Avalon Waterways' March 23 departure will sail from Cote d'Azur to Paris. // © 2014 Avalon Waterways
With the spread of cruising in Asia and South America, the river cruise season never stops —there is simply no month where a river cruise in China, Asia, Europe or the Americas can’t be found. But the vast majority of river cruisers are still choosing Europe, and it may come as a surprise how broad the offerings are in the early months of 2015. Sure, spring may evoke tulip-themed cruises to Belgium and Holland, but there is far more available for the traveler who wants to cruise the rivers of Europe.
- AmaWaterways has a 15-day Provence and Spain holiday kicking off on March 29. It includes three nights in Paris, a high-speed TGV train ride to Lyon, a seven-night cruise through Provence and three nights in Barcelona.
- Avalon Waterways' 16-day Grand France cruise sails from the Cote d'Azur to Paris on March 23, and Scenic Cruises’ 15-day Jewels of Europe itinerary from Budapest to Amsterdam has availability (at press time) on the March 15 departure.
- CroisiEurope is offering a Feb. 6 departure of the five-day Venice and Its Lagoon cruise, and sailings can easily be matched to events at the famous Venetian Carnival, which ends Feb. 17.
- Tauck's April 22 Blue Danube cruise is sold out, but there is space on the April 8 sailing that includes two nights each in Prague and Budapest. The 10-day Rendezvous on the Seine River, sailing roundtrip from Paris, includes a two-night stay in Paris, a chateau dinner and a tasting tour of a local farm.
- Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s eight-day Paris and Normandy Beaches cruises start March 15. The line's 10-day Antwerp to Amsterdam Tulips and Windmills sailing departs on March 27.
- On March 14, Viking River Cruises has an eight-day Rhine Getaway sailing from Amsterdam to Basel, and March 20 sees the start of the eight-day River of Gold cruises on the Douro River in Portugal. For wine lovers, the eight-day Chateaux, Rivers and Wines cruise, sailing roundtrip from Bordeaux, starts on March 21.
Spring temperatures have never discouraged cruisers headed for the tulips of Holland, and temperatures in Paris and Prague run about the same as those in Amsterdam, with average highs around 45 degrees and into the 50s in March. Porto, Portugal — the gateway port to the Douro — averages around 50 degrees, and Budapest peaks in the 50s to low 70s in March.
The advantages of sailing early are clear: Agents say one of the barriers to selling river cruises to seagoing travelers is that they are booked up so far ahead, but there is typically some availability on the early sailings.
In addition, travelers are encountering the residents of the cities and towns they visit, not other tourists. Airfares are much lower, and the cruise lines offer some very attractive discounts, including two-for-one fares. Major sights are uncrowded, and normal cultural events and festivals are in full swing.
As one early spring cruiser in Germany said, “You give up the swimming pool and get the destination.”