The Emerald Dawn of Emerald Cruises

Emerald Waterways.

Emerald Waterways started in 2014 and operates a fleet of six similar riverboats along Europe’s Rhine, Main, Danube and Moselle Rivers. Other vessels cruise the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Portugal’s Duoro River, Croatia’s Dalmation coast, Russia and the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.

Known as Evergreen Waterways in Australia, the line is a division of Scenic, a multifaceted travel company. The price point is mid-range and the boats’ decor falls into the modern minimalist style.

The exception is Emerald Waterways’ new luxury yacht, to debut in the summer of 2021 for the company’s new Emerald Yacht Cruises brand, with sailings in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Red Seas.

Emerald Waterways is a real gem, offering good-value river cruises mostly in Europe, Russia and on the Mekong; it’s owned by the same firm that operates Scenic, a higher-end line.

Emerald Harmony of Emerald Cruises

The 2019-built Emerald Harmony is based in SE Asia. * Photo: Emerald Harmony


The global COVID-19 pandemic that emerged in early 2020 has been exceedingly challenging for travel companies and travelers alike. While the situation remains fluid, we at are working hard to provide accurate and timely updates the small-ship cruise lines we cover. However, for the most up-to-date information we recommend that our readers consult each cruise line directly.

Emerald Waterways is offering incentives such as $2,000 per couple discounts on all 8+ day itineraries or choose free international flights. The line also has flexible booking terms such as reduced deposit (for a limited time) and free deposit protection that allows for reservation changes before the final payment and also offers savings on flights to Europe for longer cruises.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers


Emerald Star (built 2014 & 180 passengers) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Sky (b. 2014 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Dawn (b. 2015 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Sun (b. 2015 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Destiny (b. 2017 & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Luna (b. TK & 180p) — Rhine, Main, Danube & Moselle Rivers

Emerald Liberté (b. 2017 & 138p) — Rhône & Saône Rivers

Emerald Radiance (b. 2017 & 112p) — Douro River in Portugal

Emerald Harmony (b. 2019 & 84p) — Mekong River

Emerald Cruises Emerald Sun

The Star Ship “Emerald Sun.” * Photo: Emerald Cruises

Other Ships

MS Nizhny Novgorod (b. 1977, refurbished 2019, 204p) — Russia

MS Rossia (b. 1978, refitted 2007, 224p) — Russia

MS Hamees (b. TK & 142p) — chartered Mövenpick journeys, Nile River

MS Swallow (b. 2019 & 36p) — Croatia’s Dalmatian coast

MS Lastavica (b. 2020 & 36p) — Croatia’s Dalmatian coast

Future Plans

Emerald Azzurra (b. 2021 & 100p) — luxury yacht scheduled to debut July 2021, Mediterranean, Adriatic & Red Seas

Passenger Profile

For the most part English-speaking from Australia, North American, and Britain.

Passenger Decks

Riverboats: four decks, three of them with cabins, and two more public rooms. An elevator connects the three cabin and public room decks.


$$  Expensive but good value and lots included in the fares.

Included Features
  • Most excursions (at least one for every port)*
  • Biking & hiking tours
  • Independent use of onboard bicycles
  • Beer, wine, soft drinks, coffee & tea with lunch and dinner
  • Bottled water in cabins
  • Some on-shore meals
  • Pre-paid on-board gratuities
  • Wi-Fi onboard
  • Transfers
  • Port charges
  • *More in-depth excursions are available at an extra cost through the DiscoverMORE program focusing on art, local history, culture and food.
  • Cologne Cathedral, seen on a Rhine cruise. * Photo: Ted ScullCologne Cathedral, seen on a Rhine cruise. * Photo: Ted Scull


Emerald’s European river cruises comprise 5- to 15-day cruises on the Rhine, Main, Danube and Moselle Rivers, as well as the Rhône and Saône; 8 to 22 days on Portugal’s Duoro River; and 11 days on Russia’s Volga River.

Southeast Asia, 8- to 21-day cruises ply the Mekong.

Eastern Mediterranean, a 16-day land-and-river package includes a tour of Israel combined with a Nile River cruise.

Sample Itineraries

  • The eight-day Danube Delights cruise covers four countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The journey departs from Nuremberg and calls at Regensberg, Passau, Linz, Melk, Dürnstein, Vienna and Bratislava before ending at Budapest.
  • The 10-day Secrets of the Douro cruise visits the wine country and landmarks of Portugal and Spain, sailing from Porto and calling at Pinhão, Vega de Terrón, Salamanca, Pocinho and Régua, concluding at Porto.
  • The 16-day Israel & Ancient Egypt river cruise begins in Tel Aviv, Israel where you’ll tour the city for two days before sailing to Haifa for tours of Acre and Galilee, which includes a cruise on the Galilee Sea; a short drive to Jerusalem for a couple days of guided tours throughout the city before returning to Tel Aviv for a flight to Cairo and on to Luxor, Egypt. From Luxor, cruise the Nile with calls at Dendra, Esna, Kom Ombo and Aswan, with a short flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel and return to continue cruising the Nile before flying back to Cairo for three days of tours.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. * Photo: Ted Scull

Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

A European river cruise introduces you in the space of a week or so to several different cultures, long histories, and scenic delights with one unpacking and one packing chore. Asian river cruising is the least stressful way to see diverse culturally-rich countries.

Sustainability Initiatives

The Emerald Harmony was the line’s first Star-Ship to ban all single use plastics.

Now on all river ships, passengers will be provided a complementary metal water bottle to refill from water stations on the ship, and reusable glass water bottles will be provided in the cabins.

Plus, recyclable bamboo and paper straws will be used in the restaurant, bar and lounge, while cabin toiletry miniatures will be replaced with refillable dispensers.

When to Go?

Summer in Europe can be a bit hectic ashore at the most popular port calls, while May and October are less crowded months,. The months of March and April, also times of fewer tourists, may have more unsettled weather.

The Emerald Dawn of Emerald Cruises

The Emerald Dawn. * Photo: Emerald Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

While most activities take place ashore, the line has added options like yoga classes, aqua aerobics and smartphone photo workshops on board, as well as deck games like chess with giant pieces and shuffleboard.

Emerald Waterways pool

Some of the Emerald riverboats have small pools. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Musical entertainment comes aboard on selected evenings. An Activities Manager leads guided complimentary cycling tours, rural and urban hikes, and various walks, and can also help passengers plan their own activities ashore on foot or bicycle.

EmeraldACTIVE offers reasonably fit passengers the chance to hike in Germany’s Black Forest on a Rhine cruise and on the Danube; tour by bicycle (also available for independent touring) in the scenic areas around Melk, Austria and glide along the streets of Belgrade, Serbia.

RELATED: Active River Cruising on Emerald. by John Roberts

The list of bike tours includes Amsterdam, Hoorn, and Veere in the Netherlands; to La Roche-de-Glun in southern France, and Melk to Dürnstein along the Danube in Austria. Hikes can include a vineyard in Tournon, France, a climb up to Dürnstein Castle in Austria, or to Belogradchik Fortress, a Roman-era surveillance tower built into a natural wonder, depending on your cruise.

Canoeing is also a new feature in quiet waters, especially in Portugal’s Douro Valley, where you can take a single or double kayak and paddle close to the vineyards. The aim is broaden the interest to appeal to a more active clientele.

How about this for inventive use of space — every evening they drain the heated swimming pool and presto! It magically morphs into a cinema, complete with a bar! — Ted Scull

Emerald riverboat moored at Koblenz on the Rhine. * Photo: Ted Scull

Emerald riverboat moored at Koblenz on the Rhine. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Star-Ships (Riverboats)
  • Emerald Star
  • Emerald Sky
  • Emerald Dawn
  • Emerald Sun
  • Emerald Destiny
  • Emerald Luna

The flagships of the Emerald Waterways fleet, these six riverboats each measure 135m in length and have four decks, three with cabins, connected by elevators. The main restaurant serves buffet breakfast and lunch, either indoors or al fresco, and a four-course dinner nightly. In fine weather, there’s barbecue on the Sun Deck. A heated pool transforms by night into a cinema and lounge, shielded from the elements by a retractable glass roof.

Other recreation facilities include a sun deck with lounge chairs, putting green, games area, walking track, fitness and wellness areas and a salon. Cabins are all outside-facing, and comprise 72 suites, most with private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button, and 20 staterooms. All cabins have individual temperature control and large windows. They measure in size from 117 sq. ft.  for a single stateroom; the rest ranging from 162 to 315 sq. ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, telephone, free Wi-Fi, safe, minibar, complimentary bottled water, hairdryer.


A spacious, light-filled balcony cabin. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Emerald Liberté

This boat is almost identical in layout and facilities to the fleet’s six flagships (above), but is slightly smaller at 110m in length. The dining room also boasts authentic locally-sourced fine cuisine with wine paired by on-board sommeliers. Cabins number 68, comprised of 14 staterooms and 54 suites, all outside-facing and most with private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button, measuring from 106 sq. ft. for a single stateroom; the rest ranging from 170 to 315 sq. ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, telephone, free Wi-Fi, safe, minibar, complimentary bottled water, hairdryer.

Emerald Radiance

A smaller, more intimate version of the fleet’s flagships (see above), this riverboat measures 89m in length, with fours decks connected by an elevator. It also boasts a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1:3. Facilities include indoor and al fresco dining, sun deck with deck chairs, pool, walking track, lounge, fitness and wellness areas and salon. Fifty-six cabins include 10 staterooms; the rest are suites, all are outside-facing and most have private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button. They measure in size from 153-170 sq ft for a stateroom; the suites ranging from 160 to 300 sq ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, telephone, free Wi-Fi, safe, minibar, complimentary bottled water, hairdryer.

