Cruising Down the River

By Bob Bestor

Two factors, the opening of borders of formerly communist countries in Eastern Europe, and the completion of the new Main-Danube Canal, have triggered a huge increase in European river cruising during the 1990s.

Here are some things to ponder if you're considering a such a trip.

• Currently there are about 60 river boats sailing the Danube, Rhine, Rhône, Seine, Elbe and Volga rivers. A typical cruise is seven days, though shorter itineraries of three and four days are available.

• Boats are limited in size by the rivers on which they cruise. Thus most vessels are similar in size and amenities. A typical outside state room (avoid inside cabins) is smaller than an ocean-going cruise ship, but has a large, tinted, one-way glass window, side-by-side twin beds, a writing desk and chair(s), perhaps a small couch near the window, a tiny closet and a cozy toilet with shower. On many boats the sleeping arrangements will consist of two "lower berths," one of which converts to a couch in the daytime and the other folds into the wall. A "large" stateroom on a five star cruiser, will be about 200 square feet; the smallest cabins are about 125 square feet.

Since the Danube's channels and locks are wider than most, the boats cruising it, such as KD Rhine's Heinrich Heine and Peter Deilmann's five-star MS Mozart, are usually larger. This means bigger cabins and more amenities. The Heinrich Heine and the Mozart, for example, both have indoor swimming pools. Some boats offer such extras as solariums, saunas, elevators, fitness rooms and in-stateroom TVs and VCRs.
• River cruising is expensive. For a seven-day itinerary, expect to pay from $1,300 to $4,620 per person. A suite on the Mozart's 11-day cruise, from Constanta on the Black Sea to Passau in Germany, is a cool $7,205 per person, including one-way air fare from Frankfurt to Constanta.

Cruise prices include all meals and entertainment. Cruise company guidelines recommend a tip of 5% of the total cost of the passage. Liquor and shore excursions, which on our last cruise ranged from $10 to $50 per person, are, of course, extra.

Fares are lowest during early spring and fall shoulder seasons. Weather at that time, of course, can be cold and rainy.

• Don't expect great food. Meals are served hotel banquet style at a single seating and in our experience the quality is also at about that level. Breakfasts are better and typically served until 10am.

• The marketing target of most European river cruise companies is the USA, so expect to have plenty of folks from back home as ship mates.

Two Cruise Companies

KD River Cruises of Europe, the largest, oldest, and best known, offers an array of cruise itineraries on the Rhine, Mosel, Elbe, the Main-Danube Canal and the Danube.

The company is currently offering fare reductions of 10% for most of its May and October cruises. Fares range from $885 to $1,585. Here are some examples.

* Seven-night, May and October cruises between Basel and Amsterdam range from $975 to $1,305.

* Three-night, May-October cruises on the Rhine and Mosel between Strasbourg and Cologne are $490 to $610.

* Three-river cruises that take in the most romantic stretch of the Rhine as well as its tributaries, the Mosel and the Main, are $325 to $410 for three-day cruises and $490 to $610 for four-day sailings.

* Reductions for cruises on the Elbe are $160 in May and October.

• Eight-day cruises westbound on the Danube and Main-Danube canal between Budapest and Nürnberg in Germany are reduced in May and October to $1,415 to $2,115. The eastbound fare is $1,270 to $1,905. Eight-day cruises between Budapest and Regensburg have discounted prices in May of $1,030 to $1,360.

• Twenty-two KD itineraries include the Rhine, through Holland, Germany, France and Switzerland. KDs flagship, Deutschland, sails between the Swiss port of Basel and Amsterdam with four- and five-night itineraries in both directions. A new five-night cruise, starting in Amsterdam, makes stops at Cologne, Koblenz, Speyer and Strasbourg. Deutschland fares range from $785 to $1,980. Also operating between Basel and Amsterdam is the 184-passenger Britannia, with three- and four-night cruises from $520 to $1,305, and the 142-passenger Helvetia, with four-country, seven-night cruises, and fares from $870 to $1,450.

Peter Deilmann EuropAmerica Cruises offers more than 180 European itineraries - none less than seven days - aboard five river boats. its vessels, which tend to be a bit more luxurious than the KD fleet, include the five-star Mozart and four-star Danube Princess on the Danube; the four-star Prussian Princess on the Rhine, Mosel and Rhine-Main-Danube Canal; the four-star Princesse de Provence on the Rhine and Saone; the Königstein and the five-star Dresden on the Elbe.

Deilmann offers a wide variety of itineraries and prices ranging from $795 per person for an inside cabin on a seven-day run aboard the Danube Princess, to $7205 per person for a suite on an 11-day cruise on the MV Mozart.

• One intriguing Deilmann itinerary is between Potsdam and Prague, with stops in Magdeburg, Meissen and Dresden. Per person prices range from $1,085 to $3,085.

To book a river cruise, either find a travel agent who specializes in Europe or contact a cruise company directly: Peter Deilmann (800-348 8287, www.deilmarm-cruises.com) or KD River Cruises of Europe (800-346-6525, vikingrivercruises.com/).

March 1999