Get the River Cruise Run Down

by Kate Blake, Editor
Senior Travel Advisor- WMPH Vacations

Read more about river cruising on my River Cruise Specialty page

See a list of river cruise companies here on

River cruises are a great way to see a lot of the world that normally you would visit with a land tour- but your hotel goes with you instead of you taking a bus from city to city. This is a great way to see the major cities of Europe at a leisurely pace. Ideal for people interested in history and culture. River cruises offer specialty sailings aimed at food and wine lovers all year. Cruise through France in summer and see the lavendar in Provence. Cruise Paris to Normandy in the spring and see Monet’s gardens at Giverny. Sail into Budapest on the Danube and be awed by one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Visit the Black Forest of Germany and enjoy the wonders of Bavaria. See more fairytale castles than you can imagine. All of these experiences and so much more are available when you take a river cruise.

There are four general categories of river cruise service levels to choose from and a couple of specialty niche options.

1- Discount : this includes locally run and operated tour companies usually servicing people in the same language as the region they operate. You will find discounted options with companies like this provided by bulk tour providers who will offer cheap rates for charter dates usually off season- March, early April and late fall for Europe for example. These are pretty basic,meals are included but you pay extra for anything other than really basic walking tours. CroisiEurope, Gate1Travel, Vanguard are names that come up here. Expect to pay in full at time of booking. Usually these are much older vessels with modest decor built more for function than any kind of luxury experience.

2- Standard: this includes the big name mass market ships you see heavily advertised on television. Viking is the top one here, Emerald Waterways also falls into this category. Plus side- plenty of included tours, wine and beer included with meals. Generous air programs. Gratuities and premium alcohol are extra. Usually the standard vessel will have 180 + passengers at a time. Viking usually has their best rates if you pay in full a year in advance. Emerald allows you to make a deposit then pay final closer to sailing.

Check my Viking page for the best deals with Viking
Value options with Emerald 

3- Premium: this includes Avalon and their panorama rooms as seen on tv, Ama Waterways, and ARosa. Ama Waterways and Avalon are my favorites. Not quite as many people per sailing- usually 160 or less on the same size vessel the standard ships offer. Plenty of tours, really good food, nice wine and beer options. Reasonable rates to upgrade to all inclusive liquor and you can pre-pay gratuities. Pay a deposit and final is due closer to cruising. Usually you pay air as a separate charge- contract flat rates for air are available or you can book your own. AmaWaterways is GREAT for Asia. The AmaDara is a gorgeous vessel calling on Vietnam and Cambodia. I love their itineraries that call on Halong Bay. These premium lines do not overstuff their boats- expect 150- 180 guests on board.

Check my AmaWaterways page for the best deals with AmaWaterways 
Also look for AmaWaterways sailings chartered by Disney for family friendly adventures in Europe.

Avalon often has availability when other lines are full – they have a lot of new ships they are filling and offer aggressive promotions. Plus – they are part of the Globus family of companies and have some of the easist transfer services in the business. This means you can easily fit an Avalon cruise into the middle of a longer European itinerary.   Explore Avalon River Cruises

4- Luxury: All inclusive deluxe river cruise options are some of the most popular. Top four names include long time tour provider Tauck , ocean cruisings top luxury name Crystal is now part of the river cruise market, and finally Uniworld and Scenic which have been the top names in river cruising for decades. All inclusive lines include tours with fewer people per tour, all liquor is included not just beer and wine at dinner and tips are included as well. Air can be added on or you can do it on your own— the luxury providers know that their all inclusive guests often combine a river cruise with additional travel options.
Tipping is all taken care of along with your drinks and tours- so nothing to worry about. Book with a deposit and pay closer to sailing. These book EARLY – a year in advance is normal. Uniworld averages 120 guests on the same size vessels Viking has 180 or more people on.

My special UniWorld page
Read about my personal experience on Uniworld sailing the Danube 

Scenic options 

Crystal River options 

5- Specialty River cruises:
North America is a special case. There are several companies offering all inclusive river cruises on the big rivers and lakes of Norrth America. This includes paddle boats along the Mississipi and adventurous journeys in the steps of Lewis and Clark on the Columbia river in Oregon. Ranging from 4 to 10 nights these are usually booked early- the less expensive rooms book a year in advance.

Another new entry into river cruising is the new U by Uniworld . This line is aimed at younger more active cruisers- less amenities but with the quality Uniworld name. You will find these options in Europe in the summer. Lots of biking and evening activities. Not quite all inclusive to keep costs down.

Some things to keep in mind when booking river cruises:
All river cruises in Egypt and Africa are chartered vessels- none of the big companies own them- they put together packages and charter space on locally flagged and operated vessels. This does not mean you won’t get a great trip just know that sometimes there will be hiccups in service as the cruise line does not have complete control over your ship. Same thing in China. Look for companies that own their own ships like the AmaDara in southeast Asia.
Russia is another destination where this is the situation. ARosa sailings are all chartered from another company as are many of Taucks. Ask your travel agent if your sailing is chartered space or a vessel owned by your cruise and tour provider.

Many of the trips mentioned here are with smaller companies and most river cruises are big ticket travel items. Do not skip travel insurance when you book your trip.  You want to make sure you are covered in case of financial issues where your tour provider may declare bankruptcy. Read up on Cruise West and Renaissance Cruise lines for who can happen when a cruise line goes out of business in the middle of sailings.

By nature of the port intensive, tour intensive itineraries these are not tours designed for people who have a lot of accessibility issues. None of the European or Asian boats offer any ADA rooms. Only some have elevators on them. Most will offer some slow walker tours so folks who need to take it easy can do so. Be sure to mention any physical disabilities with your travel agent so you can get the best tour and river cruise for you!

