Cruising The Great Rivers

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River cruising has grown more than 200 percent in the last 10 years. Each year more and more riverboats are added to the cruise lines inventories. Today we will discuss where you can go and the companies to contact for more information.

Let’s start with the Mississippi River. In 2008 and 2009 the major riverboat companies closed their doors due to the down economy. This year two companies will begin cruising America’s largest river with two exciting boats, one new and one completely refurbished.

American Cruise Lines is in the finishing touches of building a 140-passenger paddle wheeler, the Queen of the Mississippi, which will begin cruising the river in August. Visit americancruiselines.com to learn more. The Memphis-based Great American Steamboat Co. is in the final stages of renovation on its 400-passenger Great American Queen, which will be relaunched in April. For details go to greatamericansteamboatcompany.com.

Both companies tell us that the cabins will be larger than those on American riverboats in the past and the onboard food will be near gourmet, with local and seasonal selections on the menus. The service crews and officers on both boats will all be American.

The entertainment will be as American as apple pie with Dixieland bands, big bands, ballroom dancing and concerts played on the boat’s calliope. These two boats will be competitors and it will be interesting to read the passengers’ comments and travel writers’ reviews. I hope to cruise on one of these myself this year.

Both boats will sail between Louisiana and Minnesota on the Mississippi and go as far east as Pittsburgh on the Ohio River.

I had the pleasure of experiencing this four years ago and I can guarantee the experience will be well worth the ticket price, which will not be cheap. American crews demand fair wages living in the United States, unlike most of the foreign cruise ships, which employ crews from other nations.

River cruising is very popular in Europe. Probably the most popular rivers are the Rhine and Danube.

Cruising both the Rhine and Danube allows sightings of the Black Forest and storybook castles located along the river. And one of the best parts of a river cruise is being able to disembark your boat at the dock in the middle of the towns and cities and either take a sightseeing tour of the local area or simply go into the middle of the town and roam the interesting streets looking for interesting articles to bring back home and perhaps having a bite at a local eatery.

There will always be land viewing from your stateroom window as the boat cruises along. Most of the riverboats today are rather large and long, permitting generous size staterooms and offering entertainment, lectures, get-togethers and present fine cuisine in the dining rooms. These boats are quite like a cruise ship today. Most river cruises are from seven to 12 days in duration.

The companies that cruise the Rhine are: AMA Waterways, phone 800-626-0126, amawaterways.com; Avalon Waterways, phone 877-797-8791, avalonwaterways.com; Grand Circle Travel, phone 800-959-0405, gct.com; Tauck, 800-788-7885, tauck.com; Uniworld, 800-733-7820, uniworld.com; and Viking River Cruises, 800-785-7374, vikingrivercruises.com.

The Danube River is equally as scenic and interesting as the Rhine and the same companies as mentioned above also cruise this waterway. If you can do both in one vacation, do it. With airfares getting higher every month this might not be a bad idea if your pocketbook permits. The Danube is considered the grand dame of rivers stretching from the Black Forest to the Black Sea. This would be one of my choices of the several river cruises that are available.

The Seine River passes through Paris, as you know, and this would also make for a wonderful and romantic vacation. You would have time in Paris, docked in the middle of town, to explore the City of Light on your own or take a couple sightseeing tours. A cruise here would take you through the serene Normandy landscapes that inspired Claude Monet.

I understand the food presented on the boats is next to gourmet and you would also have time to go ashore and sample the foods in the small restaurants.

A trip to Paris and cruise in Normandy will be full of photo opportunities.

The boat will be rather small giving you the chance to make new friends enroute.

The boat companies that offer the Seine River include Avalon Waterways, Grand Circle Travel, Uniworld, and Viking River Cruises.

By the way, three-quarters of the newly built riverboats will offer more cabins with balconies. A few do now, but it’s nice that more balcony cabins will be available in the future.

The Rhone River is food lover’s territory, traveling through the wine regions of Burgundy, the lavender fields of Provence, and the culinary capital of Lyon.

All six of the above mentioned riverboat cruise companies offer this region.

The Elbe River features rugged cliffs and sandstone formations, flecked with baroque cities and wine villages. Grand Circle Travel and Viking River Cruises offer itineraries through this area.

The Douro River in Portugal features terraced vineyards of the world’s oldest demarcated wine country, where sweet sticky port is made. If this is your taste, Uniworld can cruise you here.

The Volga River in Russia is gaining popularity, allowing travelers to tour Moscow and then cruise the river past onion-dome cathedrals, fascinating towns and ending in St. Petersburg where there is a selection of great castles and museums to explore. This vacation will last at least seven days. The cruise lines that offer this trip are AMA Waterways, Grand Circle Travel, Uniworld and Viking River Cruises.

Gaining popularity also is the Dnieper River in Russia, which allows you to cruise through tranquil countryside — dotted with pine and birch forests — that gives way to the elegant gold domes of Kiev. Viking River Cruises can take you there.

You might like to know that Viking River Cruises is the favorite of river travelers. The others do a fine job, however.

Another area that is surprisingly gaining popularity is the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. Several newly built vessels are coming on line allowing you to cruise through Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere. I have friends that have returned from this area recently and they report that a trip here is most interesting. Only a few years ago we were fighting a major war in this area and now American tourists are visiting. I understand that veterans of that war are returning to see what the countries are like today.

River cruising is gaining popularity because it is one of the most enjoyable vacations you can have. Try it this year if you can.

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