River cruise ships have come a long way from the days of shoe-box sized cabins with tiny windows and beds as hard as rocks. Over time, it’s interesting to see how river cruise ships have evolved from small ships with minimal frills to boutique floating hotels with stateroom amenities that rival those on large oceangoing cruise ships. Avalon Waterways, Uniworld and Viking River Cruises are introducing four new river cruise ships in Europe in 2011:
River Antoinette (Uniworld)
Douro Spirit (jointly operated by Uniworld)
Although it’s difficult to review ships that are still works-in-progress, I can at least report on their vital statistics. Until I sail on them, however, I won’t be able to tell you about their service, cuisine, atmosphere and overall character and personality.
On the Avalon Panorama, there are 66 suites and 17 staterooms. The 64 Panorama suites are 200 square feet and have wall-to-wall panoramic windows with open-air French balconies and beds that face the passing landscape. The smallest stateroom is 172 sq ft, which is about the average size of a balcony stateroom on most large cruise ships (2,000+ passengers). Avalon Waterways offers generous amenities in all of Avalon Panorama’s staterooms and suites, from the 17 staterooms on the lower deck with two small windows to the two 300 sq ft Royal suites with wall-to-wall panoramic windows and open-air French balconies. These amenities include a pillow menu, L’Occitane bath products, flatscreen satellite TV, bathrobes, slippers, complimentary bottled water, mini-bar and flowers.
On the Princess deck of the River Antoinette, there is one Owner’s Suite (391 sq ft), 8 suites (294 sq ft) and 20 staterooms (196 sq ft) which all have full open-air balconies, that with a touch of a switch, will raise the glass to create a completely enclosed conservatory. Unlike French balconies, these full open-air balconies provide enough space for a table and two chairs. The 33 staterooms (196 sq ft) on the Duchess deck have a French balcony and the 20 staterooms (163 sq ft) on the Countess deck have a small window. If you’re accustomed to a suite on a large cruise ship, you will really appreciate the exclusive suite amenities on the River Antoinette which include butler service, free laundry service, in-room breakfast, welcome bottle of wine and a special dinner in the Leopard Lounge on the Sun deck.
The Viking Prestige is a “green” ship that runs on hybrid diesel-electric engines that produce 20% fewer emissions and reduced noise/vibration. It has 6 single staterooms (134 sq ft), 22 staterooms with picture windows (155 sq ft), 67 staterooms with French balconies (155 sq ft) and 2 suites with French balconies (310 sq ft). The six single staterooms cost approximately 60% of the price of a stateroom with a French balcony with two occupants. Of the four ships I reviewed, the Viking Prestige is the only one that claims free shipwide wireless access.
Although the Douro Spirit is the smallest of the four ships I reviewed, it is the only ship on which all of the accommodations (64 staterooms and three suites) have a French balcony. There are only four staterooms that have a mere 150 sq ft while 57 staterooms have 161 sq ft, one junior suite has 226 sq ft and two suites have 237 sq ft.
After reviewing these ships, I honestly can’t tell you why Avalon Waterways refers to the Avalon Panorama’s 200 sq ft accommodations as suites while Uniworld refers to the River Antoinette‘s 196 sq ft accommodations as staterooms. Does four extra square feet convert a stateroom into a suite? Is a suite really a glorified stateroom with a seating area and if so, how large must the seating area be in order for the stateroom to qualify as a suite? Or, does a real suite have at least two separate rooms (not including the bathroom)? Only the Owner’s Suite on the River Antoinette and the two suites on the Viking Prestige have two separate rooms. I don’t think it matters whether the cruise line calls it a suite or not — what matters is that you know what you’re getting when you book it.
At $306.60 per person per day, you can have a 150 sq ft stateroom with a French balcony on the Douro Spirit on the 10-day Portugal, Spain & Douro River Valley trip in August 2011. For just a little more at $336.57 per person per day, you can book a 155 sq ft stateroom with a picture window on the Viking Prestige on the 7-day Romantic Danube itinerary from Budapest to Nuremberg in August 2011. These are the two least expensive options. If this seems expensive compared to an ocean cruise, just remember that this price includes complimentary wine, beer and soda during dinner and a culturally enriching shore excursion at each port.
If you’re accustomed to being pampered while you cruise, a 294 sq ft suite with butler service on the River Antoinette would probably appeal to you; on the 7-day Castles Along the Rhine itinerary from Basel to Amsterdam in August 2011, the cost would be $605.86 per person per day.
If you’re looking for the best value on a new river cruise ship in Europe, think about a 200 sq ft Panorama suite on the Avalon Panorama; on the 14-day Magnificent Europe itinerary from Amsterdam to Budapest in August 2011, the cost is $435.93 per person per day.
If you’re interested in more information about each ship, my analysis, New River Cruise Ships in Europe – 2011 contains more details.
If you’ve been reluctant to take a river cruise because you thought you would be stuffed into cramped quarters, think again. You will be pleasantly surprised!