If, like many people, you are a poor ‘sailor’, and cannot face a sea cruise, then a gentle river glide might be the answer for you. Lorna Hogg reports.
River cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors of the cruising market, which is unsurprising when you consider its benefits. Smaller, friendlier ships, lower passenger numbers, ever-changing beautiful scenery, daily ports of call with time to explore, and all the romance and relaxation of life on the water – without any seasickness!
So, whether your preference is for a luxurious all-in trip through several countries, a short value break, or to become ‘captain’ of your own ship on a cruiser charter, we’ve picked a selection to show the wide range now on offer.
Uniworld Boutique Cruising is synonymous with luxury river cruising. It offers superbly equipped ships, great service and food, unlimited fine wines and beer with meals, plus unlimited non- alcoholic beverages. Gratuities and taxes are included, there is at least one gala dinner, plus entertainments, cultural talks, and guided shore excursions, often with choices, led by local experts. You have a audio headset on all shore excursions. An experienced cruise manager is on board, there is free internet and wi-fi, and arrival and departure transfers are included.
Spring and autumn are ideal times to enjoy the Rhine, and Uniworld’s 8 day `Castles Along the Rhine’ cruise takes in four countries. You’ll experience The Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland, on a truly romantic Europe journey, cruising from Amsterdam, on the luxurious S.S. Antoinette, with a riverview stateroom. Cologne and Koblenz are destination stopovers, stop with a choice of excursions – try the Koblenz aerial tramride!
One highlight is the UNESCO listed Upper Middle Rhine, with 65 kms of steep sided, wooded slopes, over 40 ancient castles, and the legendary Loreli Rock. Stopovers and cultural excursions on the cruise are varied, ranging from some of the world’s great cathedrals, to picturesque medieval villages and wineries, wine-tastings and even a Black Forest cake making demonstration. Strasbourg excursions offer a canal cruise or tour, and there is also a chance to see Colmar’s fairytale half timbered houses, before the cruise ends in the relaxed sophistication of Basel.
Uniworld ` Castles Along the Rhine’, 8 days, Amsterdam to Basel – departs 15th March, €2,399pps: 22nd March, €2479pps, (S.S. Antoinette) and 4th November €2319pps, (on S.S. River Empress). Flights not included.
Portugal and Spain
The Uniworld `Portugal, Spain and The Douru River Valley’ 11 day trip offers a good combination of city break and river cruise, including an excursion to Salamanca in Spain. Ideal for lovers of wine, food and music, the trip starts with a three day visit to Lisbon. You’ll stay at the Intercontinental Lisbon (B&B) or a similar hotel, take a city tour, and enjoy plenty of free time to explore. En route to the boarding destination in Oporto, you lunch in historic Coimbra, the birthplace of six Portuguese kings. On the chic and luxurious `Queen Isabel’, with your riverview stateroom, and onboard meals, you cruise for seven nights through the Douro Valley, which is just one of the six UNESCO Heritage Sites on the trip. Vineyards cling to its sides, and your excursions include trips to quintas and local wine makers and historical towns. A familiarisation `Magical Douro River Valley’ evening lecture provides some background.
Highlights include trips from Vega de Terron to the twelfth century walled city of Castelo Rodrigo. You also cross into nearby Spain, for the `Golden City of Salamanca, noted for is architecture and University, before enjoying a flamenco show. You’ll also see historic Guimaraes, the `cradle of Portugal’ with its roots back in the tenth century, and also visit Pinhao, in the heart of wine territory.
Uniworld `Portugal, Spain and Douro River Valley, 11 days, Lisbon to Porto, departs 12th November €2,959, pps. Flights not included. www.uniworld.ie
Tulip time in the Netherlands and Belgium is famous for good reason, and this 7 night 5 star luxury cruise with Amawaterways is an ideal way to enjoy it. Sunway is offering a `Tulip Time Cruise Special Offer,’ (Twin Share) on the AmaSonata, which ticks all the boxes for luxury. An advanced river cruise vessel, it has luxurious outside staterooms with complimentary in-room internet, plus gourmet food, inclusive wine and beverages, nightly entertainment, all meals on board, with Captain’s and Gala Dinners, plus inclusive shore excursions. They even have an onboard fleet of bikes!
After a canal and harbour cruise in Amsterdam, you slip through the Dutch countryside, via Volendam, to cheese territory at Edam, with some sampling. Next comes the historic Arnhem, famed as `A Bridge Too Far’ with an option to visit the magnificent royal palace of Het Loo. Then it’s into Belgium, for Antwerp, famed for the seventeenth century artist Rubens, diamonds and fashion. You’ll enjoy a guided tour. The beautiful mediaeval Ghent comes next. After a walking tour, don’t miss the famous painting, the `Adoration of the Mystic Lamb,’ Cathedral altarpiece which has survived theft and requisition attempts. There is also an optional afternoon trip to Bruges.
As the cruise progresses, more excursions offer a chance for a bike ride, and to see the windmills around lush Kinderdijks. However, springtime in the Netherlands means tulips. So, there is a stop for the famous Keukenhof Gardens, and its walks through 70 acres of beautiful bulbs. Then, it’s back to Amsterdam, for your flight home.
Sunway offers this `Mega Savings `Tulip Time Cruise Special Offer’ of 7 nights, at €1529 pp, for two sharing. Upgrades are available. Departs 6th May. Flights, cruise and transfers included. Check for any other availability or standard Tulip Time Cruises. www.sunway.ie
Queens of the Danube
If you’re new to cruising, why not start with a `taster,’ ideally tied in with a city break? The Travel Department currently offers good value Danube cruises. The `Danube East’ Cruise package includes flight to Munich, with transfers for the three night cruise from Passau to Budapest. You’ll enjoy full board, on the highly rated MVS Amadeus Excellent, with a cocktail reception, and some optional excursions. This cruise stops at Vienna – so enjoy Mozart’s birthplace, the splendid palaces and Sacher Torte cake! Next comes the ancient city of Bratislava, (a castle visit is a must), and the cruise finishes in beautiful Budapest. You’ll overnight there at the 4 star Marriott Courtyard, enjoy an inclusive city tour, and have a day to fully explore by yourself, before your evening flight home.
The Travel Department – `Danube East River Cruise’, departs 16th April, 4 nights, 3 day cruise, with flights included, full board, guided excursions and transfers, from €699pps. www.traveldepartment.ie
Some of the best river cruising is, of course in our own backyard, and the Shannon Erne Waterway allows captains of their own charters to choose destinations. In terms of beauty and atmosphere, it’s all here. The views over the river meadows to Clonmacnoise remain similar to those seen by early pilgrims. Enjoy the local villages, welcoming pubs and good food en route, the sunrises and sunsets tinting the meadows and fields. Take in some fishing and birdwatching – or try to count the islands dotting Upper Lough Erne! Emerald Star as part of Le Boat, has a variety of vessels, off peak short break prices start from under €600 for a single cabin hire. Le Boat also offers a wide variety of cruiser hire on France’s Canal du Midi. Take in old Roman cities, walled Carcassonne, or Languedoc’s fertile landscape, river valleys. www.emeraldstar.ie
All prices have been checked at time of publication. However, check your tour operators as special offers may now be fully subscribed. Routes/tours altered or prices changed.