Top Attractions in Barcelona- A Quick List and Guide

When you think of modern Barcelona there is one name that stands out- Gaudi. The term gaudy is derived from the artist and architect’s name. Antoni Gaudi was the best known Spanish architect of the late 19th century and into the 20th century. He was one of the founders of the modernist art and architecture movement that displaced the very traditional designs that proceeded him. He incorporated mixed mediums into his designs- ceramics, glass, sculpture all melded along with curves and spires and designs that today scream modern but at the time were outrageous and rule breaking. Unlike so many artists who must wait until they are dead to achieve any degree of real fame- Gaudi had fans in his own time and you can see his visions brought to life all over Barcelona. There are many tours which will take you to a variety of Gaudi sites or you can print out this list, use a map and explore on your own. Many offer tours ( for a fee) others you can view from outside. You do not want to miss these landmarks- many of which are world heritage sites on your trip to Barcelona.

1. The Sagrada Familia– This is Gaudi’s masterpiece. Construction began on this gothic cathedral in 1882 and is expected to be completed finally in 2026. You can visit it today- just make sure you book skip the line tickets or be prepared to wait all day to get tickets for your chance to go inside. The hop on hop off bus tours that go through the city all stop here.
Address- Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona

2. Casa Vicens- this is a private home built for a wealthy brick maker and is one of the first Art Noveau homes in the city. This is a world heritage site. Right now this property is for sale- if you have the money you may be able to purchase it. Here is the real estate listing site Here is the link for info on the site
Address- Carrer de les Carolines, 18-24 08012 Barcelona

3. Guell Pavillions– The Güell Pavilions were built between 1884 and 1887 by Antoni Gaudí. The pavilions were built for a summer residence of the wealthy Catalan industrialist Eusebi Güell.
Address- Av. de Pedralbes, 7, 08034 Barcelona, Spain

4. Palau Guell- The Palau Güell was designed by the young Gaudí and is a wonderful blend of medieval opulence and the architect’s unique exuberant style. Completed in 1890, the building was the private residence of Gaudí’s patron, Count Güell. The Palau Güell is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Address- Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3-5, 08001 Barcelona, Spain

5. Teresian College – Located in the neighborhood of Sant Gervasi in Barcelona, at 85 Ganduxer Street, you will find the College of the Teresians, a work carried out between the years 1888 and 1890. You may see the exterior of the college.
Address- Ganduxer 85-105 Barcelona

6. Casa Calvet- The Casa Calvet de Barcelona (1899) is one of Antoni Gaudí’s earliest buildings. Some people consider it his most conservative work but it also contains markedly modernista elements, such as the façade which terminates in a curve and the attic balconies, which look like something from a fairy tale. The ground floor now houses a restaurant.
Address: Carrer de Casp, 48, 08008 Barcelona, Spain

7. Bellesguard- The Torre Bellesguard, which is currently owned by the Guilera family who still live in part of the house, was designed by Antoni Gaudí and built between 1900 and 1909. The building has straight lines which were seldom seen in his work and was inspired by the medieval castle where King Martin the Humane once lived, parts of which can still be seen in the gardens of the house. Address: Carrer de Bellesguard, 16, 08022 Barcelona, Spain

8. Park Guell – Park Güell, one of Gaudí’s masterpieces and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This garden-city project was commissioned by Eusebi Güell but never completed. It eventually became the property of Barcelona City Council. The result is a public park full of imagination and colour where every detail expresses Antoni Gaudí’s desire to integrate architecture into the surrounding natural setting.
Address: Carrer d’Olot, s/n, 08024 Barcelona, Spain

9. Casa Milà, La Pedrera – This is one of the most important of Gaudi’s designs. When Pere Milà commissioned Antoni Gaudí to build a residential block, it gave the architect the perfect opportunity to bring to fruition one of his most complete works. Built between 1906 and 1912, the Casa Milà occupies an entire corner of the Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona’s Eixample.

Address: Provença, 261-265, 08008 Barcelona, Spain

10 . Casa Batlló – The Casa Batlló is one of Antoni Gaudí’s architectural masterpieces and an iconic modernista landmark. Situated on Passeig de Gràcia, this building stands out from the rest due to its eye-catching design and colour. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona, Spain

11. Church of Colònia Güell- also Gaudi’s Crypt – The Church of Colònia Güell (Catalan: Cripta de la Colònia Güell, IPA: [ˈkɾiptə ðə ɫə kuˈɫɔniə ˈɣweʎ]) is an unfinished work by Antoni Gaudí. It was built as a place of worship for the people in a manufacturing suburb in Santa Coloma de Cervelló, near Barcelona (Spain). Colònia Güell was the brainchild of Count Eusebi de Güell, however with Güell losing profits from his business, the money was depleted and only the crypt was completed.
Address: Calle Claudi Güell, 08690 Colònia Güell, Santa Coloma de Cervelló, Barcelona, Spain

12. Sagrada Família Schools– these are the school buildings that are attached to the temple that is La Sagrada Familia. They offer tours and a variety of programs that the public can participate in.
There are many tour operators that offer multi-site tours featuring the work of Gaudi that operate in Barcelona.

Shore Excursion Group is one site that offers many options for cruise guests and people just lookng for a nice day trip while in the city. Prices are reasonable and there are a lot of tours to choose from depending on how much time you have and what you want to see.

A favorite of mine is always Viator- they have even more options that frequently do not get listed anywhere else.

For budget friendly options- consider one of many free walking tours offered in the city including many options for visiting Gaudi sites.

Source: Top Attractions in Barcelona- A Quick List and Guide