City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More
Robin Norell in Budapest, Hungary

Featured Article

The Ultimate European Vacation

Experience hassle-free travel on a European river cruise

Article by Robin Norell, President/Owner of Millbrook World Travel

Photography by Submitted By Robin Norell

Originally published in Fort Collins City Lifestyle

A European trip during the summer is the perfect way to spend quality time with your family while slowing down this fast paced season. Taking in the rich history of a country, or two, exploring the sights, and eating dishes from around the world are a few of the many possibilities European travel offers. While these experiences are thrilling, the reality of having to plan and prepare for an extravagant trip can be daunting.

With the perfect planning, and the help of a travel agent who can find your perfect fit, you and your family’s dream vacation is easier to plan than you may think. With so many ways to enjoy another country, my favorite way to explore European countries stress-free is by river cruises. 

The ease of your accommodation following you along your travels allows for you to fully enjoy your time without thinking about getting your belongings from one place to another and meticulously planning every location. Cruises often offer food and beverage packages and creature comforts like wifi. While the option to explore each port and city you stop in on your own is available, excursions are typically included or offered as add ons.

I recently traveled on my sixth river cruise – Avalon Waterways on the Danube River from Budapest, Hungary through Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. Avalon Waterways is one of my top picks for river cruise lines because of the upscale and memorable experiences they offer. 

This river cruise experience started by boarding the ship in Budapest, Hungary. With a relaxed itinerary on the first day, I was able to explore Budapest on my own. Castle Hill is a hub for historic sites in Budapest and is accessible by a funicular. I spent the afternoon soaking in the panoramic views of the city below and visiting St. Stephen Basilica. Budapest’s architecture and history is fascinating and beautiful, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to spend an afternoon sightseeing. 

The rest of the first day consisted of meeting the ship crew, picking my excursion for the second day, unpacking and unwinding from busy travel, and enjoying complimentary drinks at the happy hour in the ship’s Panorama Lounge.

Throughout the week a myriad of excursions are offered based on food exploration, arts and culture, architecture, adventure and recreation, and so many more that touch on almost every interest someone might have in exploring a European city. 

With these excursions and tours, you get a glimpse at what makes each place you visit so unique. Budapest is home to the largest bath house in Europe and has a park with castles built in Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture styles. You and your family will leave with countless fun facts!

Bratislava, Slovakia was the next city and country that we cruised to. Adventurous excursions like hiking and biking were available and allowed us to explore the city on foot, or wheels. Excursions are guided but there is plenty of opportunity to break off from the group and explore on your own. I took the opportunity to visit shops, including the “oldest shop in town” where I bought a bottle of strawberry wine to enjoy on the ship. River cruises are more relaxed than ocean cruises when it comes to bringing and enjoying alcoholic beverages onboard. 

The next stop was Vienna, Austria and it brought with it historical and cultural uniqueness. After exploring a palace that was once used as Austrian royalty’s summer home, we attended the evening excursion – a classical music concert at the Eschenbach Palace where we heard classical musicians, opera singers, and watched dancers perform.

While there’s plenty to do off the ship, the moments on ship can be just as spectacular. While cruising through the Wachau Valley the next day, the cruise director provided commentary on points of interest along the shore. Their guided expertise will help you get the most out of your trip without having to leave the comforts onboard. 

Time spent on the ship grants you full access to the amenities that make it a home away from home. Dining options throughout the day are based on your preference. Whether it be for light bites or full meals, and options for where you’d like to savor the cruise’s culinary excellence – with views of the port and city or in a traditional dining room. The beauty of river cruises is that the experience is tailored to you. 

Different areas on the ship offer different activities. The Club Lounge offers a variety of games and a library of books, along with snacks and beverages 24 hours a day. Many river cruise ships have salons and offer massages, and have hot tubs and/or pools on their deck. Staterooms offer TV and streaming services for those needing to get away from the crowd to relax. On slow mornings, cornhole was a popular game for passengers as we cruised along our river route. 

Taking in the scenic landscapes on the deck was a favorite way to spend evenings on board. Watching as cities come and go while you imbibe complimentary drinks and take part in lively conversation with other passengers gives you the ease in travel and the ability to enjoy every moment. One evening the offered onboard entertainment was superseded by everyone going up to the sun deck to watch our ship go through a lock.

Another day on my Danube River cruise was an immersion in the world of The Sound of Music. After a two hour drive to Salzburg, we were guided through multiple sites filmed in The Sound of Music. We walked through Mirabell Gardens where the cast sang “Do-Re-Mi” (in Salzburg) and we saw Basilika St. Michael (in Mondsee), the church where Maria and Baron Georg von Trapp were married in the movie. A fun fact we learned was that the actual church where they were married was in Salzburg, but the director thought this church was prettier.

On the final day of the river cruise, we docked in Passau, Germany. We chose the hiking excursion and explored the Veste Oberhaus, a fortress that dates back to 1219. The area had spectacular views of where the Danube, Inn, and Ilz Rivers meet. The confluence of the rivers were a combination of all three colors of each river – this view alone was a highlight of the day. 

On this last evening, they held a special dinner where all the crew onboard did a parade through the dining room. There were 43 crew members, many of whom we hadn’t seen throughout the week since they were behind the scenes making our stay comfortable and memorable. 

River cruises are becoming the premier way to travel Europe. The accessibility and inclusivity gives people options and the ability to explore Europe while making it luxurious and comfortable. Cruises have the reputation of targeting an older crowd, but with the addition of many active excursion options the younger generations are realizing the opportunities they provide for traveling. The ease of river cruises takes the hassle out of travel and puts you and your family in the heart of cultural exploration.

You can choose the perfect cruise by what the river offers. These are the most popular rivers for sailing in Europe and what they're known for.

European Rivers: 

Danube (Western)- most popular, lots of history and music history

Rhine - castles and the Rhine Gorge 

Douro - Portugal, wines (newest river to have ships on it)

Seine - Paris, Normandy, art

Rhine Dutch Waterways - windmills and tulips

Main - German countryside and small towns/cities

Moselle - steep vineyards, countryside, castles, small villages

Danube (Eastern/Lower) - unique history, less visited destinations, medieval history

Rhone - French countryside and wine

There are many options when choosing a European river cruise. The line you may have heard the most about may not be the best fit for you. Here are some European river cruise lines and what they offer. 

European River Cruise Lines:

Viking - lower price, 190 passengers, usually only one excursion option at each port. 

Riviera - lower price, 169 passengers, sometimes only one excursion option at each port. They also offer many promotions for solo travelers, and even have “solo only” cruises.

Avalon Waterways - medium price, 166 passengers, always includes 2-4 options of excursions each day 

AmaWaterways - medium price, 160 passengers, multiple dining options

Riverside - 154 passengers, newer line with optional packages, every room has a butler and a doorbell.

  • Robin Norell in Budapest, Hungary
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Basilika St. Michael
  • Passau, Germany
  • Salzburg, Austria
  • View from the abbey in Salzburg of the Italian Alps
  • Wachau Valley
  • Wachau Valley
  • Durnstein, Austria
  • Germany
  • Avalon Waterways ship in Durnstein, Austria
  •  Passau, Germany