Sparkling nectar swirls in your stemmed glass and the European sunshine warms your shoulders while you slowly pass the castles and vineyards that require your attention. Leave your daily cares miles behind as you relax on a ship meandering up river.
Wine river cruises are, in general, traditional river cruises with the added benefit of a guest wine host on board. Some European wine river cruises bring in experts from North America along with members of their wine club, while other cruise lines use local experts. The goal is for the wine hosts to lead cruise guests on an experiential journey including tastings, discussions about local wines, and wines from their home regions.
Having someone in your group who does not drink wine is fine and quite common. It does mean extra wine for you if you sip up their samples! As an added bonus, you can make lots of friends by sharing. Here are our top reasons for taking a wine river cruise.
1. All The Great Wines You Get To Sample
Think of having your own private wine cellar, stocked with wines from different regions -- curated by your own sommelier, who’s dishing out hints on how to enjoy a particular vintage.
In addition to the regular wines the cruise line usually stocks, the host vintner will typically bring their own wines for tastings and pairings. On a Rhine River cruise you will enjoy sampling German Rieslings. On the Douro River, you will definitely be tasting excellent aged ports. While in France, you will sip bubbly Champagne or rich Bordeaux.
2. Wine Tastings Are Expert Led
The number of wine tastings vary with each cruise. Some cruise lines offer a tasting every day, others less frequently. With a mix of on-the-ship tastings and local winery excursions, you are certain to find a vintage that is to your liking.
Your wine host will offer tastings showcasing their varieties mixed with some local varieties, and they’ll highlight the differences and similarities of the wines presented. Often, they present information about the region, their winery, blending, aging, and wine history.
As a passenger, your goal is to disembark with a better understanding of several different varieties, an expanded palette, and a better understanding of how wines evolve regionally and varietally.
3. Immediate Camaraderie With Shipmates
A wine river cruise with a guest host is typically set up through their wine club. If you book your cruise as an individual/couple you will find an immediate connection with the other cruisers. Sharing a common bond -- a love of wine -- means instant connections.
If the cruise is booked with a wine club focus, about 50 percent of the guests will be associated with the club. The cruise company has an agreement with the wine host specifying a required number of guests they need to provide.
4. Additional Wine-Focused Excursions
A good cruise company will arrange more wine-focused excursions in addition to their traditional excursions.
On Crystal Cruises’ Budapest to Vienna Wine Cruise, there is a walking tour of Bratislava paired with a wine tasting. The wine host for this trip through Austria is an Australian wine house that provides a worldwide perspective.
On the Viking River Cruises’ Chateaux Rivers Wine Cruise, you have the option to book a Privileged Access tour through Blaye, France, followed by a tour of Cognac where you will dine at a historic distillery and enjoy a private tour, plus a Cognac-blending workshop.
AmaWaterways’ Rhine And Moselle Spendors Wine Cruise hosts a stroll through the charming cobbled streets of Riquewihr followed by a local wine tasting hosted in the owner's wine cellar. Wine hosts on AmaWaterways typically have vineyards in North America.
Researching the excursions (and wine!) available and included in your cruise will assist you in selecting the right experience.
5. High-Quality Cruise Lines Offer Luxury In Addition To Fine Wines
There are several high-quality cruise lines that offer wine river cruises. My suggestion would be to keep to one that includes excursions in the upfront price; it cuts down on surprises at the end of your voyage. Also, the more prestigious lines will have first pick of the best excursion partners, host smaller groups, and have a more inclusive wine/cuisine program. Cruises also differ on guest-to-staff ratio, so if more personal service is high on your list, select a ship with a favorable staffing policy.
Below are four cruise lines that offer wine-focused river cruises:
AmaWaterways offers a wide variety of wine-focused European cruises on the Rhine, Douro, and Danube.
Crystal River Cruises offers one wine cruise from Budapest to Vienna.
Avalon Waterways offers wine appreciation cruises through major European regions hosted by certified Masters of Wine.
Viking River Cruises offers one wine cruise through France’s Bordeaux region.
6. Connection With The Vineyard Owner
The wine host is aboard for your benefit. Spend time getting to know them; they have a wealth of information to share. Many of the hosts are retired, leave the day-to-day running of the vineyard to their children, and now travel the world sampling wines. They are gregarious and friendly and have a vested interest in the guests enjoying their voyage.
Many wine hosts travel the world representing their vineyard. They often belong to travel groups that run wine-focused trips worldwide and are typically open to the general traveler. Make sure to ask what their future travel plans are. You may find yourself booking a wine tasting trip to a unique and faraway land before your cruise is over.
7. Wine Dinner Pairings
Typically, the wine host will bring cases of their wines for a pairing dinner. The vintner and chef connect before the cruise to plan pairing the wines and gourmet offerings for your enjoyment. A wine pairing dinner is a fun culinary experience. As each course is served, the vintner explains the wine and the chef explains the dish, highlighting why they pair nicely.
8. All The Other Reasons To Take A River Cruise
All the wonderful reasons to take a river cruise apply to a wine river cruise, too. They are usually all inclusive with most food, beverages, and excursions included in the upfront cost.
There is very little day-to-day planning. You are in a luxury hotel that visits a new destination each day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in your floating dining room. The biggest decision you need to make is which excursion to choose. A full, well-planned itinerary awaits your perusal.
Vacationing on a river cruise is very different than sailing on an ocean liner. The ships are smaller, the rivers are calmer, and there is a new city to visit every day. The intimate setting of a quality river cruise that hosts 100 to 150 passengers supported by 50+ staff means close attention to all the little details. Within a day or two it feels like Cheers, where everyone knows your name.
Additionally, with the quality river cruise lines, you will have multiple options for excursions offered in small groups. Following a guide with a group of 30 other passengers can be frustrating and exhausting. On our last river cruise, my husband was on an excursion with just himself and the guide. They had a wonderful time that ended, of course, in a pub!
Choose your cruise based on your desired vacation location or your favorite wine. There is really no incorrect choice. You will visit picturesque cities, dine on local culinary creations, and hone your wine tasting skills.
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