The new 21st-century European river boats offer the amenities of modern cruise ships - Internet and balconies included.
I already know that river cruises are fantastic because I have sailed on the Rhine, the Main, the Seine, the Danube, the Moscow, the Yangtze and the Nile. Now there is a new generation of riverboats - with revolutionary features that even I have never seen before and I can't imagine a better way to travel.
These 21st-century river boats take river cruising to the next level. They offer more spacious staterooms with floor to ceiling sliding glass doors and French Balconies to let in the fresh air. There is a mini-bar for cold drinks and snacks in your stateroom at no extra charge, and there is even Internet Wi-Fi access available in your stateroom or anyplace else on the boat.
These new riverboats are just beautiful - sleek and stunning inside and out. You are surrounded by full picture windows so you never forget where you are. There are contemporary pubs, ornate dining rooms, hi-tech fitness centers and open air sky-decks for watching the world go by.
I have yet to sail on one of these luminous beauties, owned and operated by Avalon Waterways among others, but the pictures alone make me long for the adventure.
I often recommend a river cruise as the third voyage after the Mediterranean and Baltic itineraries.
I have personally already sailed on cruises as far as humanly possible along the European continent. I've sailed from Gibraltar to Egypt and from Dover to St Petersburg, Russia. I've sailed from the Canaries to the North Cape of Norway. The only place in Europe I haven't cruised is the Black Sea, but I hope to make it there someday on an Avalon Waterways river boat.
The navigable extent of Avalon's cruises in Europe includes France, Russia, and various routes in both Southern and Northern Europe. You can sail from Amsterdam to the Black Sea traversing Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungry, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria on the way.
There are places you probably never even realized you could reach by river - Switzerland and Austria for example. The mind boggles. You can sail to the North of France on the Seine, right past the Eiffel tour to the beaches of Normandy. Or you can sail through the South of France through Burgundy and Provence tasting a different variety of local wine with every meal.
Avalon Waterways offers river cruises on the Rhone, the Rhine, the Seine, the Main, the Danube, the Moselle, the Yangtze and the Nile. After one visit to the web site I was humming those names like a nursery rhyme.
Many of the cruises are nine days including travel time. Most are longer. Sailing the combinable itineraries from Amsterdam to the Black Sea take about 30 days.
There are also plenty of options for additional time in choice Europe capitals before and after your cruise - something you will surely want to plan. Paris and Prague are both mandatory.
What Makes a River Cruise Unique? A river cruise offers you all the convenience of a regular cruise. You unpack once and all of your dining and sleeping plans are pre- arranged. But on a river boat you will not only see more land, you will spend more of your time upon it. All of the tours, which occur on almost every day, are included in the cruise fare including meals on shore. About the only thing you ever have to manage for yourself is getting in and out of bed.
Most days you will be driven to a local site. You may return for lunch and a different tour in the afternoon, or they may treat you to lunch onshore and continue your original tour throughout the day. All details are handled for you, onboard and on shore. On a river cruise you are in their hands from the moment you board until you leave.
I have even been on a river cruise where they gave us each 12 Euros to buy lunch because they didn't have anything planned for us. That is the closest I have ever been to having to fend for myself on a river cruise. But let's not make it sound overbearing, you can go your own way every day if you want to, just be back on the boat before it leaves for the next stop.
Onboard, the chef will obtain local ingredients almost daily and pair them with the regional wines to give you an authentic culinary experience. All of these fine European wines and ales, as well as other spirits, are also included in the cruise fare.
The New Riverboat Technology In the past it was difficult for me to stay in touch with the outside world on a river boat - they barely even use satellite technology since they are always in the range of the public cell phone network. But Avalon now offers Internet access by Wi-Fi throughout their newer boats. Some older boats may not so, however.
That is an improvement over my Seine river cruise in just 2006. I only had 30 minutes a day when they would plug the modem into the one computer they had onboard. On my 2002 Rhine cruise I had to run through the ports with my laptop looking for Internet cafes. On the trip from Moscow to St Petersburg in 2001 there was almost a week when we were on the dark side of the moon.
Modern technology is what these new river boats are all about, and Avalon has the youngest fleet in Europe. There are eight new boats already in service since 2004 and two more coming online in 2010.
All of the locally hired Avalon tour guides use wireless headsets to speak directly into your ear, especially helpful in noisy or echoing cathedrals. The riverboat has a fitness center, a hair salon and a whirlpool hot tub.
Besides the innovative "French balcony," the new staterooms also have flat panel televisions, larger closets, mini-bar refrigerators, hair dryers, safes, Egyptian cotton sheets and, of course, European style duvets on the bed.
Highlights of Avalon Waterways The riverboat cruising season starts in April and lasts through early November with Nile, Yangtze and Galapagos cruises available all year round. The European river boats are usually laid up through the winter except for the special holiday cruises over Christmas. There are two Christmas cruises still available in 2009, and five in 2010. They sail through Germany and include beautiful Prague, one of the best preserved 18th-century cities in Europe.
There is a music cruise scheduled for October 18, 2009. You will visit the Opera House in Bayreuth, home to the annual Richard Wagner Music Festival and get a full day's excursion to Salzburg, city of Mozart's birth. There's an organ recital in Melk, Germany and a Strauss concert in Vienna - all offered to you at no additional cost.
There are several wine cruises through Burgundy and Provence and also through the Rhine region for Riesling wines. There are still two of these cruises on schedule in 2009, one in late October and one in early November. There are still many wine cruises on offer in 2010. Avalon offers unique theme cruises every year. You can attend the Oberammergau Passion Play in 2010. This unique event is only presented every 10 years so make your plans now.
Not sure if you will like a river cruise? Avalon now offers shorter four and five-day cruises on the Danube, from Vienna to Budapest, starting at just $214 per person plus port fees and taxes.
Avalon Waterways' affiliation with Globus Tours, an 80-year practitioner of escorted European vacations means that they have a first-class network of local tour guides and transportation companies to make sure your vacation goes smooth as silk.
I haven't had a chance to try an Avalon Waterways riverboat cruise yet, but I am certainly looking forward to the day I can. You can get more information here: www.avalonwaterways.com.