Emerald Harmony

This 73m long riverboat has four decks and was built for the Mekong with specs that allow it to dock in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City while still providing for many of the unique facilities of its European river boats. These include an on-board dining room, a pool that transforms by night into a lounge, shielded from the elements by a retractable glass roof, sun deck with lounge chairs, games area, walking track, fitness and wellness areas, salon and self-service laundry.

Forty-two cabins include four staterooms with porthole views; the rest are suites, all are outside-facing and most have private balconies created by picture windows that open from the top at the push of a button — all cabins measure 315 sq ft.

In cabin: en-suite, TV with movies, free Wi-Fi.

Other Ships

MS Nizhny Novgorod

Originally built in 1977, this 129m long boat was refurbished in 2019. It has four decks, two of which contain cabins. Facilities include two restaurants, two bar areas, a solarium, sauna, ironing room, small souvenir shop and conference hall. Of the 106 cabins, six are suites measuring 298 sq. ft., the remaining cabins range from 142-167 sq. ft. All are outside-facing and have large windows and either queen or twin beds.

In cabin: en-suite, TV, radio, refrigerator, air-conditioning, safe.

MS Rossia

Built 1978 for sailing in Russia, this traditional and authentic riverboat was refitted 2007. The 125m boat has four desks and an elevator. Facilities include a restaurant serving European and Russian-inspired fine cuisine and complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; a bar with free Wi-Fi; library; wellness center and souvenir kiosk. All 106 cabins have views with sizes ranging from 12.4-14.6 sq. meters.

In cabin: en-suite, TV, refrigerator.

MS Hamees

This 72m long riverboat has five decks, with cabins on three of them. Facilities include a restaurant and lounge, pool, sun deck and reading room. Each of the 72 cabins measures 244 sq. ft. and has queen or twin beds and outward-facing views.

In cabin: en-suite, TV, hair dryer, air-conditioning.

MS Swallow & MS Lastavica

These identical 49m. yachts are perfect for docking in small ports. Each has four decks, two decks with cabins, and facilities that include an air-conditioned restaurant and al fresco terrace where meals are served with complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks; a bar, lounge, Jacuzzi, sun deck with lounge chairs and a swim platform with fitted steps that lower into the water. Eighteen cabins have queen or twin beds and either a porthole view (in 129-150 sq. ft. cabins) or window (in 124-198 sq. ft. cabins).

In cabin: en suite, complimentary Wi-Fi.

  • Emerald Azzurra (July 2021)

Under the newly-launched Emerald Yacht Cruises brand, this 360-foot long, 100-passenger super yacht is scheduled to debut in July 2021. Spacious cabins will start at 285 sq. ft., most of them with private balconies. The ship will also have a marina platform for water sports like paddle boarding and snorkeling.


Emerald Waterways

Boston, MA 02111, USA

Tel: +1 (857) 444-4371


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Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

A family-owned French firm based in Strasbourg that started up in 1976 now operates one of the largest inland waters’ fleets in Europe with both river and canal boats. The river cruises travel on waterways throughout Europe, providing one of the main attractions for those looking for less traveled destinations.

In addition, coastal cruises fan out from Naples to the Amalfi Coast, Aeolian Islands, and Sicily, from Naples to Greece, and along Croatian coast and Montenegro. Additional river and island coastal cruises, beyond Europe, appear below. The total fleet worldwide now numbers almost 50 vessels. The firm caters to English speakers as well as European nationalities, and bien sur, the French.


Danube River scene. * Photo: CroisiEurope Cruises

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

The river fleet numbers 40+. A sample listing follows. A “P” following a ship’s name indicates Premium, the newest and heavily remodeled vessels with larger cabins and more amenities.

Seine: SEINE PRINCESS-P (b. 2002, renovated 2012, 134p); BOTTICELLI (b. 2004, renovated 2010, 150p); RENOIR-P (b. 2018, 110p)

Rhine & Danube: LA BOHEME (built 1995, renovated 2011, 162 passengers, 108 sq. ft. cabins); BEETHOVEN (b. 2004, renovated 2010, 180p, cabins 140 sq. ft.); LAFAYETTE-P (b. 2014, 86p, cabin size N.A.); VIVALDI-P (b. 2009, 176p); GERARD SCHMITTER-P (b. 2012, 174p); EUROPE (b. 2006, renovated, 2011, 180p); FRANCE (b. 1999, renovated 2011, 156p); LEONARDO DA VINCI (b. 2oo3, renovated 2011, 174p); MODIGLIANI (b. 2001, renovated 2011, 156p); VICTOR HUGO (b. 2000, renovated 2019, 96p); MONA LISA (b. 2000, renovated 2010, 96p); SYMPHONIE-P (b. 2010, renovated 2017, 108p); MONET (b. 1999, renovated 2007, 156p); DOUCE FRANCE (b. 1997, renovated 2017, 110p). N.B. The Moselle has been added with cruises embarking in Basel.

Rhone & Soane: MISTRAL (b. 1999, 158p, cabins 118 sq. ft.); VAN GOGH-P (b. 2018, 110p); CAMARGUE-P (b. 2015, 108p); RHONE PRINCESS (b. 2001/renovated 2011, 138p)

Garonne/Dordogne: CYRANO DE BERGERAC-P (b. 2013, 174p, 140 sq. ft)


Cyrano in Bordeaux. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Loire: LOIRE PRINCESS-P (b. 2014, 96 p, cabin size N.A.), a sidewheel paddle boat with a shallow draft designed to negotiate shallow waters.

Douro: GIL EANES-P (b. 2015, 32p, cabin size N.A.); MIGUEL TORGA-P (b. 2016, 136p); VASCO DA GAMA (b. 2002, 142p, cabins 129 sq. ft.); INFANTE DOM HENRIQUE (b. 2003, renovated 2014, 142p); FERNAO DE MAGALHAES (b. 2003, renovated 2011, 142p); AMALIA RODRIGUES (b. 2019)

SW Spain: LA BELLE DE CADIZ-P (b. 2005, renovated 2010, 176p, cabins 118 sq. ft.)

Po (Italy): MICHELANGELO (b. 2000, renovated 2011, 156p, cabin size N.A.)

Elbe & Moldau: L’ELBE PRINCESSE-P (b. 2016, 80p, cabin size N.A.); L’ELBE PRINCESSE II-P  (b. 2018, 86p, cabin size N.A.); N.B. These two are paddle wheelers with the ability to navigate shallow waters to reach the center of Prague. VICTOR HUGO (b. 2000, renovated 2019, 96p); MONA LISA (b. 2000, renovated 2010, 48p)

Russia & the Volga: ROSTROPOVITCH (b. 1980, rebuilt 2010, 212p, cabins 126-243 sq.ft).

French Canals: Six French hotel canal barges built 2014-2016 and one renovated 2013; five taking 22p and one 24p, operating in Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire & Provence.

Coastal Ships: In addition, the CroisiEurope also runs LA BELLE DE L’ADRIATIQUE-P (b. 2007, renovated 2017, 198p), a five-deck oceangoing ship operating in the Mediterranean (Italy, Sicily, Croatia & Greece) with all outside 151sq. ft. cabins.  In October 2019, the line takes on the former Silver Discoverer (Silverseas and originally built for the Japanese market as the Oceanic Grace in 1989)  to operate as LA BELLE DES OCEANS (120 passengers) on itineraries beginning in East Asia then working its way westward to Europe. SEE BELOW.

Canada & the St. Lawrence: New for 2020: Cruises (11 nights) will begin at Montreal with an overnight then a flight to St. Pierre et Miquelon, French territorial islands near the mouth of the St. Lawrence and just south of Newfoundland. The coastal vessel LA BELLE DE OCEANS (120 passengers) will cruise to Cap-aux-Meules (Magdalen Islands), Gaspe and Perce Rock, Baie-Comeau, Tadoussac at the mouth of the Saguenay then upriver to Chicoutimi and along the St. Lawrence to Quebec City and Montreal (with a full day and overnight aboard before disembarking. This itinerary is likely to appeal to the French from France and to the growing North American market. Cruises operate between mid-June and mid-September (the beginning of fall footage).

Mekong River: INDOCHINE, a colonial-style boat operates on the Mekong (b. 2008 and taking 48 passengers in 172 sq, ft. all outside cabins); INDOCHINE II-P (b. 2017, 62 passengers, in 242 sq. ft. all outside cabins; LAN-DIEP (b. 2007, 44p), TOUM TIOU I (b. 2002, 20p) and TOUM TIOU II (b. 2008, 28p).

Southeast Asia, South Asia, Persian Gulf & Middle East: BELLE DES OCEANS (built 1989 & 120p) Cruises November 2019 to February 2020. Thailand & Malaysia 9 days; India & Sri Lanka 11 days; Dubai & Oman 8 days; and Jordan, Egypt, Israel & Cyprus 10 days.


Belle des Océans. * Photo: CroisiEurope

Inland Southern Africa: A relatively new offering is the riverboat AFRICAN DREAM (b. 2017, 16p) operating on Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe, southern Africa. The cruises are paired with a land stay at a lodge on the banks of the Zambezi River on the Border of Namibia and Botswana.The vessel takes just 16 passengers with 8 suites, including two with balconies. In 2020, the 16-passenger ZIMBABWEAN DREAM, built locally at Harare, will arrive to provide a second vessel for the Lake Kariba cruise portion of a longer tour that includes Victoria Falls and Botswana’s Chobe National Park with stays in riverside lodges.

The colonial-style Mekong riverboat used by Croisieurope is between cruises at Ho Chi Minh City.

The colonial-style Mekong riverboat used by CroisiEurope is between cruises at Ho Chi Minh City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Profile

While the first language aboard is French, English is also used for all announcements and entertainment, and is widely spoken amongst the crew. For some British and North Americans, the international experience is a major plus, though you will likely be in the minority. German, Italian and Spanish passengers may also be aboard.

