The best new river cruises for 2013
Next year the choice of river cruises is wider and more imaginative then ever, from a rail-and-sail tour of Spain’s loveliest cities to a voyage across Burma in a new 50-berth vessel, says Sue Bryant.
The idea of cruising serenely along magnificent waterways and watching the scenery drift by is a captivating one. Late nights ashore in riverside cities, immersion in local culture through food, wine and history, and a new view every day – it’s no wonder that river cruising is growing so fast. Next year will bring new and increasingly innovative ship design, new itineraries and even new corners of the world to explore.
The tranquil Douro, winding through the heart of Portugal’s port wine-producing region, could well be the next big thing in river cruising; for a start, it’s the new home of Spirit of Chartwell, the beautiful barge that transported the royal family for the jubilee river pageant. Other operators have new ships on the river, too. A new itinerary from Viking River Cruises has the bonus of including a couple of nights in Lisbon before the cruise begins in Porto. In addition, there’s a day in Salamanca, across the border in Spain, beyond the furthest navigable point of the Douro, and a night in Porto itself, a Unesco World Heritage city where the headquarters of all the big port houses are located, giving the place a regal, moneyed air.
Viking River Cruises offers a nine-night holiday on Viking Douro, departing on December 6. From £1,895pp, including flights, full board with wine, two nights in a Lisbon hotel and eight tours (0808 231 1469;vikingrivercruises.co.uk).
The Guadalquivir and Guadiana
Great Rail Journeys is offering a rare chance to cruise two rivers in Spain, as well as visiting some of the country’s most beautiful cities without even boarding an aircraft. Travel by sleeper train to Madrid and then join the ship Belle de Cadiz in the heart of Seville, sailing along the Guadalquivir river to Cadiz, a historic coastal port close to the sherry-producing city of Jerez. The ship then sails along the coast and into the Guadiana river, which forms the border between Spain and Portugal’s Alentejo, a remote area of hills and plains dotted with medieval villages, before heading back to Seville. The return rail journey is broken with two nights in Barcelona.
Great Rail Journeys offers a 12-night Spanish holiday departing in April, June and September. From £2,575pp, including rail travel, hotels, seven-night cruise with full board and wine at dinner, some meals ashore and most sightseeing (01904 521936; greatrail.com).
Rhine and Danube
On the Rhine and Danube, the two principle arteries of Europe’s waterways, it’s more a question of new and exciting ships rather than innovative itineraries, as both rivers are already teeming with cruise traffic. And just when it seemed as though river cruisers couldn’t get any more luxurious, along comes Scenic Tours’ new Scenic Jewel, a ship launching next year with everything included, right down to the Wi-Fi and the contents of the minibar. What’s more, every guest, no matter what cabin grade, enjoys the services of a butler. One of the best features of the ship itself is the ability to convert your private balcony to an indoor sun lounge at the press of a button; perfect for cool-weather cruising.
Scenic Tours offers an eight-day Nuremberg to Budapest cruise on Scenic Jewel departing on June 17, 2013. From £2,465pp, including all meals, drinks, flights, a choice of excursions and gratuities (0800 023 8687; scenictours.co.uk).
AmaWaterways is offering a series of wine-themed cruises in 2013, hosted by experts and including daily tastings both on board and ashore, as well as wine-paired gourmet dinners in the evenings. One of the best itineraries is on the Seine, round-trip from Paris, with two overnights in Rouen, from where there’s a Normandy cider and Calvados tasting, as well as a visit to Fécamp monastery to learn about the herbal Benedictine liqueur. On the final day in Paris, a visit to the Musée du Vin and a champagne tasting rounds off the experience.
AmaWaterways offers a seven-night Seine cruise round-trip from Paris, departing on April 5, 2013. From £1,686pp, including full board, wine with meals and all excursions, cruise only (0808 223 5009;amawaterways.co.uk).
No child could fail to be thrilled by the atmosphere, sights and aromas of Germany’s famous Christmas markets. Uniworld has been dabbling successfully with special family-friendly river cruises for a couple of years now and for 2013 has extended these to the advent markets of Germany on a voyage on River Queen from Frankfurt to Nuremberg, visiting Wertheim, Würzburg, Rothenburg, Bamberg and Nuremberg. As well as time to explore all the markets, admire gingerbread houses, buy handmade Christmas decorations, sample sizzling sausages from open-air grills and listen to carol singers, special tours include a gilding workshop, a chance to visit the Christmas Museum in Rothenburg and a craft class in which children make their own advent calendar.
Titan Travel offers a seven-night Christmas Markets cruise for families on Uniworld’s River Queen, departing on December 15, 2013. From £2,549pp, including flights, full board, wine with meals and all excursions (0800 988 5823; titantravel.co.uk).
Almost inaccessible for decades and the subject of much controversy, beautiful, mysterious Burma has tentatively opened its doors to tourism. Orient-Express, which has for many years operated the luxurious Road to Mandalay riverboat on the Irrawaddy, has just announced that it’s building a second river cruiser for Burma, the 50-passenger Orcaella, named after the river dolphins that inhabit the Irrawaddy and launching next July. The new ship will operate seven and 11-night cruises from January to April and July to December, sailing between Yangon and Bhamo. Because of its small size and shallow draft, Orcaella will also cruise the Chindwin river, a tributary of the Irrawaddy flanked by mountain ranges, sailing as far north as Homalin, just 30 miles from the Indian border.
Excursions, most of which are included in the price, will include a local “tea-shop” experience, trekking though the jungle, exploring hillside caves housing 492 Buddha chambers, a visit to the only bespectacled Buddha (thought to have healing powers) close to Pyay, a train journey into dense Kachin jungle and a chance to meet working elephants in the Burmese teak forest.
Orient-Express offers a seven-night Jewels of the Ayeyarwady cruise from Yangon to Bagan, departing on July 11, 2013. From £3,270pp, full board, including excursions and internal flights; international flights extra (0845 217 0799; orient-express.com). For more information seediscovercruises.co.uk.
Source: The Daily Telegraph, London, UK.