms.
The Ultimate River Cruising Handbook
Featuring 2019 pricing charts for all European rivers.
In Europe alone there are more than two dozen navigable rivers and canals. Add the confluence of companies offering seemingly similar experiences and you might just end up feeling as though you’re going upriver without a paddle.
I’m here to help you navigate the ever-changing currents that define river cruising today. Having added more than 50 river cruises to my proverbial travel bucket, I’ve garnered a lot of insights that can help you understand the many options available to you.
Spanning 274 pages, The Ultimate River Cruising Handbook “manages to combine personal experience, with the history of river cruising, and the history of the multiple cruise lines extant today, plus discussions about the destinations offered by the most of the river cruise and barge cruise lines today,” writes Susan Kime, a writer for the online publication, JustLuxe.
The book includes 2019 pricing charts for all rivers and all major river cruise companies. Get your copy now.
JOHN T Eckley says
Fantastic info. Many thanks for doing all this homework for us. We are planning a work trip for 12 people, Amsterdam to Budapest with work sessions scattered through each day; some on the ship and on shore. 2022 is a strange hybrid year with Covid both kind of past us, and with each wave of variants, not past us at all. Do you have any suggestions on how I should navigate booking this type of a trip? I checked with The Barge Ladies to find a smaller barge for our group, but was told to go back to the major carriers for an Amsterdam to Budapest trip. Thanks. Ty
Frank Maloney says
Is that also true of Vantage Cruise Line?
Gary Stephens says
Have you updated your 2019 book or do you plan to? A lot has changed since Covid-19. We are planning the grand European tour for 2023 for our 50th anniversary.
Gary – Chesapeake, VA
Ralph Grizzle says
We are in the process of updating in now Gary. We’re looking at end of May before we have it ready.
Frank Maloney says
I appreciate what you have done and found it helpful. We have taken 9 river cruises with Grand Circle and loved them all. However, we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket and are willing to pay slightly more for a different cruise line. Why don’t you include GCT in your spreadsheet?
Ralph Grizzle says
We hear good things about GCT, but we have no relationship with them. They don’t reach out to us and we can’t get them to respond when we reach out to them.
Russell Cockburn says
I think your emailed information is fantastic. and we always read it with interest. We are planning a 14 day cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest in April /May 2020 and are having great difficulty sorting out the best value for our NZ $. Coming from New Zealand many of the companies offer free or heavily subsidised air travel which complicates the pricing
Can you please provide a 2020 summary of the current offerings as you have outlined above for the 2019 offerings
Julianne A Long says
We are mid 50’s taking children 23 and 17 yrs old. Want a European cruise with similar ages. We have cruised on large ships to the Caribbean and enjoy spacious suites and lots of luxury. Which cruise line and ship in particular would you suggest. Interested in the Rhine, maybe longer if schedules permit.
Dr Paul Sheldon says
What I would really like to know is whether any cruises do not cruise at night or only minmally. We are quite old and are not interested in walking tours round cities but are interested in the fascinating scenery we would pass through
Ralph Grizzle says
They all provide lots of scenic cruising during the day. That’s their bread and butter.