River cruises are some of the most relaxing holidays you could ever go on. There’s nothing better than lying out on the deck under the sun and letting all your stress and worries just melt away.
Of course, with this experience comes a competitive market, and with a competitive market comes choice, too much choice, in fact. That’s why you’re here. You’re planning a lovely cruise getaway and are overwhelmed by just how many companies offer the service.
Well, fear not. Covered below is a brief look at three of the best river cruise companies in Europe, to help you make up your mind, and get your holiday planned.
Crystal River Cruises
Crystal River Cruises are newcomers to the market, entering the space in 2016. Of course, the company was and still is, massive in the ocean cruise market, and with that popularity comes standards, standards that are brought to European river cruising.
Crystal River Cruises broke the market norms by bringing across key aspects of the ocean cruise operation, resulting in a first-rate hybrid experience. The kitchens feature Michelin standard food in the open dining areas, a whole battalion of an expertly trained crew, and large ships that come with lots of additional facilities, like indoor swimming pools.
The cabins are spacious and luxurious, right down to the cheapest option. The cruise also comes with butler service, as well as 24-hour in-suite dining, to satisfy all your late-night cravings.
If you want to dine out of the room, as mentioned above, there are great open dining areas, where the food is prepared to order with fresh ingredients by world-class chefs. If formal dining isn’t your style, however, you have a more casual experience in the onboard bistro.
The rooms are fantastic, and the ocean cruise standards really shine through. All the suites are above the waterline, and each feature full-length balcony windows, so you can let the light, or the fresh river air, into your room at your leisure.
The pacing of the cruises is also exceptional. The itineraries are designed to allow you to maximize your time onshore, with several of the nights being spent in port. This not only allows you to enjoy the ship but gives you the ability to do what you want, when you want to, and offers a lot more freedom then you may be used to with cruises.
Each trip has a schedule of designed destination experiences, so you’re never without entertainment, and each ship as a complimentary, extravagant signature event that serves as the highlight to many people’s voyages.
Crystal has its own fleet of buses to take you to and from these events. The coaches are spacious and comfortable, and a far cry better than the typical private bus you may be used to.
The all-inclusive option here is exactly what it says on the tin. While other cruises may have terms and conditions as to what it covers, Crystal gives you the full package. Meals, wine, spirits, drinks, onshore experiences, complimentary bikes, and even airport transfers are included in the fee.
- Fully comprehensive all-inclusive
- Fantastic rooms
- Delicious food
- Plenty of entertainment and an excellent schedule
- Can get pricy
- You may spend too much time off the ship for your liking
Ama Waterways is a coalition cruise company formed in 2002. Three families, one from Vienna, one from Germany, and one from Ireland, teamed up to create what is now one the most highly regarded travel companies in the world.
Ama Waterways is a personal operation. The owners and shareholders take a hands-on role in the company, so you now that the whole experience is going to be optimized for your enjoyment.
The three families know retail and know the travel industry, so they know that guest experience is everything, and this knowledge really shines through. The interior of the ship and its rooms are designed to feel warm and cozy, with a unique style of décor that immediately makes the place comfortable.
The team of the crew the company has is brilliantly trained. They offer great service, and each has a real level of in-depth knowledge about the operation. The chefs are fantastic too, so the food you can get on board is to die for.
When the group entered the market, Ama Waterways proved to be innovators and leaders in the space. Some of the cabins have not only one, but two balconies, one of them being a full outside balcony.
The ships host fewer guests on board the vessel than it can actually hold, so the lounges and diners never feel packed or suffocating. The itinerary is packed to the brim with inshore excursions for every stop, hiking trails, complimentary bikes, and special interest tours at different levels of pace.
The company is a member of La Chaine des Rotisseurs, which is a society dedicated to the craft of classic French cuisine, which explains why the chefs are so good. Needless to say, because of this, the dining experience is vital to the operation, and it doesn’t disappoint.
The food is exceptional, there is a featured Chef’s table tasting menu, and your drinks, including wine and beer, are covered in the cost of lunch and dinner. There is also a free happy hour for cocktails if that strikes your fancy.
- Excellent food
- Smaller guest count means a more spacious cruising experience
- Free cocktails!
- Décor may be hit or miss for you
- You may not enjoy the cuisine, depending on your personal tastes.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise
Uniworld Boutique is quite a unique entry to this list. It’s a smaller player in the global market, but that doesn’t mean that the cruises aren’t as good.
The gimmick is that the cruise is focused on recreating the atmosphere of a small boutique hotel on the ship, which leaves you with quite a different experience to traditional river cruises.
Uniworld is owned by TravCorp, which is, in turn, owned by the Tollman family. Each ship has been individually designed by a member of this family, and that level of personality really shines through.
If you head over to their website, you may be slightly put off by some of the marketing photos. The photographer oversaturated the shots (for whatever reason), so you end up with an image that is more eccentric than the reality of the situation. The themes in the photos come off sharply, whereas, in real life, they’re much more subtle.
The vessels are all-inclusive, so you are going to pay a pretty penny to get on board, but it’s worth it.
Master artisans mostly handcraft the décor on the ships. There are original paintings, chiseled mirrors, grandiose staircases, marble columns, and much more. No two boats are the same, so know which one you want to go for before you book.
Don’t let the old-fashioned style throw you off, though. The higher-end rooms are still equipped with modern technology for you to make use of.
The staff are charming and friendly, and offer an exquisite experience, from the gourmet meals to the shore excursions, this is a cruise you need to experience.
- The gorgeous atmosphere and design
- Great staff
- Crafted for a truly unique experience, with no two ships being the same
- Handcrafted décor
- Not as many onboard activities as other liners
- The style or the cruise is an acquired taste
Hopefully, you got something of use from those brief overviews. Cruises are a great holiday, and whether it be the ocean or river, you know you’re in for a good time.
The three listed are just a few of an endless number of cruises, and each of these three has different options available, so in truth, your choices number in the hundreds, if not thousands.
That amount can be daunting, but cruises are meant to be a holiday. So relax and enjoy yourself. Take your time, do your research, and pick something you feel you are going to like.
As mentioned above, Crystal River Cruises offer a higher standard of service than most of its competitors, due to its history in the ocean cruise industry. The liners are gorgeous, and there is plenty of entertainment, so if that’s what you’re looking for, go with them.
Ama Waterways always gives you a first-class experience due to the owner’s involvement with the product. The service is exceptional, and the food is mouthwatering. You also get an hour of free cocktails, who can complain about that?
Uniworld Boutique is a more specific cruise than the other two. If it’s not your thing, then you won’t enjoy it at all. However, if it is your thing, you’re going to fall head over heels for it. The time-warping décor and feel of the vessels is something to behold, and the service is excellent.
So, there you have it — three of the best river cruise companies in Europe. If you decide to take one of these cruises, enjoy it! If not, hopefully, you can find a cruise that is more your scene.