Passenger Decks

The riverboat fleet includes three and four deckers, including the top open deck.


$$  Expensive

Included Features

All drinks, from wines to beer, cocktails and soft drinks, are included in fares during the main season from April to October. For North American passengers, all excursions are included, from walking and motor coach tours, to even, for instance, a thrilling helicopter ride on the Bordeaux itineraries from Pauillac over the vineyards of the Medoc region.

CroisiEurope Cruises

A helicopter ride over the vineyards near Bordeaux is a highlight of a Garonne River cruise. Photo: Heidi Sarna


The usual Europe rivers are included such as Rhine, Moselle, Elbe, Main, Danube, Seine, Soane, Rhone, Douro (Portugal), Gironde and Garonne (SW France), and St. Petersburg to Moscow along rivers, canals and across lake and reservoirs.

More unusual are the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers in Andalusia (Southern Spain); the Po in Northern Italy; the Loire from St. Nazaire inland to Nantes and Angers (via shallow-draft paddleboat); Amsterdam to Berlin (unusual route) via waterways that connect the Rhine and tributaries with the Elbe across Northern Germany; and the Elbe and Moldau inland as far as central Prague by new shallow-draft sternwheelers 80-passenger L’ELBE PRINCESSE and L’ELBE PRINCESSE II (2018) taking 86 passengers. European river cruises operate nearly year-round.

Beyond Europe, Botswana‘s Chobe River in southern Africa plus Victoria Falls, and Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, are exotic options, plus ocean cruises to Malaysia and Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, the Persian Gulf, Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.

In another category, canal cruises operate on waterways throughout France using 22-passenger barges. Coastal cruises operate from Naples to Italian ports, islands and Sicily, and in the Adriatic to mostly Croatian ports and Montenegro and Greece, including Corfu.

Since 2018, CroisiEurope is a booking agent for selected 9-night cruises of the St. Lawrence River aboard the newly rebuilt MS JACQUES CARTIER, calling at Quebec City, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Niagara Falls and passing along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

LA BELLE DE L’ADRIATIC operates in the Mediterranean. * Photo: Croisieurope

Why Go?

A French cruise line with an international passenger list may appeal to English speakers who would like to travel with Europeans (with French, Belgian and French-speaking Swiss in the majority), rather than just mostly North Americans.

When to Go?

The cruises operate during the best weather seasons, and the busy travel months of mid-June to September can often be avoided by choosing a spring or autumn date. Some departures are geared to the flowering bulb season in Belgian and the Netherlands, grape wine harvest in France and Germany, and a European-style Christmas (with markets) and New Year’s.

Autumn colors after the grape harvest along the Moselle in Germany. * Photo: Ted Scull

Autumn colors after the grape harvest along the Moselle in Germany. * Photo: Ted Scull


Most are of small to moderate size, outside with windows, beds in twin or double configuration. Some newer boats have larger cabins if that is an important factor, and some offer a few single cabins. Amenities include radio and TV.

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: CroisiEurope

A standard cabin aboard Cyrano de Bergerac. * Photo: CroisiEurope

Public Rooms

All boats offer a forward lounge with bar for viewing and enjoying the entertainment, a dining room that seats all at the same time, and a top deck with both open and sheltered seating. During passages under very low bridges, the deck may have to be cleared of seating and railings.


Breakfast is a buffet while lunch and dinner are fine French cuisine set served three-course meals with complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks. It pays to like the local food; there is a lot of duck on the menu as that’s a very popular French dish in its various permutations. Passengers are assigned tables according to their language. Some North Americans may find the full lunch menu a bit much, so you may wish to skip a course.


An elegant lunch onboard with complimentary wine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment

Pre-dinner and sometimes post-dinner games, dancing and live music from a duo on the electronic piano and guitar. Basically, the it’s social interaction amongst the passengers that holds sway rather than sophisticated entertainment.

The Salon Bar on the Symphonie. * Photo: CroisiEurope Cruises

Special Notes

Consider the international flavor, which might be a plus or minus for you.

Along the Same Lines

CroisiEurope is probably the most international of the riverboat lines we cover. Others may cater only to English speakers (including those who speak the language well in addition to their native tongue) or specific nationalities such as German and Swiss or Spanish.


Go to; 800-768-7232.



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Bordeaux River Cruise

By Heidi Sarna.

Bordeaux is the heart of the world’s most famous wine region. It’s set beautifully on a bend in the Garonne River in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of southwestern France, not far from the Atlantic Ocean. The surrounding region is a vast carpet of emerald green vineyards dotted with golden limestone chateaux.

With France’s highest number of UNESCO World Heritage buildings after Paris, historical Bordeaux is an ideal embarkation port for wine country river cruises.

Last summer, my family and I did a 5-night cruise aboard CroisiEurope’s 174-passenger Cyrano De Bergerac round-trip from Bordeaux, and here’s why you should do a Bordeaux river cruise too.

bordeaux river cruise with croisieurope

The heart of Bordeaux. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

#1 The Good Value

Fares include wine, spirits and a selection of excursions in every port, as do many other river lines cruising Europe; and CroisEurope’s prices are typically among the lowest.

#2 The No-Nonsense Everything

The long, white Cyrano de Bergerac, with just a thin band of bright green around the hull, was built in 2012. The interior décor, based on white and blue with pops of color, embraces a simplicity of form and function; no-nonsense like the French themselves. Along the same lines, service is straight forward and efficient, but never over-done or cloying.

Bordeaux River Cruise

Cyrano standard cabin. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

#3 The Round-trip Itinerary from Gorgeous Bordeaux

The cruise is round-trip from Bordeaux in southwestern France, a lovely and historic city set along the Garonne River. The thriving café life and the city parks with their dramatic statues make strolling a joy. It’s easy to get around by foot, by bicycle and by the city’s famous tramway with its ground-level power supply system and no over-head wires.

We sailed a total of about 350 kilometers on our 5-night cruise, first heading north on the Garonne River from Bordeaux to the broad Gironde Estuary, formed by the confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers; then southeast on the Dordogne to Libourne.

Needless to say, Bordeaux is a great city in which to spend a few nights before or after a river cruise; the Intercontinental Le Grand Hotel is a worthwhile splurge. Read my article about it here.

Bordeaux River Cruise

Stunning Bordeaux Cathedral. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

#4 The UNESCO World Heritage Sites

There are a lot of them. In France, Bordeaux is only second to Paris for the sheer number of buildings listed as UNESCO World heritage sites; many are exquisitely restored 18th– and 19th-century limestone beauties.

During the cruise, you’re privy to even more UNESCO sites — citadels, cathedrals and cobblestoned streets — that go back as far as the 12th and 13th centuries, including the Citadel of Blaye and bits of Libourne.

Bordeaux River Cruise

Gorgeous Bordeaux is packed with beautiful centuries-old buildings. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

#5 The Landscape

One of the world’s most famous wine regions, Bordeaux is carpeted in an undulating green quilt of grape plants dotted with golden limestone chateaux. Colorful wildflowers, flowering trees and winding country roads complete the scene.

Visit elegant estates and chateaux from the 18th and 19th centuries, and some newer, and soak up the grandeur. Sightsee via bicycle, foot, mini-bus or helicopter. The photo below as taken by me on our thrilling 20-minute helicopter ride.

Bordeaux River Cruise

Emerald green vineyards dotted with golden chateaux for as far as the eye can see. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

#6 The Wine

Of course the point of a Bordeaux cruise for most people is to enjoy the wine. There are chateaux (large French country houses) everywhere, and many are affiliated with vineyards (small and large) that produce wines and invite visitors for a tour of the facilities.

Enjoy a peek at gorgeous old heritage buildings and their lovely gardens and rows of grapes. You also learn the inner workings of a wine producer, and can gawk at the barrels, pumps, tanks, bottling machines, fermentation vats and other equipment.

bordeaux river cruise with croisieurope

Vineyard tour. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

#7 The Convenience

The Cyrano De Bergerac pulled right up into the center of each town and the walking and biking tours we signed up for left from the dock. There were also bus tours to nearby towns and villages. No excursions lasted more than four hours, so there was plenty of time to explore on our own or go back to the boat to relax.

Bordeaux River Cruise

The riverbanks are never far away, making hopping on and off the boat in port a breeze. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

#8 The Bicycling Opportunities

I love any destination that’s conducive to exploring by bike and the Bordeaux region is ideal. There are biking paths and lanes in many places, including the city of Bordeaux, and many small bike-friendly roads between the vineyards. CroisiEurope recently began offering a set of more active excursions, or “dynamic” as they call them, that includes guided bicycle rides.

We signed up for two — in Pauillac and in the city Bordeaux where the boat was docked the last day and night of the cruise — and enjoyed the wine and cheese tasting at the end.

We did guided bicycle rides in Bordeaux and Pauillac. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

#9 The French Way

Many river cruise lines offer a very North American-focused river cruise experience in Europe, including Viking, AMA and Uniworld. Grand Circle takes it a step further, with mostly North American passengers, food and onboard vibe. There are far fewer lines with a strong European flavor that still welcome North Americans. CroisiEurope is one of them (Germany’s A-Rosa is another).

Owned and operated by a French family since 1976, in the past few years CroisiEurope has started focusing on cultivating other markets, namely North Americans, while still keeping things pretty French. Announcements and entertainment are in both French and English (and German if necessary).

Bordeaux River Cruise

Our wonderfully French bicycle guide in Bordeaux. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

#10 The French Food

Breakfast was served buffet style, and at the center of each table was a large elevated tray of croissants and French bread rolls to get you started.  Lunch and dinner were from set menus — the traditional French service. If you had dietary restrictions (my husband doesn’t like dairy products and none of us eat beef), you mention that at the beginning of the cruise and the galley makes amends.

