9 New River Cruises for 2018
Unpack once and settle in for an easygoing trip in an intimate vessel
By Kathryn E. Worrall
Are you a student of history? Consider a Danube jaunt -- one that investigates medieval town centers and World War II sites and is bookended by stays in two fascinating capitals, Berlin and Krakow, Poland. Perhaps you're a fan of the moss-covered settings found in Southern Gothic novels -- try a Mississippi River ramble to New Orleans on a modern-day paddle wheeler. Bring the kids on a European adventure designed for families, with discounted pricing for young travelers. Prefer a child-free cruise? Read on and check out our first suggestion.
Check the day-to-day details of the following itineraries online, or contact the travel specialists at Vacations To Go, (800) 510-4002, for more information.
For the Epicure
"Rhine River Food & Wine Cruise" Adventures by Disney
The basics: Adventures by Disney is a famously kid-friendly tour company, but it has designated this culinary trip from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam as a strictly adults-only getaway. Travel to locales in four countries during eight days aboard the 158-passenger AmaKristina.
The itinerary: In France's Alsace region, sip riesling at a vineyard in Riquewihr and learn how to make macarons, delicate meringue sandwich cookies. A stop in Speyer, Germany, affords a chance to zip down to Stuttgart to tour museums devoted to the driving machines of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, with a lunch stop at a beer garden. Cologne offers several tempting options: a chocolate-making class, a visit to a fragrance museum (the citrusy 4711 eau de Cologne was first manufactured in the city in the 1790s) or a pub tour for a taste of kolsch, a light ale exclusively brewed here. The cruise ends in Amsterdam with samplings of Dutch cheeses and a tour of a Heineken brewery.
Don't miss: Located beneath the old city hospital, the Cave Historique des Hospices de Strasbourg, France, dates to 1395. The cellar supplied wine as a medicinal aid to patients, who might in return pay for their care with a plot of vine-growing land. Among vintages is one from 1472, considered the oldest barrel-stored wine in the world. It has been sampled just three times.
When to go: Pleasant fall temperatures make either of the two dates, Sept. 24 and Oct. 8, good calls. Prices begin at $4,289.
For the Holiday Merrymaker
"Magical Christmas Markets" AmaWaterways
The basics: This seven-day Danube River cruise departs from either Vienna or Nuremberg, Germany. A 10-day option spends time in Prague.
The itinerary: Sizzling sausages, hot cocoa and vendor booths festooned with twinkling lights welcome visitors to outdoor holiday bazaars. In Austria, savor roasted chestnuts at Vienna's huge Christkindlmarkt at the Rathausplatz in front of city hall, and nosh on a buttery Linzer torte in Linz. During the German portion of the trip, warm up with bratwurst and mugs of gluhwein -- hot mulled wine -- in Passau; its market takes place next to St. Stephen's Cathedral, which houses an enormous organ of 17,974 pipes. In Regensberg, spend an evening browsing artisan stalls in the courtyard of St. Emmeram Palace, home to the Thurn und Taxis family since 1812.
Nuremberg boasts one of Germany's oldest markets, first referenced in writing in 1628. Shoppers snap up comical little figures made of dried fruit (called prune men, or Zwetschgenmannle) and gold foil angels with pleated wings.
Don't miss: Passau's nativity trail leads to 20-plus manger scenes depicting the birth of Jesus, with interpretations both traditional and contemporary and made of a variety of materials, including wool, ceramic and even chocolate.
When to go: Departures run from Nov. 23 to Dec. 23 and start at $2,899. Pick the last date to spend Christmas Day in Salzburg, Germany -- Mozart's birthplace and location of several scenes from 1965's "The Sound of Music."
For the Bookworm
"Southern Literature" American Queen Steamboat Co.
The basics: The 432-passenger American Queen spends eight days on the Mississippi River from Memphis, TN, to New Orleans.
The itinerary: This themed jaunt honors great writers of the South with onboard book clubs, guest authors and literary experts while calling at storied riverfront destinations. Locals joke that there's something about the brown-tinged (yet potable) water of Greenville, MS, that produces successful wordsmiths. Some 100 published authors lived here in the last century, including Shelby Foote and Walker Percy; William Faulkner was a frequent visitor. Best-selling novelist Greg Iles spent his youth in Natchez, MS, another stop. He based several books in this town of just over 15,000 residents, including his acclaimed "Natchez Burning" trilogy.
