September 21, 2017

10 New River Voyages for the New Year

In 2017, resolve to live fuller and travel farther
with one of these enticing options

By Kathryn E. Worrall

Vacations Magazine: 10 New River Voyages for the New Year
AmaWaterways
River cruise operators have released their 2017 cruising schedules, and among the offerings are brand-new itineraries that explore new ground or bring unique twists to popular sailings.

These trips might just help you keep your New Year's resolutions. Need to shed a few pounds of holiday weight gain? Avalon Waterways' Danube River jaunt includes a jogging tour through Vienna and a hike in a Hungarian national park. Aim to expand your cultural horizons? Included shore excursions throughout this selection take in top museums and historic sites from Paris to Johannesburg. Hope to forge family connections? Two of our suggestions are designed with kids in mind.

Read on to find your adventure, and contact the river cruise discounters at Vacations To Go for more information.

Take a family-friendly Rhine vacation. Suggested for ages 8 and up, "Rhine River Cruise" from Adventures by Disney keeps all generations happy with an array of tours. Wander among Dutch windmills, learn how to make French macarons, pop into a perfume or chocolate workshop or tour medieval wine caves.

While in Germany's dense Black Forest -- famed as an inspiration for many of the Brothers Grimm tales -- you and the kids can dash through the trees on an alpine toboggan ride or zipline high above the timberline, then learn how to make a cuckoo pipe or stroll to nearby waterfalls. A holiday departure adds a stop at the Amsterdam Light Festival for a tour of the Illuminade, a collection of whimsical light sculptures brightening the city's streets.

The eight-day excursion between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland, takes place aboard a brand-new ship, the AmaKristina (chartered from AmaWaterways). The 158-passenger cruiser carries adjoining staterooms, rare for river cruising, which can accommodate families of up to five people. From $4,719

Join a sailing with safaris. The savannas of southern Africa are calling on AmaWaterways' "Wildlife and the Falls." While cruising the Chobe River for four nights on the 28-passenger Zambezi Queen, guests set out in smaller crafts and venture down channels in search of swimming hippos and watering elephants. In Botswana's Chobe National Park, jump into an open-top SUV for a full day of scouting wildlife like giraffes, zebras and, if luck is on your side, prowling cheetahs.

Three nights are spent at Tintswalo Safari Lodge, tucked into a private reserve near Kruger National Park in South Africa. Game drives aim to spot the "big five" -- elephants, Cape buffaloes, rhinos, leopards and lions. The 13-day schedule also includes stints in Johannesburg, with a visit to the Apartheid Museum for a somber reminder of South Africa's past, and a stopover at Victoria Falls at the Zambia-Zimbabwe border. From $11,695

Learn about U.S. vintages. Swirl, sniff and sip fine wines of the Pacific Northwest on "Columbia and Snake Rivers," a themed eight-day voyage from American Queen Steamboat Co. Sailing round trip from Vancouver, WA, aboard the paddle wheeler American Empress, this itinerary combines stops in historic riverside towns and trendy Portland, OR, with onboard tastings and food pairings that highlight the best of the region's wine country.

Featured producers include Canoe Ridge Vineyard, an establishment in Walla Walla, WA, noted for its merlot and chardonnay. It's named for the hill on which it's perched, a moniker that came about after explorers Lewis and Clark noted the mound's resemblance to an overturned canoe.

Also represented on board is family-owned winery Duck Pond Cellars, which began as a 13-acre vineyard but now comprises six Oregon sites, making it one of the largest wine producers in the state. After a morning of exploring the neighborhoods of Portland, return to the ship and try another family-run brand, Mercer Estates, whose 1972 crop made it the first wine grape grower in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills region. From $2,699

Hike and bike on the Danube. Pack a pair of tennis shoes and prepare to break a sweat on Avalon Waterways' aptly named, eight-day "Active Discovery on the Danube." While traveling through Hungary and Austria, cruisers choose their preferred level of exertion from several included excursions -- and there always are options for those who are looking for something less rigorous. For example, a day's options in Austria's Wachau Valley include a canoe tour down the Danube River's tributaries, a bike trip between Spitz and Krems and a relaxing wine tasting.

While in Vienna, early risers can enjoy breakfast at a cafe followed by a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, while others can work off Viennese pastries with a jogging tour to popular sights. There are opportunities throughout the trip to venture on multiple hikes, perhaps along a World War II smuggling route at the Austria-Germany border, through vineyards or into the caves of Hungary's Danube-Ipoly National Park, a preserve where eagles, bats and mink thrive.
This itinerary is eight days, but it can be expanded to a 12-day version that includes stays in Prague or Salzburg, Austria. From $3,549

Experience luxury from a new line. Six-star oceangoing brand Crystal Cruises launched its river operations in Europe this summer, focusing on explorations of the Danube River aboard the renovated Crystal Mozart. Next year, Crystal River Cruises expands its repertoire to include other destinations, and among those offerings is the 17-day "Grand Europe" which traverses the Rhine and Main rivers as well as the Danube.

Trips take place on one of four new river yachts being built for the line, the Crystal Mahler. Up to 110 passengers will enjoy luxurious touches like butler service and suites equipped with king-size beds, walk-in closets, marble bathrooms and Nespresso coffee machines. Shipboard spaces include a full-service spa, a pool and multiple dining venues.

