There is a little known secret in the river industry — admittedly made more for the US and Australian market — but which we believe will start to grow in popularity over here, too.
Combination cruises, where a passenger is able to sample more than one river in just one cruise, have been a staple of river cruise line programmes for decades. However, with the so-called renaissance of river cruising well underway, it is only a matter of time before the idea begins to take off with British passengers too.
The idea is simple. You only get one holiday and you want to do as much as possible. Maybe you have customers who are keen on doing Europe this year, but want to go long-haul next. The idea of a river cruise appeals to them, and the idea of taking two is too good an opportunity to miss out on. Crucially, these tours are not often very well signposted. So agents need to really be in the know in order to uncover them — let alone sell them.
There are more options than you think. Avalon Waterways, for example, offers a package that includes the Seine and the Rhone, France’s two main rivers. This gives passengers the opportunity to enjoy Paris, the most romantic city in the world, before heading north to Normandy, then south to Caudebec, Rouen and Conflans on the Seine, before returning to the capital. From there guests are transferred to Dijon, and onto Beaune for a wine tasting or visit of the Hôtel-Dieu. In Chalon-sur-Saône, passengers board their second cruise ship and sail to Avignon and Lyon. The spectacular trip spans over 19 days in total, and starts from £5,374pp.
CroisiEurope, which is something of a specialist in unusual cruises, offers several combinations, including a new 15-day Seine, Loire and Garonne cruise from Paris to Bordeaux (from £2,376pp), which includes visits to the Chateaux of the Loire Valley, Mont Saint-Michel and the city of Cognac. Also new for 2016 is a nine-day cruise from Strasbourg to Honfleur that combines the Rhine, Moselle and Seine and includes a full day in Luxembourg and visits to Mainz, Cochem, Trier, Paris and Honfleur.
Sat between the pretty German towns of Bamburg and Kelheim is the 106-mile long Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, an often overlooked but crucial component in the geography of Europe. The construction, completed in 1992, divides the continent in two and makes the remarkable connection between the North Sea and Black Sea. On one side is the Main, the Rhine’s largest tributary (pictured above), and the Rhine itself, a 764 mile-long river, which takes in six countries. On the other, is the Danube, which, at almost 1,800 miles long, stretches out through 10 countries and four remarkable capitals.
What it means for river cruise is huge, allowing customers to travel right across the continent. One great option is AmaWaterways’ 15-day Magnificent Europe cruise, which begins in Amsterdam, taking in historic Cologne, the stunning Rhine Gorge, the canal, and the remarkable capitals of Vienna and Bratislava and Budapest, where the cruise ends. Prices start from £1,979pp. There is also the line’s Ultimate River Cruise: a 20-day holiday that includes two nights in Budapest, a 14-night cruise to Luxembourg and three nights in Paris.
Viking River Cruises’ 15-night Grand European Tour sails from Amsterdam to Budapest (from £2,445pp), taking in the tulips of Holland, the castles of the Rhine and the majesty of Vienna. For those looking to take in even more, Avalon Waterways runs east and westbound North Sea to Black Sea cruises beginning or ending in Bucharest and Amsterdam, with stops at Cologne, Würzburg, Budapest, Belgrade and more along the way, as well as a chance to see the imposing Iron Gate. The epic 24-day cruise starts at £6,610pp.
For those with less time on their hands, Riviera Travel has the fantastic Medieval Germany — the Main to the Danube cruise (from £1,299pp), which begins in pretty Mainz, the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, and home to some of Germany’s best vineyards. The eight-day cruise takes in medieval Bamberg, Rothenburg, and its Romantic Road, and beautiful Regensburg, which is steeped in Roman history.
And with pre and post cruise options — even outside the embarkment and disembarkement points, given Europe’s excellent network of railways — there are any number of options for the ambitious traveller.