Stroll down Spanish moss-lined streets in St. Francisville, LA, and later dock at the South's largest antebellum mansion, Nottoway Plantation, with 64 rooms. The cruise ends on March 19 in the Big Easy, and you might stick around to attend the Tennessee Williams-New Orleans Literary Festival on March 21-25, honoring the playwright who moved here in his 20s. Fans of Anne Rice, spinner of supernatural tales, can seek out her former Greek Revival home in the Garden District, which inspired the settings for a few of her works.
Don't miss: Ascend to the 27th-floor observation deck of the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge for a bird's-eye view of the Big Muddy.
When to go: There is one departure on March 12, priced at $1,999.
For the Explorer
"Spirit of Myanmar & the Untouched Upper Irrawaddy" Avalon Waterways
The basics: This 16-day route in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar, formerly Burma, travels round trip from Yangon. The intimate 36-passenger Avalon Myanmar is able to access destinations north of Mandalay, rare in Irrawaddy River cruising.
The itinerary: Myanmar has been called "The Golden Land," and this trip delivers radiant pagodas, Buddhas and sunsets. In Yangon, view the country's most valued religious site, Shwedagon Pagoda. More than 2,200 pagodas, monasteries and stupas (domed monuments) await in Bagan, where guests climb to the top of one of the temples to watch the sun drop toward the horizon.
Attend a gold-leaf workshop in Mandalay before heading to Mahamuni Pagoda to see a massive Buddha covered in thick layers of thin gold sheets, applied by male pilgrims as offerings. The boat continues north, passing cliffs and villages, before passengers debark to fly to Inle Lake, studded with lotuses and surrounded by wooden stilt houses.
Don't miss: Get a glimpse into the lives of the Intha community of Inle Lake. Fishermen adopt a delicate balancing act to propel their small wooden boats through the water, standing on one leg and rowing with the other leg wrapped around an oar. Avalon guests visit silk, silversmith and cigar-rolling workshops while here.
When to go: Departures are offered in nearly every month except summer, and prices start at $5,949. The winter season, November to February, promises less rain and cooler temperatures.
For the Fitness Aficionado
"The Charms of Holland & Belgium" Emerald Waterways
The basics: This eight-day, round-trip cruise from Amsterdam navigates the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal and other waterways in the Netherlands and Belgium.
The itinerary: Stay fit -- despite the Belgian chocolates and Dutch cheeses -- with this company's EmeraldActive program. It provides guided cycling in two Dutch cities using onboard bikes. The ships that run the route, the Emerald Sky and Emerald Sun, also have jogging tracks, fitness rooms and putting greens.
Highlights include a canal boat ride in Amsterdam and time amid the 19 windmills of Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Begun in 1352 and completed 169 years later, Antwerp's Cathedral of Our Lady dominates the Belgian city's skyline. While the Gothic exterior is eye-catching, the Baroque art inside includes four altarpieces by painter Peter Paul Rubens, including two that were seized by Napoleon Bonaparte but later returned.
Don't miss: For an additional fee, travel to medieval Bruges, Belgium. It provides a fairytale setting with cobbled lanes, courtyards covered with daffodils and languid canals.
When to go: Priced from $2,995, these sailings leave on July 13 and Sept. 22.
For the Wine Lover
"South of France Indulgence" Scenic
The basics: This 15-day voyage travels down and back up the Saone and Rhone rivers from Chalon-sur-Saone. Guests can extend the vacation with a one-night stay in Paris.
The itinerary: Visit the Chateau de Savigny-les-Beaune, near the town of Beaune, to see an eclectic collection of aircraft, racing cars and motorcycles. Guests can sample French truffles when the ship docks in Tournus and taste light, fruity reds during a call at Macon, perched at the edge of the Beaujolais winegrowing region.
Sip an aperitif on the veranda of Tournon's castle, most of which dates to the 15th and 16th centuries. You can nibble high-quality Valrhona chocolate in Tain-l'Hermitage or hike the Hill of Hermitage, famed for its syrah grapes -- and be rewarded with a glass of vin in a vineyard. An indulgent moment of the trip arrives in Avignon, where guests wine and dine at the 14th-century Popes' Palace to the tune of a classical concert.
Don't miss: For five generations, the Lincele family has grown lavender in the Vaucluse hills of Provence. Their Lavender Museum -- next to fields of fragrant, purple blooms in the town of Coustellet -- displays a collection of stills used to extract essential oil from the flowers (the oldest dates to the 16th century). A cafe serves up lavender-spiked lemonade and ice cream.