The ship docks overnight in Amsterdam, Budapest, Vienna and Passau, Germany, allowing passengers to settle into those destinations and sample the nightlife. By day, explore such sites as Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, host to artwork by Dutch natives Rembrandt and Vermeer; the Gothic cathedral of Cologne, Germany; and Austria's Melk Abbey, known for its beautiful ceiling frescoes. Select the holiday-themed departure for Christmas market visits, where you can snack on gingerbread and bratwurst and grip mugs of hot mulled wine as you browse stalls selling ornaments, crafts and toys. From $12,490

Follow Portugal's river of wine. Emerald Waterways' new route sails the Douro River in pursuit of sweet wine and scenic countryside. Taking place on the newly built Emerald Radiance, the eight-day "Secrets of the Douro" celebrates port; typically relished as a post-meal treat, the fortified wine is produced in the Douro Valley. Enjoy the local libation in Porto's caves, repurposed as wine cellars; see the vineyards up close during dinner at a wine estate; and try your hand at creating cocktails with white port on board the ship.

Travelers also venture to Salamanca, Spain, home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded almost 800 years ago. An 11-day version of the itinerary adds three days in Lisbon, Portugal's capital, where you can lounge on sandy beaches, tour medieval castles and forts and ride tram cars to museums, neighborhood cafes and a 15th-century monastery. From $2,195

Seek Bordeaux treasures. Live a life of luxury, for a little while at least, as you indulge in fine wines and foie gras and tour chateaus in southwestern France. Traveling the Dordogne, Gironde and Garonne rivers, "Bordeaux Affair" from travel company Scenic spends eight days in the region. On top of cycling through vineyards, strolling through medieval villages and shopping with a chef in the city of Bordeaux, cruisers descend into the catacombs of Saint-Emilion Monolithic Church; legend dates it to the eighth century, when a Breton monk named Emilion began carving subterranean caverns out of the limestone.

A highlight is a four-course dinner at Chateau Giscours. The neoclassical estate traces its heritage to the 14th century, and the first grapevines were planted here in 1552. Your meal is accompanied by live classical music and grand cru vintages, a highly regarded designation awarded to the winery in 1855. From $3,115

See Seine sights with the kids. Pedal alongside the Seine River in Paris, steering your bicycle past cafes and gardens, before stopping for a picnic of French delicacies and later ascending to the top of the Eiffel Tower. This is just one example of the diversions planned for an eight-day outing with Tauck in France, "Family Fun Along the Seine: Paris to Normandy."

Art and history come to life for the kids on this itinerary, which is designed for ages 8 and older. Embark on a scavenger hunt in the Louvre, hear tales of Richard the Lionheart's battlefield bravado at his Chateau Gaillard in Les Andelys and get a hands-on chance to learn about World War II battle gear in Normandy.

The Chateau de Versailles is one of the world's most opulent palaces, built in 1623 but expanded during Louis XIV's reign. Peer down the sparkling Hall of Mirrors before taking a tour on foot or bike around the grand garden's fountains, sculptures, orangerie and groves. Those who go for the bicycling option also can view Marie Antoinette's country estate on the site, complete with village-style houses. From $4,290

Delve into Germany's Jewish heritage. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection explores the traditions, landmarks and cultural legacy of Jewish communities in Germany, as well as significant World War II sites, on the 10-day "Rhine-Main Discovery and Munich." Guests tour the historic Jewish Quarter of Cologne and view exhibits in the Jewish Museum Frankfurt, which is housed in the former Rothschild Palace. There are excursions to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, the first internment camp opened by the Nazis in Germany, and the courtroom that hosted the Nuremberg trials. Departures from May through October offer trips to the Eagle's Nest, Adolph Hitler's mountaintop getaway.

The Jewish heritage excursions are among multiple sightseeing options offered at each stop. In Cologne, you can raise a pint at a local brewery or tour a museum dedicated to the city's namesake eau de cologne, first mixed here by an Italian perfume maker. From Wurzburg, you might travel to a vineyard for a barbecue lunch or go to the walled city of Rothenburg, filled with picturesque half-timbered structures. Family-themed departures of this trip cater to multiple generations. From $3,649

Start in the City of Light. Viking River Cruises' 12-day "Paris to the Swiss Alps" kicks off with an orientation drive around the French capital, past the Louvre, Notre-Dame Cathedral and other landmarks; the rest of the time in the city is free for your own explorations. Then travel to Trier, Germany's oldest city, to board your riverboat for a cruise of the Mosel and Rhine rivers.

In Cochem, Germany, learn about the town's wine industry, which dates to Roman times, and taste the rieslings produced from grapes grown along the Mosel. While cruising the magnificent Rhine Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, get your camera ready for castle after castle perched high on the river banks. At Lorelei Rock, hear the fable of the enchanting siren who lured fishermen to their deaths with her singing, and ascend to the summit for panoramic views of the Rhine and its surrounding valley.

The journey ends in Switzerland. You'll disembark in Basel, known for its contemporary arts scene, and motor to lakeside Zurich, with views of the snowcapped Alps in the distance. This itinerary also is available in the reverse direction; pre- and post-cruise extensions are offered in Paris and the Swiss cities of Geneva and Zermatt. From $6,548

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in September/October 2016. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 510-4002 for current rates and details.


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