Affordable River Cruises: 7 Budget-Friendly Options

Affordable River Cruises: It’s rare to find the terms “budget” and “river cruise” together in one phrase. This is because river cruises typically cost thousands of dollars, whereas inexpensive ocean cruises only cost hundreds, mostly because of their modest size and plenty of fare includes.

Having said that, some river cruise operators have lower itineraries’ prices than others. These cruise lines frequently provide additional a la carte options, such as limiting the number of free drinks or letting guests buy their own shore excursions. Some have older ships without the extra bells and whistles associated with higher-end lines. And still some either split their fleets into cheaper divisions for their older ships or are the more budget-conscious equivalent of a more expensive cruise operator.

During Europe’s peak travel season, which runs from June to August, you’ll spend extra for travel, no matter which airline you choose. Shoulder season offers some great deals, but it’s also when many cruise lines lower or do away with the dreaded single supplement. With a cutoff value of $350 per person per night, we examined published high season rates for 2018 and 2019, omitting airfare and special incentives, to compile this list.

7 Best Affordable River Cruises

AmaWaterways and Viking River Cruise, AmaWaterways River Cruise, Viking River Cruise
(Credit: TourRadar)

1. Emerald Waterways

The sister firm of Scenic Cruises, which was highlighted in the last post, is called Emerald Waterways. However, Emerald Waterways is a respectable, more reasonably priced brother, while Scenic is at the ultra-luxury end of the market.

The cost of an itinerary and length of voyage will affect the price, however as of this writing, an 8-day European cruise is available for less than £150 per person each night. Although flights are not included in this package, it includes almost everything else, such as full board with wine, beer, or soft beverages with meals; a variety of special tours, excursions, and activities; gratuities; and airport transfers. Fly-cruises are available, and on certain sailings, there’s even a complimentary Eurostar alternative.

What Emerald Waterways Has in Store

Staterooms and suites on Emerald Waterway ships are well-appointed and have ample space. Every ship offers a free-to-use fleet of bikes and a swimming area.

You can anticipate excellent dining with chefs utilizing local ingredients to their fullest, as well as well-stocked bars, cozy lounges, and a sun deck for viewing the scenery and soaking up some sun. With so many amazing locations to pick from, I think Emerald Waterways offers high-quality cruising at an affordable price.

2. Amadeus River Cruises

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(Credit: Wendy Perrin)

Having been around for more than 30 years, Amadeus is one of the oldest river cruise lines in Austria. Amadeus River Cruises are only available in the United Kingdom through Fred Olsen Travel.

This river cruise operator offers some excellent rates, so it’s worth mentioning even though it might easily be placed in the luxury category. Once more, the length of the voyage and the itinerary influence the price, although it is still rather reasonable. Additionally, this cost covers return airfare from London.

What Does an Amadeus River Cruise Include?

Gourmet meals, unlimited red and white wine from Europe’s most renowned wine regions, beer, soft drinks, and all onboard entertainment, such as talks, cookery demos, musical performances, and evening piano music, are further inclusions you may anticipate. Bottled water, a fleet of bikes, and free WiFi are available. Excursions are not included, though.

Amadeus provides a “unpackaged” excursion program that lets visitors participate in as much or as little as they’d like. You can reserve individual onboard excursions or one of three pre-arranged packages; the prices are fairly transparent. This keeps the cost of the Amadeus River Cruise reasonable.

During a recent press tour, we had the chance to see Amadeus Silver III, and we were pleasantly surprised by how cozy and kind she was. In the lounge, we were given a little buffet, and I can attest that the food is very tasty.

Expectations for Amadeus River Cruises

All of the amenities of a five-star hotel are available to you, but at a lower cost. A variety of cabin categories are available, such as opulent suites including walk-out balconies, juliette balconies, or virtual balconies made possible by pull-down windows. The cabins have walk-in wardrobes and contemporary bathrooms.

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exquisite dinners with waiter service are served in the Panorama Restaurant, and depending on the ship, there may even be a separate cafe offering light nibbles, excellent Viennese coffee, and exquisite sweets. For those who would rather be outside, there is a sun deck with a lido bar and a salon/library inside. Additionally, there is an outdoor River Terrace with glass to shield you from unforeseen breezes.

3. CroisiEurope

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(Credit: AARP)

What it is: One of the oldest businesses in Europe, CroisiEurope, is a French corporation that currently sells to English-speaking consumers in North America. The line is renowned for offering a wide variety of itineraries that visit unique waterways including the Neckar, the Sava, the Tizsa, the Guadalquivir, and canals in France and Germany in addition to the typical European rivers. In order to combine a river cruise with a longer European holiday, Croisi also offers short-duration river cruises, such as four or five days on the Rhine.

The average cost of a ship on Croisi is more for the higher-rated, or “five anchor,” ships than the older, “four anchor” vessels. Although prices might differ significantly based on the length and route of the trip, an eight-night June 2018 Danube cruise aboard one of the line’s four-anchor ships costs $297 per person per night.

Included in the tariffs offered by Croisi are alcoholic beverages (not premium brands) and a daily shore excursion for passengers from North America. With CroisiEurope, tipping is not required.

Facilities: Depending on the ship, these can change. While most of Croisi’s modern ships lack pools, some do.

Noteworthy information: Similar to A-Rosa, CroisiEurope caters to an international clientele, and while English may not be the primary language spoken by most passengers, the airline does group English-speaking travelers together. Lunch and dinner are provided from a fixed three-course menu featuring specialties from the area; special diets and vegetarian meals are available with advance notice, although you may need to inquire several times for them. On CroisiEurope ships, cabin sizes vary from 75 to 180 square feet, with 140 square feet being the most typical.