When to go: Dates are available in June, July and October, but to catch wild lavender in bloom, go in summer. Prices start at $7,495.
For the History Buff
"Royal Danube, Berlin & Krakow" Tauck
The basics: This 14-day trip adds sightseeing and hotel stays in Berlin and Krakow to either end of a weeklong Danube sailing.
The itinerary: A local shares a personal experience of living behind the Iron Curtain in Berlin, where guests also can join tours of Jewish heritage sites or World War II landmarks. An excursion in Nuremberg takes participants to the Palace of Justice, site of Nazi war crimes trials in the 1940s, and to former Nazi party rally grounds at Zeppelin Field. Sightseeing takes a classical turn in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth, once home to composers Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt; a visit to the magnificently gilded and frescoed Margravial Opera House is on the agenda.
Between Austria (where you can drink Wachau Valley wines and spend a leisurely day in the Lake District) and Poland, Tauck makes time for a stop in the Czech Republic's eastern province of Moravia, a former medieval kingdom where rolling hills blend into vineyards, gardens and castles. From your Krakow home base, travel to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the largest Nazi concentration camp and where more than 1.1 million prisoners died. Guests also spend time in the Polish mountain resort town of Zakopane, a tourist draw since the late 1700s, and sit down to an underground dinner at the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Don't miss: Germany's Weltenburg Abbey is a beautiful Benedictine monastery located on a bend in the Danube River. It's the world's oldest monastic brewery, dating to 1050, and still produces dark ales.
When to go: Priced from $5,990, the trip is offered from April to June and in September. April is slightly chilly but sees fewer crowds and is less expensive.
For the Family
"Remarkable Rhine" Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
The basics: Spend nine days aboard the 130-guest River Empress on a cruise between Basel and Amsterdam. Four family-friendly summer departures feature half-price fares for children ages 4 to 17, kid-pleasing menus and hands-on workshops, such as a dessert class with the ship's pastry chef.
The itinerary: With a choice of included excursions each day, from local immersions to active outings, guests on multigenerational vacations can explore at a pace that best suits them. In Basel, divided by the Rhine, join a walking tour that roams both sides of the city (you'll cross the river by ferry) and stops for bites of the local spiced honey cookies called Leckerli. Or, bicycle to the Fondation Beyeler, a Renzo Piano-designed contemporary art museum hosting works by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and others.
Pedal past picturesque half-timber homes in the historic Petite France
district of Strasbourg, another cycle-friendly town. During a port call in Speyer, head to the Doktorenhof Vinegar Estate and pucker up for samples aged in 100-year-old barrels. In the pretty Rhine village of Bacharach, you can hike up to 12th-century Castle Stahleck for Lorelei Valley views.
Don't miss: Cologne's Museum Ludwig has the world's third-largest collection of Pablo Picasso's works, as well as abstracts by Mark Rothko and Frank Stella, pop art by Roy Lichtenstein and Russian avant-garde art from the early 20th century.
When to go: Dates run from March to November (except September), with family-themed sailings from June to August. Prices start at $4,199 for family trips and $3,799 for other departures.
For the Student of Antiquity
"Pharaohs & Pyramids" Viking River Cruises
The basics: As tourism to Egypt begins to rebound, Viking prepares to launch a new ship for Nile River cruising. The 48-passenger Viking Ra will have a pool, two Jacuzzis and suites starting at 291 square feet. The 12-day itinerary travels round trip from Cairo.
The itinerary: Among the bucket-list draws are the three pyramids of the Giza Plateau -- Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure -- and the neighboring Great Sphinx. The Great Pyramid, Khufu, is the only site among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that remains. Viking throws in a short camel ride here, too. In Cairo, gaze upon the gold burial mask of King Tutankhamen at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and join an optional foray to a souk, or bazaar.
You'll board the riverboat at Luxor, where travelers can get a unique perspective of the temple ruins with a hot air balloon ride, available for an extra charge. The Valley of the Kings houses entombed pharaohs, while their spouses were laid to rest in the nearby Valley of the Queens. Viking guests get rare access to the tomb of Nefertari, wife of Ramses II; its walls are adorned with vibrant paintings depicting her life -- and her journey in the afterlife.
Don't miss: In Aswan, board a felucca, a traditional wooden boat with a swooping white sail, for a gentle cruise along the Nile.
When to go: Dates for 2018 have already sold out, but 2019 offers multiple options priced from $11,398.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Fall 2017. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 510-4002 for current rates and details.