Otherwise, it was a three- or four-course meal that you could read about each morning on the cabin TV — channel #94. It seemed nearly every lunch or dinner featured duck in some away, a French staple.

It became a family joke in no time: “what’s for lunch (or dinner) today?” “Duck!!”

bordeaux river cruise with croisieurope

Dinner on Cyrano usually involved duck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

#11 The French Wines Included in the Fares

On virtually all of its cruises (all except some winter sailings), CroisiEurope includes a selection of wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks in the rates (finer wines and spirits, and things like Perrier water are extra).

On our Bordeaux cruise, there were 8 to 10 French wines to choose from each day — a combination of red, white and rosé. Most passengers enjoyed a glass or two (or more) at lunch and dinner, and some in between meal time as well. Wine lovers will be in heaven.

Bordeaux River Cruise

Each day there were 9 or 10 French wines to choose from. * Photo: Arun Sarna

#12 The Family-Run Vibe

CroisiEurope is a family-owned business and indeed, to us, the onboard vibe felt like it. Michele, the French purser/hotel manager has been with the company since 2004. He gave the impression of being the responsible, firm uncle who keeps things running smoothly.

Dinah, the Portuguese cruise director (who also ran the “shop” on board and conducted exercise classes) was the friendly upbeat sister you always wanted. Our captain was the father figure, a strong silent Frenchmen who didn’t speak English, though the old salt offered an easy smile and a gravelly smoker’s “Bonjour” that seemed very apropos.

#13 The Authenticity

We liked that the cruise felt authentic and quirky, not a cookie cutter overly scripted brand-happy machine. Some crew were very warm and friendly (like our waiter Sam) and others weren’t particularly doting. Everyone worked hard and did a fine job keeping the boat sparkling clean and the dining and excursions well executed.

Neither the décor nor the service were over-done or in your face. There was a subtly and an earnest dependability that, to me, was appealing and felt very French.

Read more about CroisiEurope in QuirkyCruise’s profile here or go to CroisiEurope’s site.

Bordeaux River Cruise

If you’re a wine lover, than a Bordeaux river cruise is a must. Cheers! * Photo: Heidi Sarna


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Overseas Adventure Travel

Here is a major travel firm that covers the world with land tours and many integrated with a cruise component, some as short as 3 nights and on up to 2 weeks and a bit more. Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) has been in business for over 40 years and is part of Grand Circle Travel, so there may be overlapping bookings from both sources. The multitude of O.A.T. itineraries are highly creative, and often they are cruises on ships taking between 16 and 210 passengers, many with land extensions, and land tours only. Here we cover a sampling of travel choices where a small ship cruise forms an integral part.

Overseas Adventure Travel

South China Seas sunset. * Photo: Ted Scull


Because there are so many choices, numerous ships are involved, some owned by Grand Circle Cruise Line, others chartered by Grand Circle or Overseas Adventure Travel, and in two cases, ships that also carry passengers who are not booked through O.A.T. or Grand Circle. These are cruise tours that include the Chilean fjords and the Yangtze River portion of a much longer China/Tibet cruise tour.

Passenger Profile

Americans, mostly 50+ and active. Levels of activities are noted with every departure — most cruise tours rate 2 on a scale of 1 to 6, but overall they range from 1 to 4 in terms of level of how active they are. With every itinerary, there is additional specific information about the distance to be covered on foot, the presence of uneven surfaces, and if significant, the number of stairs to be climbed.


$ to $$$ — A wide range of rates depends on the ship involved, with most moderately priced. Singles are well catered for, and often there is no single supplement, and if there is, it is a smallish extra charge. Passengers who wish to share can apply for a roommate. Every cruise tour has a chart that includes the availability of single accommodations.


250 foot tower of ice. Antarctica * Photo: Ted Scull


O.A.T. offers a huge range of small-ship cruises in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Middle East, Central and South America, Egypt, China and Antarctica. Groups of no more than 25 go ashore with separate guides. There are simply too many choices, especially in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, to list them all here. Where the ship is not specifically named, the number passengers carried is mentioned.

Sample Itineraries

Mediterranean: 16 days from Athens (Piraeus) to six Aegean Islands and Ephesus (Turkey); 16 days beginning in Zagreb to sail along the Croatian and Dalmatian Coasts, calling in at Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik, Kotor, a stop in Albania and onto the Corfu, Delphi and Athens  aboard Grand Circle’s 50-passenger ATHENA. Other regional itineraries include Portugal, Spain, France, Italy (including Sicily), Malta, Adriatic ports, and Cyprus. Groups of 22-25 go ashore with a licensed guide.

New 15-day cruise tour returns to Turkey, including Istanbul and the Turkish coast, the via the Dardanelles to the Greek Islands and Athens. 7 days is spent aboard the company-owned 50-passenger ATHENA.

Northern Europe: 15 days England, Wales (3 ports), Ireland, Northern Island, and Scotland (5 ports including three isles) aboard the 98-passenger CORINTHIAN operated by Grand Circle Cruise Line. Additional cruises feature the Baltic ports, north of Norway (using Hurtigruten coastal ships that generally exceed our 300 passenger limit) and Finland, and Iceland.

Egypt: 16-day cruise-tour includes Cairo and the Pyramids, a 7-night Nile cruise from Karnak to Aswan aboard the privately-chartered 75-passenger NEFERTITI. N.B. The day visit to Abu Simbel facing Lake Nasser involves a very early start and a four-hour bus ride in each direction. Participants have the option to remain in Aswan for the day.

Overseas Adventure Travel

Nile riverboat NEFERTITI takes 75 passengers. * Photo: Overseas Adventure Travel

Israel, Egypt & Jordan: 18-day land & cruise tour begins and ends in Israel with 7 nights aboard the 89-passenger CLIO operated by Grand Circle Cruise Line. The cruise leaves Israel (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tiberias, Dead Sea) and sails for Egypt with calls that give access to Cairo and the pyramids, and after a Suez Canal transit, the Nile Valley (Karnak, Luxor) and Jordan, including Petra. Then return to Israel.

Panama: 12-day cruise tour of Panama, the country and the canal, including kayaking on Gatun Lake. Cruise transits the canal, taking 3 nights with stops along the way to view the canal operations, wildlife and local people, plus a land tour to visit indigenous people and Panama City. The privately-chartered catamaran 24-passenger M/S DISCOVERY is operated by Grand Circle Cruise Line.

South America: Itineraries with a cruise element include the Galapagos Islands, a 3- or 4-night cruise aboard an exclusively chartered 16-passenger yacht, plus Machu Picchu and Cusco; a 6-night Amazon and tributaries cruise aboard an exclusively chartered 24-passenger riverboat; and Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean fjords and glaciers aboard either the 100-passenger  STELLA AUSTRALIS or VENTUS AUSTRALIS shared with other passengers, while ashore with a guide it is no more than 25 O.A.T. passengers.

Overseas Adventure Tours

100-passenger VENTUS AUSTRALS. * Photo: Australis

Antarctica: 15-day cruise tour from Buenos Aires includes a 9-night expedition cruise aboard the company-owned 98-passenger CORINTHIAN sailing from Ushuaia.  Groups of no more than 22 passengers go ashore at landings along the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands.

China and Tibet: A 22-day land tour uses air, coach, train and a 3-night downstream Yangtze River cruise. Riverboat (various used) holds from 208-378 passengers, and O.A.T. group never exceeds 25 when going ashore. Itinerary includes Beijing, Xian and the terra cotta warriors, Chengdu (panda sanctuary), Wuhan, 3 nights in Lhasa, Tibet and finishes up in Hong Kong.

Note: New are women only departures, and those that include a small ship cruise component are to Argentina’s Patagonia region and a Chilean cruise aboard an Cuceros Australis ship, and another including the Galapagos and the Peruvian Amazon. .

Included Features

It varies as so many different types of trips are involved, but it is safe to say most meals (all on ships), excursions and most tips are included in fares.

Why Go?

Overseas Adventure Travel and Grand Circle Line are long-time professionals in the travel business, and if you (as an American) prefer traveling with your own country folk, then you have found your operator. The firms offer worldwide itineraries so someone who wants a one-stop shop, here it is.

When to Go?

All itineraries include the best time of the year to go, and also fringe season when the weather may be hot, rainy or cold. Check the climate averages for wherever and whenever you are thinking of going.

Cabins, Public Rooms, Dining, Activities & Entertainment

With so many different ships used, but most under control of O.A.T. or Grand Circle Travel and Grand Circle Cruise Line, the ships will be of a high, if not necessarily a luxurious standard.

Special Notes

The Overseas Adventure Travel website has an abundance of resources to help visualize and understand the part of the world in which you are interested. If you are anxious to know your ship’s reputation, just Google the ship’s name and add “reviews.”

Overseas Adventure Travel

Mekong River fish market, Vietnam. * Photo: Ted Scull

Along the Same Lines

Zegrahm Expeditions with its worldwide itineraries though with decidedly fewer departures.


Overseas Adventure Travel, 347 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02210; 800-955-1925 for new bookings & information; 800-221-0814 for existing bookings.


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QuirkyCruise reader review

Miles Irwin from Singapore

Cruise Line



Cyrano de Bergerac


Bordeaux France

# of Nights


Departure Date & Ports

July 2017, from Bordeaux, France though the wine region


4 out of 5 stars      (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 4

-Itinerary Rating: 5

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

I have been on 5 small ship cruises.


Dionysian Delight

It was a wonderful, intimate way to explore the storied wine region of Bordeaux.  Great excursions on foot, bike and helicopter to get a bird’s eye view of the region.  It was capped off with the history and charm of the magnificent Bordeaux old town.


See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews HERE, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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Adventures by Disney

By Anne Kalosh.