4. A-Rosa

Crystal River Cruises
(Credit: Luxury travel advisor)

What it is: In recent years, the German river cruise company A-Rosa has begun accepting reservations from Americans. On recognizable ships with red lips painted on the hull, the line sails on the Rhine, Danube, Main and Moselle, Rhone, Saone, and Seine.

Average cost: In June 2018, the cost of a seven-night Danube cruise was around $287 per person each night, although actual costs will depend on the length and route of the trip. When you book, the price is in euros.

Included in the price of an A-Rosa ticket are gratuities, all beverages (except specialty brands), and a daily half-day shore excursion (available exclusively to guests traveling from North America).

Amenities: A-Rosa offers fitness centers and swimming pools on board, along with a bike rental program. Additionally, the spa and sauna are larger than usual, which is unusual for river cruise ships.

Important information: A-Rosa differs significantly from a typical river tour. Even though every employee speaks English, if you are an English speaker traveling on the line, you may find yourself in the minority. There is one a la carte meal included in the price, but other meals are buffets. A-Rosa welcomes families, and on select sailings, children under 15 travel free with their parents; some rooms include additional pull-down beds to make up for this. The majority of the 156 square foot cabins have fixed double beds, with only a small number having beds that may be separated into singles.

5. Vantage Deluxe International Touring

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What it is: Vantage is a tour operator with a river cruise division that mostly takes clients from North America and, to a lesser degree, the United Kingdom. The Rhine, Danube, Moselle, Seine, Elbe, Douro, Dutch Waterways, Mekong, Yangzte, Amazon, Irrawaddy, and Ganges are among the waterways on which the line cruises.

The average cost of a 16-night cruise on the Main and Danube in June 2019 is approximately $313 per person per night, though prices can vary significantly based on the duration of the voyage and itinerary.

Included in your Vantage fare are wine and beer at dinner, as well as a daily shore excursion (extra excursions can be purchased).

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Facilities: Free use of bikes is offered. Small exercise rooms with a treadmill, stationary cycle, and free weights are offered on European ships; River Voyager, the line’s newest vessel, offers massage services.

Note that standard accommodations measure 170 square feet, but older ships have smaller cabins measuring 165 square feet. Additionally, Vantage offers 125 square foot single rooms on all of its ships. A service for matching roommates is also available, and single supplements are frequently discounted.

6. Grand Circle Cruise Lines

Why River Cruises are Expensive, River Cruises
(Credit: Cruise Critic)

What it is: Grand Circle Cruise Lines, a touring corporation with its headquarters in Boston, primarily serves passengers who are 55 years of age and older. The company offers riverboat excursions on the Dutch Waterways, Main, Mosel, Elbe, Rhine, Danube, and Seine.

Average cost: In June 2018, the cost of a 15-night Danube cruise per person per night was around $326, although actual expenses will depend on the length and schedule of the trip.

Included in the fare are most shore excursions and two glasses of wine at supper.

Features: A massage therapist is available on some Grand Circle ships, and the majority of them include tiny exercise facilities with saunas and whirlpools.

Notes: Many of the cabins have single beds that cannot be made into queen beds; Grand Circle’s ships are older than most ships on European rivers. There aren’t many river trips under 12 days available from the line either.

7. Riviera River Cruises

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(Credit: The Travels of Mrs B)

Riviera River Cruises is a division of the multi-award winning Riviera Travel, a seasoned travel agency with a solid track record for well designed itineraries and informed tour guides. In Europe, Riviera operates a fleet of fourteen river cruise ships, including two brand-new, five-star vessels in 2019. The MS Geoffrey Chaucer, a 5-Star all-suite river cruise ship, will make its debut in 2020.

Given that the airfare includes all flights, Eurostar, and transfers, their cruises offer excellent value for the money.

What Does a Riviera River Cruise Include?

In contrast to several other river cruise operators, Riviera River Cruises covers international transfers as well as return airfare from regional airports (or, if preferred, Eurostar). On some voyages, they additionally give £200 per cabin on board credit (£400 on the Budapest to Black Sea trip). The cost also includes daily excursions and, of course, full board, which consists of three major meals, snacks, and, if you can handle it, a midnight snack. Free wifi is also available. Although not included, drinks can be purchased as part of a package. Gratuities are discretionary and voluntary.

How does a Riviera River Cruise work?

With all the premium amenities you would anticipate from a first-class hotel, the ensuite cabins and suites are some of the biggest and coziest on any river cruise ship. Thick, fluffy towels, free amenities, air conditioning and heating, a small desk, a flat-screen TV, a hairdryer, a safe, a phone, and free Wi-Fi are all included. In addition to tea and coffee making facilities, your cabin is equipped with these conveniences. If you would prefer floor to ceiling windows opening onto a Juliette balcony, select a cabin on the middle or upper decks.

On a Riviera River Cruise, dining is excellent. There’s a complete breakfast buffet with omelette and egg stations, a big lunch buffet, afternoon tea, and tea for early risers. The four-course dinner—entrée, soup, main dish, and dessert—served in the dining room is the major event. You can choose from each meal. Additionally, the captain serves a sumptuous six-course Gala Dinner that highlights cuisine from the area they have cruised.

There are cozy lounge spaces with various seating options and a well stocked bar. Reservations are necessary for the “Chefs Restaurant” located in the stern of most ships.

Low-key entertainment on board includes quiz nights every now and again, a resident musician, and tour presentations.

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