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You’ve probably seen videos or gazed longingly at brochures where guests on a river cruise relax on a balcony while floating past castles, mountains, and quaint European towns. Is it really as magical as it looks? The answer is a resounding yes! My recent Danube River cruise allowed me to experience Old World Europe in grand style.

River-cruising ships are smaller than the typical ocean ships, so the overall vibe is more intimate and relaxed. Our ship was the AmaViola, which had 78 staterooms, so the number of fellow passengers was 150 or less. Nonetheless, AmaViola had plenty of room for amenities: a large lounge with lovely views on either side, a large dining room, a gym with massage and hair salon treatment offerings, a library, and a top deck with a swimming pool. Here are five reasons to consider taking a European river cruise like I did!

Reason #1: Unpack once but visit multiple cities.

Europe is always a good idea, but the logistics of traveling from town to town — trying to read train schedules in another language, for one thing — can add to the stress factor. A river cruise eliminates that confusion, usually starting in a major city accessible by an airport, such as Amsterdam, Munich, or Paris. Then, the ship sails to smaller (charming) towns such as Strasbourg, Avignon, and Ghent.

Each day, you can enjoy a new destination more efficiently without schlepping your suitcase from one place to the next or renting a car. Most cabin rooms have closets and drawers to unpack and relax; all offer laundry services if you want to pack lightly.

A European riverside town with mountains
On its “Romantic Danube” cruise, AmaViola sails through the UNESCO Wachau Valley in Austria, known for wine, cathedrals, and the charming town of Durnstein. The tour also includes visits to Salzburg, Vienna, and Budapest. Other popular European travel routes include the Rhine, Rhone, and Douro Rivers. Image: AmaWaterways

Reason #2: Included excursions make the most of your time.

In each town, guests might have two to three options for exploring a city. There’s usually a two- to three-hour walking tour and sometimes an all-day visit (via motor coach) to a neighboring town, such as the trip to Salzburg to revel in all things “Sound of Music.” The beauty of river cruises — as opposed to ocean vessels — is that the ships tend to dock right next to a town, so people can easily experience the excursions offered or make their own agenda.

We decided to explore the city of Bratislava, Slovakia, so we did a little internet sleuthing about the area, grabbed a paper map, and walked around on our own. It’s as easy as walking out the door and up the plank, then starting your exploration. You’re good as long as you’re back on the ship before it goes to the next port!

Group of people biking in Vienna
Bike-riding through Vienna is an active excursion that winds through the city’s parks, historic area, and bridges, with stops along the way by a local guide. Other excursions in a town might include a walking tour, hike to a castle, wine tasting, or touring Christmas Markets (in season). Image: AmaWaterways
Melk Abbey
The Baroque-style Melk Abbey dates back to the 1700s and was a fascinating spot to tour along the Danube River cruise. Image: Lisa Mowry

Reason #3: Delicious meals tap into local culture.

Get ready to be pampered if you go on a river cruise — all meals are included, and both lunch and dinner include multiple courses. (Complimentary wine is poured freely for lunch and dinner, FYI.) We started every day with two options for breakfast: a sit-down option in the main dining room with make-your-own omelets (and so much more) or a more casual buffet in the lounge. For coffee lovers, a high-end (and easy to work) coffee machine off the lounge offered 24-hour-a-day access to cappuccinos, espressos, hot chocolate, and other delightful beverages.

Lunch was also either in the lounge or dining room, but dinner was more of a nightly occasion. AmaWaterways has a “Sip and Sail” hour (usually 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.) with complimentary specialty cocktails, followed by a four-course meal for dinner.

Chefs are inspired by specialties from wherever the ship is sailing (such as the schnitzel we had in Vienna), but don’t worry — there are standard options, such as steak and salmon, if you’re not feeling adventurous. Every guest can participate in a “Chef’s Special” evening, a seven-course feast in a dedicated room with special wine pairings and notes about each course. It’s also easier to pack for a river cruise since there are no formal nights like one might experience on an ocean cruise.

Torte with raspberry sauce
Even the most disciplined cruise-goer will be wowed by the many desserts. This torte with raspberry sauce personified the Austrian countryside around us. Image: Lisa Mowry

Reason #4: All ages and activity levels can feel at home.

River cruises are popular with retirees, but you’ll also see 40- and 50-somethings on ships these days, and sometimes they might bring their 20-something grown children with them. (No young children are allowed.) A dedicated wellness director on our ship led multiple exercise classes daily, and a gym was also available. Strenuous hikes and cycling were other options to keep moving.

Heated swimming pool on top of boat
The top deck of the AmaViola has a heated swimming pool, walking track, and room for exercise classes—although it’s also a great place to read or nap with a view. Image: Lisa Mowry

Reason #5: You won’t get seasick.

Everybody loves being on the water and enjoying a sunset from the top deck, but not everyone can handle the rocking motion of an ocean cruise. Never fear; the gentle currents of a river cruise are kind to any of us who tend to be sensitive to motion sickness.

Parliament Building in Budapest
The spectacular view of the Parliament Building in Budapest is a highlight of the Romantic Danube river cruise through AmaWaterways. Image: AmaWaterways
Two people overlooking water at dusk
The perfect end to the day: enjoying a sunset and peaceful view of the river on the ship’s top deck. Image: Lisa Mowry

For more information, visit Happy cruising!


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About the Author
Lisa Mowry