Disney fans will get more opportunities to explore Europe by river in 2019, including a new cruise on the Seine from Paris. Adventures by Disney, which offers meticulously planned, guided group tours, will increase its European river departures to 21 on the Danube, Rhine and, for the first time, the Seine.

The nine-night Seine vacation combines two days exploring Paris, followed by eight days of cruising to destinations such as Conflans, Vernon and more. The program operates with AmaWaterways, which has customized several vessels for families.

Adventures by Disney

AmaLyra, one of AmaWaterways’ vessels designed for families, will operate the Seine program. * Photo: Adventures by Disney

Highlights of the Seine package include culinary experiences such as a gourmet food tasting tour, regional wine and cheese sampling and hands-on macaron-making. There will be guided tours of Paris icons like Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, plus active excursions for the whole family, including biking, canoeing, horseback riding, a ropes course and hiking on the cliffs of Etretat.

Other immersive experiences include a visit to Monet’s House and Gardens in Giverny, a painting workshop and an apple orchard visit with calvados tastings. In addition, travelers can go to the Normandy American Cemetery. And castle tours with rich historical storytelling will be offered at Chateau de Bizy, Chateau Malmaison and Chateau Gaillard.

Adventures by Disney

Families can visit Monet’s garden at Giverny and take a painting class. * Photo: Adventures by Disney

An extension package to Disneyland Paris Resort is available, too.

This new Seine itinerary will be offered in two summer departures for families and two fall epicurean sailings exclusively for adults, with food and wine experiences on and off the vessel.

As well, Adventures by Disney will provide a mix of family and adult-only Danube and Rhine cruises next year. The Rhine program visits France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. Experiences on the seven-night vacations range from riding a toboggan in the Black Forest to exploring the storybook Heidelberg Castle.

Adventures by Disney

Biking in the Netherlands on a Rhine cruise. * Photo: Adventures by Disney

Eight summer departures in 2019 are designed for families, while two adult-exclusive epicurean sailings will take place during the fall.

Also in 2019, Adventures by Disney will offer seven Danube departures, including five for families during the summer, a family holiday themed sailing in December and an adult-exclusive Oktoberfest-themed cruise in September. These seven-night tours visit Germany, Austria and Hungary. Travelers can climb above the German treetops, learn to make strudel in Austria, and stroll through charming towns and villages.


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Embarkation Port Focus: Amsterdam

By Ted Scull.

Here is the first of what will be a series of short articles that encourage you to broaden your horizons by staying on a few extra days in the port city where your small-ship cruise starts or ends.

Handsome Residential and commercial landscaoes parallel miles of Amsterdam's canals. * Photo: Ted Scull

Handsome residential and commercial landscapes parallel miles of Amsterdam’s canals. * Photo: Ted Scull

A few years ago, my wife and I booked a one-week Rhine River cruise embarking in Amsterdam and ending just across the German border in Basel, Switzerland. Because we had flown all the way across the Atlantic, we decided to add another dimension to the voyage by spending a few days based in Amsterdam, dividing it between the city’s well-known sights — all those amazing museums and canals! — and less familiar destinations beyond. The trip would involve unpacking once ashore in our Amsterdam hotel and then once aboard; for convenience we chose a hotel located within walking distance of Amsterdam’s Central Station.

Embarkation Port Focus: Amsterdam

A pretty lighted canal bridge. * Photo: Ted Scull

Amsterdam Highlights

Amsterdam is a port city and river cruises and small cruise ships leave from near the city’s gorgeous 19th-century Central Station, a hub for the city’s and the country’s extensive rail network.

Embarkation Port Focus: Amsterdam

Peddle propulsion is a common sight. * Photo: Ted Scull

Easily accessible by foot, bicycle, canal boat or tram, Amsterdam is world famous for many things:

  • Museums – Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh, Anne Frank, Rembrandt House, Maritime
  • Churches
  • Canals
  • Cafés & Restaurants
  • Nightlife
  • Red Light District
Taking the Train

The Netherlands, or Holland, is a small country (twice the size of New Jersey and half the size of South Carolina), and for those not familiar with riding public transport at home, this country may just be one of the easiest places in Europe (maybe even the whole world) to explore by train.

Embarkation Port Focus: Amsterdam

Traveling by train is a way of life in the Netherlands. * Photo: Ted Scull

Many nearby destinations are just 30 minutes to one hour away from Amsterdam’s Central Station. Through the train windows, enjoy the rural countryside laced with canals and peppered with tiny villages.

  • Most Dutch speak English, the trains are numerous and frequent, and in many cases, operate on memory schedules — leaving regularly at so many minutes after the hour throughout the day.
  • Buy a HOLLAND TRAVEL TICKET that’s valid on trains, trams, buses and metro throughout the country for a specific number of days. You have your ticket to ride and soon you will feel the freedom and spontaneity to adjust your timing or change your route. Go out and back, make a triangle trip with two destinations or a loop with three.
  • With your ticket in hand, you simply check in and check out when boarding and departing. One restriction is that the lowest price does not allow travel until after 9am; for most, an early enough start to the day.
Sample Outings From Amsterdam

Aside from exploring the many excellent museums in Amsterdam and strolling (or cycling or boating) along its famous flower- and houseboat-framed canals, here are some must-see treasures just outside of the city.

Embarkation Port Focus: Amsterdam

Delft, Delft and more Delft. * Photo: Ted Scull

  • Perhaps begin with something familiar sounding by hopping the train from Amsterdam Central Station for DELFT, home to the beautiful Dutch blue pottery. At the station, walk ahead over the arched canal bridge into a charming medieval city.
  • If you like cheese and it is a Friday, it’s a 35-minute train ride to AALKMAAR where the indoor-outdoor cheese market has been thriving since 1365. The medieval city is charmer.
  • Just 40 minutes from Amsterdam is THE HAGUE, the Netherland’s seat of government (though Amsterdam is the official capital), where a tram from the main station takes you to MADURODAM. Here, see a miniature 1:25 scale model featuring replicas of a Dutch village; the Port of Rotterdam; the famous Rijksmuseum; rural landscapes of tulip fields, windmills, and trains; and cars going about their business.

    Embarkation Port Focus: Amsterdam

    Here’s one tiny village – Madurodam, located near The Hague. * Photo: Ted Scull

  • After Madurodam, hop a tram for the short ride to SCHEVENINGEN, a seaside resort with a broad sandy beach, its esplanade lined with both Victorian and modern architecture and leading to a long pier jutting into the North Sea. The same tram will take you directly back to the station for Amsterdam.
  • If you have already seen the Port of Rotterdam in miniature, then head to ROTTERDAM Central Station, about 40 minutes from Amsterdam Central Station, to see it in life size. Enjoy some of the best modern architecture in the country as well as the classic 1950s Holland America liner Rotterdam, permanently docked and open for tours and a meal.
  • For something unusual, take an hour’s ride to ENKHUIZEN, a former port city that rose with the fortunes of the mighty Dutch East India Company. Today, it’s a village that faces the Ijsselmeer (formerly Zuider Zee), a large enclosed body of water used for recreation. Enjoy a ferry ride to the opposite shore, the medieval origins, and check out a creative museum housing 1,000 ships-in-bottles.

Next time, we will pick another European city that is well situated as a base for some independent travel before or after your cruise.

Embarkation Port Focus: Amsterdam

Care to tag along? * Photo: Suellyn Scull

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Crystal's Fun New River Excursions

By Anne Kalosh.

Canoeing through the romantic canals of Strasbourg, hands-on instruction in Linzer torte baking, Budapest by Trabant (the notorious East German-manufactured car).

These and many more curated experiences are among Crystal River Cruises’ new excursions for voyages along the Danube, Rhine and Main. All focus on authenticity and are tailored to individual interests, featuring smaller group sizes and distinctive touches.

Nearly 200 excursions are included, with additional pursuits available at a cost.

Crystal's Fun New River Excursions

Crystal Bach on the Danube. * Photo : Crystal River Cruises

Many destinations offer more than a dozen choices. Some of the new included adventures are an owner-hosted tasting at Schlagkamp Winery in Cochem, biking to Veitshochheim Castle and its Rococo Garden in Wurzburg, and a behind-the-scenes tour of Amsterdam’s greenhouses, where the famous tulips are cultivated.

Among the other included choices are a culinary experience in the foodie haven of Rotterdam, a string and opera performance in a historic Antwerp cathedral, a full day exploring Salzburg from Linz, and a horse show and carriage ride at Lázár Equestrian Park.

Dozens of optional (extra charge) experiences include a vintage photography adventure in Vukovar, a private home cooking lesson in Kehl, and wine tasting in the renowned cellars of Vienna’s Palais Coburg.

Other optional experiences are hands-on creativity in one of Novi Sad’s last remaining tapestry workshops and horseback riding through the forests of Novi Sad’s Fruška Gora National Park.

The Linzer torte baking, canoeing through Strasbourg and Budapest by Trabant are among the extra-charge offerings.

Crystal’s excursion group sizes are limited to 15 people; for larger groups, guides are available to lead the tours in German, Spanish, Portuguese and other languages, on request.


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AmaWaterways courts solo travelers

By Anne Kalosh.

AmaWaterways is offering solo travelers three ways to book single occupancy staterooms with no single supplement.

Solo travelers can now reserve a spot on more than 145 river cruises in 2018, including 24 wine cruises, throughout Europe and Asia and get the room of their choice without having to pay a single supplement. The Solo Traveler Promotion applies to all stateroom categories except suites.

In addition, the single supplement fee will be waived for solo travelers booking a base category stateroom (Categories E and D) on any departure with AmaWaterways’ Solo Traveler Program. This offer can be combined with the Past Passenger Privilege and Onboard Future Cruise Benefit programs. Both offers are capacity controlled and early bookings are encouraged to get the widest choice of itineraries and departure dates.

