River Talk

Douglas Ward Cruise BerlitzBerlitz River Cruising in Europe and the USA

The third edition of the book was published in June 2018. The fourth edition is scheduled for publication in late 2020, but may be delayed due to the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 320-page book was greatly expanded to include the steamboats (and replica steamboats) plying the USA’s main rivers. A labour of love, it is intended to help you to decide which rivership and river cruise company to book, and provides comparative information unavailable anywhere else.

River Cruise Update (September 2020)

Some European river cruise companies re-started cruising again in June 2020 having introduced enhanced cleaning, sanitation and hygiene standards for passengers, together with other health measures, and crew training. As a result, the river cruise company you choose to cruise with will have instituted all or some of the following as the “New Normal”:

  • All passengers must complete a health screening prior to embarkation
  • Luggage will be sanitized
  • Gloves, face masks, and bottles of hand sanitizer will be readily available for each passenger
  • All passengers will be temperature checked when returning to the vessel
  • Disinfectant wipes will be available throughout the rivership (including at coffee/tea stations and in public restrooms)
  • Up-Down distance markings will be in place on stairways
  • Restaurant seating will be assigned so that you sit at the same table with the same people throughout the cruise
  • Items previously of self-help (such as pastries, cookies or sweets) will only be available on request and served by staff
  • Bread, rolls and pastries will be served by staff
  • Items such as butter and condiments will be provided in packets

River cruise companies closely monitor the latest recommendations and guidelines from the relevant health authorities: CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in the USA, and ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) in Europe.

Douglas Ward recommends that you:

  • Take good-quality hand cream or moisturiser, because your hands will suffer from dry skin after constant hand washing
  • Take double the amount of any medication you would normally need for your cruise
  • Take chewing gum or boiled sweets with you so that you always have something in reserve in case you run out of water
  • Have a set of personal exercises ready and practised in case you need to self-isolate in your cabin
  • Take a good book or two that you can read anywhere in case of any travel disruption

River Cruising Update (August 2020)

Several more river cruise operators re-entered the arena during this month. Indeed, almost 60 riverships were in service, with no viral problems. This bodes well for the future.

River Cruising Comeback Update (July 2020)

More river cruise companies dipped their toes into the water during July, including CroisiEurope.

River Cruising Comeback Update (June 2020)

The first river cruise in Europe was operated by Nicko Cruises, with a Rhine River cruise itinerary. Passenger numbers aboard the company’s NickoVision was capped at 70%. social distancing was observed, one–way signs clearly marked at pinch points, restaurant seating was assigned and meals were served in two seatings. This may become the “New Normal” – at least for some river cruise operators – for the time being.

Reduction is good

Some river cruise companies have reduced the number of cabins aboard some riverboats (examples include Scenic and Tauck), and adding larger suites in order to provide more comfort for anyone seeking more personal space. Taking the examples shown, Scenic  has reduced the number of passengers on its (135-meter) Scenic Pearl and Scenic Ruby from 171 to 161, while Tauck has reduced the number of passengers on its smaller (110-meter) Esprit and Treasures from 118 to 98.  Several other riverships have also made a reduction in the number of cabins – even increasing the size of some of them.

New is good

A number of new riverships debuted in 2019, but perhaps the most newsworthy and interesting was AmaMagna of California-based Ama Waterways. This is a double-wide rivership, built exclusively for the Danube, has a lot of space per passenger (rather like the Crystal Mozart of Crystal River Cruises).

I am continuously testing the riverships – all belonging to different companies and operators. Since the introduction of the 280-page Berlitz River Cruising in Europe guidebook (2016-2017 edition), companies have been busy competing to provide better cruise experiences. This is good news, because my objective is always to keep standards high, and for the river cruise companies to improve their product and deliver the best cruise experience possible, given the limitation that the rivers, and nature, impose.

Douro rising

Interest in cruising on Portugal’s Douro river has increased. So has the number of companies and riverships being built and introduced. Operating from Oporto, the city famed for its port wine industry, cruises take you through some of Europe’s most beautiful scenery, as well as through five locks (the largest of which is Carrapatelo – with a 35-metre lift/drop – one of the largest in the world).

Riverships  and upgrades

Now that Crystal Cruises is building four riverships with ‘smart’ facilities, and AMA Waterways and Scenic are adding additional elements to their vessels, we will see other companies, such as Tauck, making “upgrades” or “catch-ups” to their fleet. In fact, in 2016, Tauck reduced the number of cabins on its 110-metre Swiss Emerald, Swiss Sapphire, MS Esprit and MS Treasures. In 2017, Scenic reduced capacity aboard Scenic Diamond and Scenic Sapphire (both operating on French rivers) from 84 to 78. By reducing the number of cabins, the ambiance provides a more intimate less crowded feeling in what were previously cramped main lounges.

Crystal Mozart debuts real-time live camera views

Crystal River Cruises started broadcasting real-time river views from Crystal Mozart via cameras positioned at three vantage points—forward, port and starboard, in August. The Danube River scenes can be accessed via the ‘Live Views’ option on Crystal’s homepage.

 Amsterdam beefs up river cruise security

The Port of Amsterdam is working to improve the security of river cruise vessels and passengers at Western Europe’s leading turnaround point for river cruises.  As a result, the port has stepped up monitoring of its river cruise mooring locations and the busiest river cruise locations in the Amsterdam port area will get extra surveillance at night.


 MV Werften lays keel for Crystal’s river ships

Construction began in August on Crystal River Cruises’ first newbuilds Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler in Wismar. They will sail on the Rhine, Main and Danube, and each accommodates 11 passengers.

Belmond to introduce two new cruise barges in 2017

Belmond (the travel and hotel group) will add a pair of new luxury barges to its fleet in the French wine region of Burgundy in 2017.  Joining the five existing barges that comprise Belmond Afloat in France, Belmond Lilas and Belmond Pivoine will sail the canals of Champagne and Alsace in France.

Capacity reduction on the French rivers

Crystal Cruises has stated that its newbuild riverships Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel  will now be redesigned and redeployed to the Danube itineraries. Meanwhile, Scenic is redesigning its France-based Scenic Diamond and Scenic Sapphire in 2017, reducing passenger capacity from 167 to 155.


Crystal Mozart named by Viennese Hotelier

Elisabeth Gürtler served as the godmother for Crystal River Cruises’ first vessel, Crystal Mozart, during festivities in Vienna on July 11.  She is managing director of Vienna’s famous Hotel Sacher, and acting director of the city’s historic Spanish Riding School, home of the Lipizzaner stallions.  Crystal Mozart sails from and to Vienna, the vessel’s homeport.

AmaStella, AmaViola named in Vilshofen

In two days of festivities in Vilshofen, Germany, AmaWaterways’ AmaStella and AmaViola were named by Jackie Friedman and Carole Smethurst. Each carries 158 passengers