I’ve previously written in praise of Douglas Ward’s longstanding guidebook series Cruising and Cruise Ships (Berlitz), considered the bible of the industry when it comes to ocean-cruising ship reviews. His 2014 guide is in its 29th year of publication.
Now Ward is out with the first edition of River Cruising in Europe (Berlitz), and if you’re planning a river voyage in Europe anytime soon, it should be high on your reading list.
European river cruising, as I’ve noted a number of times in this blog, is the hottest segment of the cruising market right now. It’s especially popular among baby boomers – travelers in their 50s and 60s.
Viking River Cruises, the giant in the industry, has recently rolled out a dozen new ships to meet the growing demand, and now has a total of 38 in European waters.
A new luxury line, Emerald Waterways, a sister company to the also luxurious Scenic Cruises, is the latest entrant into the European river cruising market, and a number of well-established European lines are now courting Americans as well as French, Germans and other Europeans.
Ward rates the 280-some European riverships (he rejects the term “riverboats”) now in service, focusing on five areas: hardware/facilities, accommodation, cuisine, service/hospitality, “plus any ‘other’ components,” as he puts it. Ships then receive from one to five stars, depending on how many points Ward awards them.
Each ship also gets a brief description of its overall qualities as well as some info on the number of cabins, where they sail, etc. The descriptions aren’t as detailed as those in his ocean cruising guides, but they’re still useful.
Some ships, such as several Viking ships, are too new to be rated in this edition, though key info is included.
All the Viking ships that Ward does rate receive four stars, as do a number of other ships, while most AMA Waterways ships receive four stars+, a slight cut above and tied with some others for the highest ratings. (Leafing through the reviews, I didn’t find any five-star or one-star ships.)
As Ward notes, though, “There really is no world’s best river cruise line or rivership…only the vessel and cruise that is right for you.” For instance, if you’re on a tight budget, a two-star ship might be just the thing.
There’s much more to the guide than ship reviews, however.
One large section provides a detailed look at the major European rivers and their main port stops (one omission: Russian rivers), while another section examines the various river cruise lines in detail.
He also answers FAQs in a “What the Brochures Don’t Say” section, offers tips on what to do if things don’t go according to expectations, and presents a good picture of what life onboard a rivership is like.
All told, it makes for a pretty comprehensive look at European river cruising, especially good if you don’t know which rivers or cruise lines are, as Ward puts it, “right for you.”