AmaWaterways also offers a third option for solo travelers on four ships—AMA DOLCE, AMA DANTE, AMA LYRA and AMA CELLO—which have a limited number of specially-designed single occupancy staterooms featuring a French balcony. These require no single supplement.

AmaWaterways courts solo travelers

Solo travelers can meet new people on Ama’s included excursions. Here, a bicycle tour in Durnstein, Austria. * Photo: AmaWaterways

“There’s something liberating about traveling on your own, as it gives you the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in a new culture and meet new people, in many cases making lifelong friends,” said Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways. “We are always excited to welcome solo travelers onboard and have continued to see tremendous growth in this market.”

On AmaWaterways solo travelers feel right at home with added attention, including invitations to a welcome cocktail reception and to dine at the captain’s table in the main dining room and assistance in choosing from up to 20 included shore excursions offered each week.

AmaWaterways courts solo travelers

Deals for single travelers are even available on AmaWaterways’ wine cruises. * Photo: AmaWaterways

The line’s Solo Traveler Program is not just for those traveling on their own. The program is also attractive for those seeking the luxury of more stateroom space on a girlfriend getaway or as part of a multigenerational family vacation.


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Europe Canal Transits

By Theodore W. Scull.

Many European river cruises include Europe canal transits in their itineraries, which adds an exciting element to any route.

Digging canals dates back to the Ancient World from simple shallow channels for irrigating fields to more substantial waterways to move building stones, crops and people. Wheeled transport, where it existed, was hindered by poor road surfaces and the loads carried could not approach what a canal barge transported.

England invested heavily in canal building in the 18th century greatly facilitating the movements of heavy bulk items such as coal for making iron and clay to manufacture bricks. The fine china industry took off when smooth canal transport greatly lessened breakage over the rough roads. Continental Europe got into canal building about the same time, creating thousands of miles of connecting inland waterways, many heavily used today by commercial traffic and cruising riverboats, hotel and charter barges. The Gota Canal across Sweden is the single most popular almost pure canal trip in Europe, and the Main-Danube Canal, not completely finished until 1992, in southern Germany did much to boost the popularity of riverboat cruises. More details on these latter two canals will follow.

Can at Paddington Basin, London

England produced a dense network of canals and added graceful industrial features that we can enjoy today – Here at Paddington Basin, London. * Photo: Ted Scull

Salt water canals for oceangoing ships came about in the 19th and early 20th centuries that resulted in cutting a week or two in transit times with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and even more savings for many passages when the Panama Canal was finished in 1914.

Passenger shipping, now today’s cruise industry, use canals for economy, convenience, and broadening the reach and interest of pleasure trips. A daytime transit through the Kiel, Corinth or Suez Canals will certainly prove to be a bonus in any itinerary. Mostly freshwater canals draw some of the smallest vessels in the portfolio such as The Gota Canal across Sweden and the Caledonian Canal across Scotland.


Although a canal across the Isthmus of Panama had been contemplated long before its actual completion, it was the opening of the Suez Canal, an Anglo-French project that revolutionized trade routes and passenger travel between Europe and Asia and Australasia. (Read more about the Panama Canal in an upcoming post about North American Canals.)

Suez Canal

Sea journeys from England to Australia via the Cape were shortened by a few days because of the Suez Canal, but a ship sailing from Marseilles, Genoa, Naples or Piraeus would save a week or two. For routes to East Asia, the savings were even greater for both Northern and Southern Europe. Today the canal is as vital to waterborne commerce as any on earth, and during peaceful times many world circumnavigations and positioning cruises between Europe and Asia use the canal. Suez is also the primary source of revenue for Egypt.

The 100-mile Suez Canal was dug through the desert, and while there is a slight flow between the Mediterranean and Red Seas, no locks were necessary, greatly cutting down on the cost of building and operation, and in transit times. While the mostly desert scenery is nothing to write home about, the landscape does take on a lovely glow at both sunrise and sunset. But more important, just think about the history that has transpired and the battles that have been fought over the canal and between armies fronting on the waterway. During one period during the war between Egypt and Israel, Suez was blocked by sunken ships and shut to traffic for seven years from 1967 to 1973. And it is well fortified with military presence on both banks and particularly on the Sinai side.

The southbound transit usually begins with a call at Port Said, the headquarters for the Suez Canal Authority and the disembarkation point for the long day trip to Cairo and the Pyramids at Giza. The Egyptian canal pilots join here and the ship takes its place in the southbound convoy that usually sails in the early morning. Most of the ships will be container vessels, bulk carriers and generally empty tankers heading to the Persian Gulf to take on oil. Draft is the only consideration and that applies mostly to loaded supertankers, so all the world’s cruise fleet is able to make the transit. At the southern end, the pilots disembark, and the ship resumes normal cruising speeds for the trip south into the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea.

Lines that transit the Suez include: Ponant

Europe Canal Transits

A British P&O liner passes through Suez many moons ago. * Photo: Chas Pears, Empire Marketing Board

Corinth Canal

Ancient writers relate that in 602 B.C., Periander, Tyrant of Corinth (Greece), was the first person to seriously consider the possibility of opening a canal through the Isthmus. Periander is said to have given up on his plans fearing the wrath of the gods. Pythia, the priestess of the Delphic Oracle, had warned him not to proceed. Roman Emperor Nero and the Venetians tried and failed.

Successful construction finally began in 1882 and finished in 1893 necessitating considerable blasting to make the cut through the rock. The four-mile canal closed for two years in 1923 when the sides caved in and when retreating Germans used explosives in 1944 resulting in five years of closure.

Europe Canal Transits

Approaching the Corinth Canal from the eastern end. * Photo: Ted Scull

Only relatively small cruise ships can make the transit, and the largest that are permitted often have to have tugs at the bow and stern to avoid scrapping along the rock walls that rise to a maximum of 58 feet. Tides are minimal and currents run about 2.5 knots. While the view ahead is quite dramatic, the only other points of visual interest are the bridges that cross carrying vehicular and railway traffic to the Peloponnese. Two low bridges, rather than lifting, actually sink to allow the ships to pass over. In the height of summer, the rock walls reflect the heat onto the ship’s deck, and I found it a huge relief to finally come out in the Gulf of Corinth when heading to the Adriatic.

Lines that transit the Corinth Canal include: SeaDream, Silversea & Windstar

Europe Canal Transits

The four-mile-long Corinth Canal cuts across Greece connecting the port of Piraeus (Athens) with the Adriatic Sea. * Photo: Ted Scull

Kiel Canal

With a length of 61 miles (98 km) the Kiel Canal cuts across Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany just south of the Danish border, connecting the North Sea with the Baltic Sea and providing a major passage for shipping and an attractive diversion for pleasure vessels. The canal extends from Kiel on the Baltic to Brunsbüttelkoog at the mouth of the Elbe River. Locks at each end of the canal minimize tidal variation. Built between 1887-1895, to facilitate movement of the German fleet, the Kiel Canal was widened and deepened from 1905 to 1914. Because of its great military and commercial importance, the canal was internationalized by the Treaty of Versailles (1919), though its direct administration was left with the Germans. In 1936 Adolf Hitler cancelled its international status in 1936 until free navigation resumed after World War II.

Europe Canal Transits

The Kiel Canal has a set of locks at either end to maintain a desired water level and eliminate tidal currents. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Kiel Canal is perhaps unique in its largely rural nature with little disturbance of the flanking countryside. On a passage I made, I could smell the manure from the bordering farms. Railway and highway bridges span the waterway, and several ferry crossings fill in the gaps between. An unusual transporter bridge (1913) uses a ferry-like gondola connected by cables to an overhead railway span to carry cars across the waterway so not to interrupt canal traffic. When operating, it is a most unusual sight to behold.

Lines that transit the Kiel Canal include: Windstar & Viking River Cruises

North Sea Canal

The port of Amsterdam is accessed via the 15-mile North Sea Canal (or Amsterdam Ship Canal) providing a mildly interesting transit from the North Sea port of Ijmuiden through the Dutch countryside. When completed in 1876, the North Sea Canal made Amsterdam one of Europe’s great ports. While still important, the rival city of Rotterdam has long surpassed it in maritime traffic, though many cruise lines still prefer Amsterdam. The transit from Amsterdam to the North Sea is more likely to be during convenient daylight hours than in the reverse direction where the ships pass through in the very early morning hours to be docked in Amsterdam by 8am. Many canalized waterways spread throughout The Netherlands and Belgium, and many riverboat itineraries take advantage of them especially during the spring flowing months.

The North Sea Canal links Amssterdam to the North Sea

The North Sea Canal links the port of Amsterdam to the North Sea.

North Sea Canal locking operations include the Northern Lock, one of the largest chambers in the world with dimensions of 1312 by 492 feet. That explains why the locking operation takes so darn long, while small pleasure craft and barges use smaller parallel locks. The arrival in Amsterdam is a treat as the ship passes the city center, river cruise and ferry docks, and the massive Central Station railway.

Lines that transit the North Sea Canal include: Windstar, with a full transit, while many river cruise lines that offer itineraries in Holland and Belgium during the spring bulb season will often use some portion of the North Sea Canal to reach inland ports.

Main-Danube Canal

Located in Bavaria, southern Germany, the Main-Danube was late in coming to the European waterways as the missing 106 miles was not completed until September 1992 between Bamberg via Nuremberg and Kelheim.

However, Charlemagne, as early as the late 8th century, hoped to connect the two rivers that would then create a waterway from the North Sea via the Rhine, his canal, and the Danube as it empties into the Black Sea. As an aside, several river cruise firms offer the entire route every year for those who have the money and time (three weeks).

A narrow version was completed in the first half of the 19th century with many locks to connect the two watersheds and insufficient water available during the summer when the demand was at its peak. It was allowed to languish until the late 1930s when the next more ambitious project was stymied by WWII.

The present canal with 16 locks rises to 1,332 feet, the world’s highest canal elevation where the waterway is connected to the sea and sea level. The locks are remotely operated at four centers, and besides a growing business in creative river cruise itineraries, a considerable amount of freight is also handled, fed by very busy Rhine River traffic and somewhat lower but still considerable volume on the Danube. A sampling of the heavy freight transported is fuel, food, fertilizers, ores, metals, scrap, stone, building rubble, and soil.

The geographically minded may be thrilled by the prospect of sailing across Europe from the Netherlands on the North Sea to Bulgaria and Romania on the Black Sea. However, not easily springing to mind, other than perhaps mine, one can sail from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea northward through the heart of Russia along the Don and Volga and various connecting waterways, lakes and reservoirs.

Lines that transit the Main-Danube Canal include: AMA Waterways, CroisiEurope, Crystal River Cruises, Uniworld, Viking River Cruises

Caledonian Canal

Scotland’s Caledonian Canal slices some 60 miles from northeast to southwest across the country between the North Sea at Inverness to Corpach on the West Coast. The famous Scottish engineer Thomas Telford supervised the building during two decades as the beginning of the 19th century. He was also involved in Sweden’s Gota Canal (see below). One-third of the Caledonian’s length is man-made while the rest is formed by connecting lochs, including the famous Loch Ness. Good luck getting a glimpse of its resident monster.

Lord of the Glens in the Caledonian Canal. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Some 29 locks carry the waterway over the high ground, including the eight locks forming Neptune’s Staircase while ten bridges and four aqueducts cross it. Very small cruise vessels, several with overnight accommodations, cruise portions of the scenic canal and occasionally its full length.

Lines that transit the Caledonian Canal include: Hebrides Cruises, Magna Carta SS Co., Majestic Line, and Puffer Steamboat Holidays VIC 32.

Gota Canal

Sweden’s most ambitious construction project, lasting from 1810 to 1832, was largely undertaken by Scottish engineers and equipment, thanks to the many parallel canal projects in Britain happening at the same time. Thomas Telford, who oversaw the building of the Caledonian Canal, oversaw the Swedish project.

Europe Canal Transits

The lovely Juno passing through one of the Gota Canal system’s many locks. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The 382 miles extended from Gothenburg on Sweden’s west coast to Soderkoping on the Baltic Sea, south of Stockholm. Canal construction extended 120 miles, including 58 locks, while otherwise the waterway made considerable use of various rivers and two large inland lakes — Vattern and Vanern. While it was designed to carry freight as well as passengers, by 1855 the building of railroads doomed its profitability as passengers and higher value cargo took to faster trains. Heavy bulk cargo that did not require speedy delivery such as lumber, coal and ore continued to be carried for many decades.

The passenger trade became largely recreational and an estimated two million people take to watercraft from canoes and kayaks up to the Gota Canal Steamship Company vessels that offer overnight accommodations for from two to six days while enjoying a highly scenic cruise through the lovely Swedish countryside.

Lines that transit the Gota Canal: Gota Canal Steamship Company

Read Heidi’s account of her Gota Canal trip aboard the charming 1874-built Juno.

Sweden's Gota Canal Steamship Company

The charming 1874-built Juno. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

While not an exhaustive list of European canals by an means, the above include some of the most popular where QuirkyCruise ships may appear.

Next time, we will venture to North America and ferret out the canal transits.


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Eastern Europe Danube River

By Randy Mink.

In Part 2 of Randy Mink’s Eastern Europe river cruise odyssey, the story continues on board the 169-passenger Scenic Crystal as it plies the Danube River toward Bucharest, calling in Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. The 10-night “Black Sea Explorer” itinerary comprises a 7-night cruise and two hotels nights before and one after.  

(Click here to read  Part 1 of Randy’s story.) 

Eastern Europe Danube River

Scenic’s 10-night “Black Sea Explorer” doesn’t actually cruise all the way to the Black Sea. * Photo: Scenic

Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, with 1.6 million residents in the metro area, is home to a quarter of Serbia’s population. From my short visit I found the city to be a bit funky; having been ravaged and rebuilt so many times, it’s not exactly attractive. Yet people on the street were engaging, there’s a lively cafe and bar culture, and I liked the university students who guided the two-hour walking tour from the ship, which had deposited us in the heart of town.

Eastern Europe River Cruise

A Belgrade market. * Photo: Randy Mink

Much of our morning walk was spent at Kalemegdan Fortress, where, from lookout points atop the stone ramparts, we snapped away at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. Actually a city park, the sprawling citadel has everything from tennis courts and an archery range to dinosaur displays, historical monuments and a military museum. Then we explored Knez Mihailova, the main-drag pedestrian street full of boutiques, restaurants and banks, plus souvenir kiosks selling items like Serbian army caps, Vladimir Putin T-shirts and Tito magnets.

Eastern European River Cruise

Belgrade’s Kalmegdan Fortress. * Photo: Ranky Mink

During free time that afternoon, some of us visited St. Sava, the biggest Eastern Orthodox church in the world, and Belgrade’s festive bohemian quarter, Skadarska, where traditional restaurants draw in tourists with the aromas of roasted meats and zingy sounds of strolling musicians. Serbia uses the Cyrillic alphabet, so the street signs are a challenge to tourists, but a semester of college Russian helped me figure out certain words. Rounding out the Belgrade visit was Scenic’s Sundowners event, a happy hour with a band at one of the Sava River’s many floating restaurants.

The Iron Gates, between Serbia & Romania

Part of the next day was spent on the Scenic Crystal’s Sun Deck as we sailed through the Iron Gates area, Europe’s longest and deepest series of gorges. Everyone came out to take in the rock-walled shores of Serbia and Romania — the most dramatic scenery of the cruise — and watch the ship pass through locks. By mid-afternoon we had left Serbia behind and entered the 372-mile stretch of the Danube that forms much of the Romania-Bulgaria border.

Eastern Europe Danube River

The Iron Gates Gorge. * Photo: Randy Mink

Ruse, Bulgaria

From Ruse (sometimes written Rousse), our first all-day excursion in Bulgaria went to the medieval town of Veliko Tarnovo, which flourished as the capital of the second Bulgarian Empire from the 12th to 14th centuries. Spilling across an amphitheater of wooded hills high above the Yantra River, it commands a stunning setting dominated by the Tsarevets Fortress. One stop was a store selling rose-oil cosmetics and foods. (Bulgaria boasts the best quality rose oil in the world — one ounce of perfume sells for $40 an ounce.) We helped ourselves to samples of rose-petal jam, rose liqueur and rose-flavored candy. In the sleepy village of Arbanasi, the excursion featured two 16th-century Orthodox churches with lavishly frescoed interiors. A choir sang a Gregorian chant for us at the church of Archangels Michael and Gabriel. (Bulgaria is 85 percent Orthodox.)

Eastern Europe Danube River

Church of Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Arbanasi, Bulgaria. * Photo: Randy Mink

Varna, Bulgaria

In the seaside city of Varna the following day, we saw some of mankind’s first gold jewelry in the vast Archaeological Museum and then had time to shop or dip our toes in the Black Sea. Lunch was at a replica pirate ship right on the beach. (Though an excursion from Silistra goes to Varna on the coast, Scenic Crystal does not sail as far east as the Black Sea, despite the name of the itinerary.)

Local Guides & Their Stories

Just as fascinating as the snippets of local life looming outside the bus window were our guides’ comparisons between Bulgaria today and in Communist times. On the way to Varna, our guide, Clemena, talked of limited goods for sale in the stores (one kind of yogurt, two kinds of cheese) and “ugly” clothes and shoes. But in some ways, she said, life was better under totalitarian rule—everyone had a job because factories were working full force to supply ready markets in other Soviet-bloc countries, and all the news was positive because there was no voice other than the government’s propaganda machine. Many older people, she added, yearn for a past when big-brother control lent a sense of security.

For ease in following the guides’ remarks on shore excursions, each Scenic passenger gets a high-tech audio device, called Tailormade. Touch “Voice Guide” and through the ear piece you can hear the guide loud and clear, even if you’ve drifted to the back of the pack. Tailormade’s “Self-Guided Tours” option, meanwhile, becomes the best friend of those who want to roam independently in cities on the cruise route, with brief descriptions of select sights and a digital map. (Happily, in every port of call we had chances to wander, shop or sit down at a cafe, and even many excursions included free time.)

Besides being enlightened by local guides, we learned much about the region from Scenic Crystal crew members, many of whom are Serbs. During a cocktail-hour session on “Growing up in Eastern Europe,” staff members told their stories and took questions from the audience. They talked of their childhoods and discussed their countrymen’s current hopes and dreams. Cultural programming also included Serbian dancers and Croatian singers who came on board.

Lunches and dinners in the dining room featured a wide variety of international cuisine, including Eastern European specialties. Every passenger is invited to have one dinner at Portobello’s, a sectioned-off area where 32 guests each night enjoy an Italian meal with wines from Tuscany.

Eastern Europe Danube River

Scenic Crystal’s restaurant. * Photo: Scenic

Giurgiu, Romania

In Giurgiu, Romania, alas, it was time to say farewell to all the good eating on the Scenic Crystal and board buses for Bucharest, where we had a choice of two tours before checking in to the hotel. Some passengers opted to see inside the Palace of Parliament, the gargantuan creation of Communist strong man Nicolae Ceausescu (the world’s second largest building after the Pentagon).

Eastern Europe Danube River

Bucharest’s humongous parliament palace. * Photo: Scenic

I chose the National Village Museum, an open-air collection of homesteads relocated from rural Romania, to get a taste of the country as a whole. At night we explored Bucharest’s Old Town, a happening scene where hip bars and eateries are rejuvenating the historic city core.

Eastern Europe River Cruise

Bucharest Old Town. * Photo: Randy Mink

From Budapest and Bucharest to Belgrade, Bulgaria and the Black Sea, Eastern Europe is the place to “B” for curiosity-seekers eager to chart a course through lands a bit off the beaten track. The eastern frontier beckons.

Read Part 1 of Randy Mink’s Eastern Europe Danube River cruise story.

Scenic’s 2018 “Black Sea Explorer” cruises are scheduled for April 14 and 22, May 26 and June 3. The first and third sailings are Budapest-Bucharest; the second and fourth operate in reverse. Fares start at $4,895 USD per person, based on double occupancy, plus airfare. Included are all meals, drinks, shore excursions and tips. For more info, go to


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Eastern Europe Danube River Cruise

By Randy Mink.

An Eastern Europe Danube River cruise with Scenic peeks into Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.

On a shore excursion in northern Bulgaria, I constantly had my nose pressed to the bus window, not wanting to miss a thing as we rolled through the fertile fields of the Danubian Plain and rural towns bursting with scenes reminiscent of an earlier time. Here I spotted a shepherd tending his flock, there a farmer in his horse wagon, and women dressed in traditional headscarves and aprons — vignettes right out of the 19th century.

It was springtime, and yellow canola flowers carpeted broad swaths of countryside. Our buses were headed to the Black Sea port of Varna, a big city that turned out to be less interesting than the ride getting there.

Eastern Europe Danube River Cruise

The canola fields of Bulgaria. * Photo: Randy Mink

A Slice of Eastern Europe, from Budapest to Bucharest

The day trip was just one of many eye-opening excursions for passengers booked on Scenic Crystal’s 10-night “Black Sea Explorer” from Budapest to Bucharest — comprising a 7-night cruise and two hotel nights before in Budapest and one after in Bucharest. This river cruise was a perfect introduction to the less-visited countries of Eastern Europe, a slice of the world once closed off to mass tourism from the West. Now, nearly three decades after the lifting of the Iron Curtain, these formerly Communist-controlled societies are forging ahead, in varying degrees of success, with free-market economies. All are ripe for discovery for curiosity-seekers like me, a baby boomer who never thought he’d see the day when the Berlin Wall would fall and the enslaved satellites of Soviet Russia would be free.

Because of my fascination with 20th-century European history, I appreciated that our local guides shared their families’ experiences during those dark Communist days. In Serbia and Croatia they also commented on the 1990s wars ignited by the unhappy breakup of Yugoslavia.

Europe’s Far East: Communist-era Apartment Blocks & National Currencies

Most people don’t think of vacationing in countries like Serbia and Bulgaria — places that seem so alien and out of the mainstream. Scenery-wise, they hardly qualify as dream destinations, and there are few grand attractions. The cities, with their Communist-era apartment blocks, appear drab. The languages, much different from Romance and Germanic tongues, will throw you for a loop. If you’re accustomed to using euros or pounds in Europe, you have to adapt to currencies like the Hungarian forint, Serbian dinar and Bulgarian lev. All of this, however, just lends a sense of exoticism, and then there’s satisfaction in exploring a region not overrun with English-speaking tourists. You might call it Europe’s “Far East.”

The best way to sample these countries is an Eastern Europe Danube River cruise where everything is wrapped into one neat package. My home for this Danube adventure was one of the sleek Space-Ships in the growing fleet of luxury operator Scenic, a company based in Australia.

Eastern Europe Danube River Cruise

Scenic Crystal on the Danube in Budapest. * Photo: Randy Mink

All Aboard in Budapest, Hungary

From Budapest, where a two-night hotel stay is included in the fare (with most passengers at the Marriott), the 169-passenger Scenic Crystal took us to Kalocsa, Hungary; Osijek, Croatia; Belgrade, the capital of Serbia (and former Yugoslavia); and Ruse and Silistra, Bulgaria. (Though an excursion from Silistra goes to Varna, the Scenic Crystal does not sail as far east as the Black Sea, despite the name of the itinerary.) The Scenic package ends with a hotel night in Bucharest, the capital of Romania.

The Danube flows for about 1,800 miles from Germany’s Black Forest to the vast delta where Romania and Ukraine border the Black Sea, touching more countries (10) than any other river. Scenic’s most popular Danube itineraries operate between Nuremburg and Budapest, with stops in Germany and Austria.

Eastern Europe Danube River Cruise

Scenic’s 10-night “Black Sea Explorer” doesn’t actually cruise all the way to the Black Sea. * Photo: Scenic

Budapest, Hungary

Of all the cities visited on our Eastern Europe Danube River cruise, Budapest was the most impressive. The two days I had to explore Hungary’s capital prior to boarding the Scenic Crystal, gave me a good overview. I took a Scenic-arranged bus tour and poked around on my own.

Eastern Europe Danube River Cruise

A Budapest panorama. * Photo: Randy Mink

The morning bus circuit took us to Castle Hill, site of skyline landmarks like the Royal Palace and Matthias Church, and to Heroes’ Square, a sweeping plaza with statues and monuments glorifying Hungary through the ages. As we rode through heavy traffic, our guide gave us a quick lesson in Hungarian culture and history, mentioning the centuries of Turkish rule, the Hapsburgs’ Austro-Hungarian Empire, how Jewish citizens suffered in the ghetto, and how thousands of people were killed and injured during the 1956 uprising quashed by Soviet tanks.

Eastern Europe Danube River Cruise

Budapest’s St. Matthias Church. * Photo: Randy Mink

I didn’t have time to visit Budapest’s ornately decorated Great Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe and second-largest synagogue in the world (after Temple Emanu-El in New York), but did peek through the gates of the memorial garden behind it. I devoted two hours to the House of Terror, a chilling and deeply moving museum in the very building where the Communist regime’s secret police interrogated and tortured ordinary citizens. Most fascinating were the propaganda films showing “happy” factory workers and eyewitness interviews (English subtitles) of those whose relatives were imprisoned or brutalized. The tiny gift shop sells Lenin and Stalin busts in the form of candles, a sly gesture to the fleeting nature of evil.

Eastern Europe Danube River Cruise

Budapest’s Great Market. * Photo: Randy Mink

During my brief visit to Budapest, I also checked out the food and craft stalls in the historic town center, where I had a chance to sample a few pastries amid the Old World trappings of Gerbaud Cafe, a traditional Hungarian restaurant and coffee house dating back to 1858. More local color surfaced at the cavernous Market Hall, a bustling farmers’ market, souvenir spot and transit station where I savored goulash soup dished up by one of the second floor’s many food vendors.

After our first-night dinner aboard the Scenic Crystal, which was moored in Budapest until morning, we enjoyed an hour-long cruise past the illuminated domes and spires of churches, the Royal Palace and grandiose Hungarian Parliament, the neo-Gothic masterpiece often shown on river cruise brochures and TV commercials.

Kalocsa, Hungary

A day after departing Budapest, our ship arrived in Kalocsa, Hungary, about 100 miles south of Budapest. This is the country’s “paprika capital,” so we had plenty of chances to buy souvenir bags of sweet and hot paprika at stops like the House of Paprika, a small museum maintained by the local growers’ cooperative. The main event in Kalocsa was the horse show at Bakod Puszta farm, where riders in traditional costumes performed stunts.

Eastern Europe Danube River Cruise

Horse Show in Kalocsa, Hungary. * Photo: Randy Mink

Osijek, Croatia

The Danube cuts through the northeastern corner of Croatia, an agricultural area far from the country’s better-known Adriatic resorts. There we toured Osijek, the main urban center in the region of Slavonia (not to be confused with the countries of Slovenia or Slovakia). Located on the Drava River, a tributary of the Danube, Osijek is just 18 miles from the Hungarian border and 12 miles west of Serbia.

Since the Drava was low, we had to take a bus from the Danube port of Vukovar, but Maja, our 36-year-old Croatian guide, kept us enthralled with insights into her country’s past and present. Right off the bat she started talking about the 1991 war with Serbia after the collapse of the Yugoslav federation, an arrangement that had suppressed ethnic differences between the component republics during the reign of Communist leader Marshal Tito and his successors. Bullet holes still mar buildings in Osijek and Vukovar.

In Osijek, which bears traces of Hapsburg-era elegance, we enjoyed a guided walk on the cobbled streets of Tvrda, the old walled city, and an organ concert in a 1732 Franciscan church. But the day’s highlight was lunch in the village of Bilje — a home-cooked spread in the intimate setting of a bed and breakfast. It’s one of Scenic’s signature Enrich programs designed to immerse passengers in the local culture.

Lunch in a Local Home

My group of eight feasted at the home of Nada Cavic, a young mom who rents two bedrooms to tourists. Dressed in blue jeans and making easy conversation with her guests, Nada, in fluent English, talked freely about life since the war, mentioning that both her sisters were married to Serbians. She started us out with a soup made with vegetables from her garden and homemade noodles. Also on the menu: meatloaf fritters, sliced potatoes with paprika and meat drippings, cabbage salad and a creamy dish called milk rice. We washed it all down with white wine, elderberry juice, homemade cherry brandy and slivovitz, a plum brandy Nada’s father-in-law made for her wedding last year.

Eastern Europe Danube River Cruise

A meal in a local Croatian home. * Photo: Randy Mink

Stayed tuned for Part 2 of Randy Mink’s Eastern Europe Danube River Cruise — to be posted later this week! Here’s PART 2!

Scenic’s 2018 “Black Sea Explorer” cruises are scheduled for April 14 and 22, May 26 and June 3. The first and third sailings are Budapest-Bucharest; the second and fourth operate in reverse. Fares start at $4,895 USD per person, based on double occupancy, plus airfare. Included are all meals, drinks, shore excursions and tips. For more info, go to


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