River cruising is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry, so recently I decided it was time for me to put away my “only for old people” stereotype and check it out. I jumped at the first invite I received, which was to join Scenic Cruises on a seven-day trip up the Danube.

Note: The original plans had me starting in Nuremberg, Germany and ending in Amsterdam, but due to Europe’s record flooding, my itinerary changed a few days before leaving. I was assigned to a new ship called the Scenic Pearl, and we began in Budapest, Hungary and parted ways in Regensburg, Germany.

Obviously, I had no idea what to expect. But in short, I was pleasantly surprised with the experience. Besides the fairytale-like scenery, one of the best parts of a European river cruise is the fact that land is never more than 100 yards away—meaning you don’t get seasick and you don’t have to worry about sinking in open waters. On top of that, the rivers are so shallow that our cruise director said in her welcoming remarks that if we did sink, we should just go up to the top deck and bring a drink from the bar. Ha!

Here are my 12 reasons to take a Scenic Cruise in Europe:

1. Everything is included
Everything you need is included: airport transfers, tips, meals, drinks, excursions…you name it, from the time you land to the time they drop you back off at the airport and pretty much everything in between. At least, everything but the onboard spa, hair salon, satellite phone and laundry. Note: If you arrive/depart earlier or later than the time scheduled you need to arrange for your own airport transfers.

2. All excursions
I know I included it above, but just in case you are skimming, it’s worth another mention: All excursions are included! They don’t even offer others as an up-sell. Even more amazing (even than their new buses with comfortable seats) is that they arrange for exclusive events like the private performance we received by the Vienna Imperial Orchestra at Liechtenstein Palace in Vienna.

3. Electric bikes
My favorite excursion was a 32-kilometer (19-mile) bike ride through the Wachau Valley in Lower Austria. What made it so special besides the scenery were Scenic’s custom-made bikes (they normally have 30 aboard each ship) which have electric motors for a little extra boost. It’s not a mo-ped so you still have to pedal for the booster to kick in but it sure does make it easier and fun. In fact, everyone, including me, at our first stop inquired where we could buy one because after these things, riding a bike will never be the same.

4. Scenic Tailormade GPS guides
In every cabin is a brand new pair of Scenic Tailormade devices. They are exclusive to Scenic and feature over 100 sightseeing touring options, all GPS-activated to ensure the location of the device triggers region-specific commentary. With these devices, you have the choice to take a self-guided walk or cycling tour. What’s also nice is that when on a group tour, you can just press the microphone icon, choose the specific channel and you’ll hear the guide’s commentary. It’s brilliant.

5. More room
Scenic has the largest ships on the market, which is probably why they refer to them as ‘space-ships’. They are 135-meters long (443-feet) and 11.45-meters wide (38-feet). I was told by one of their representatives that if they were even two inches longer or wider they wouldn’t fit in some locks. But just because they are the biggest doesn’t mean they have the most passengers. In fact, Scenic’s boats have a maximum capacity of just 171 passengers while other companies hold 220—on similar or smaller ships.

6. Sliding-glass windows
88% of the cabins on Scenic’s boats have balconies. The boats themselves are three stories high, and the only cabins without balconies are the ones on the first level. Balconies are approximately 36 square feet and are furnished with two chairs, a table and an electric sliding-glass window. What’s nice about the windows is that with a push of a button, you can keep away the cold/heat, rain/snow or bugs. They make for a comfortable atmosphere.

7. Mac minis
Each cabin has an Apple Mac mini computer linked to its Samsung HD flat-screen TVs. The Mac mini provides in-stateroom access to the ship’s upgraded Wi-Fi system so you can stay connected to home on the TV screen.

8. Free Wi-Fi
That’s right, there’s free Wi-Fi onboard the ship. While you’re floating through Europe, you can also be surfing the web, updating your Facebook status or Skyping the family back home using satellite and UMTS mobile technology. Note: The signal is strongest in port and didn’t work 100% of the time, but it sure is nice to have when it does.

9. Two free pressings a day
There are no laundry facilities onboard, but if you need yours done, you can send it out for a charge (pretty hefty). However, they do offer two articles of clothing pressed per day, per person for free. That’s huge for me since I hate ironing.

10. Pillow menu
Have a difficult time sleeping away from home because the pillows you’re given are either too bulky or too small? You’ll be happy to learn that Scenic Cruises has a pillow menu so passengers can select exactly the size/feel that suits them. And, they are happy to give you extra ones if you want them.

11. Local foods and wines
The food onboard Scenic Cruises is quite good and fresh, and there was always a good selection of local dishes and wines.

12. Aussies
Finally, Scenic Cruises/Tours is Australian-based, which is why the majority of passengers on your cruise will be from Australia. Out of the 171 passengers on our cruise, 150 were from Down Under! I find it really nice traveling with Australians because they are fun, down-to-earth and casual people who love to have a good time.

Good to know:

  • They send every guest a backpack before leaving.
  • There are 68 locks between Budapest and Amsterdam.
  • 3.5 guests to each staff member.
  • There is no special dress code on board and no requirement for formal jackets or ties.
  • There’s a fridge in each cabin that’s fully stocked each day free of charge.
  • The nightly entertainment onboard isn’t much—just one mediocre piano player. However, a couple of evenings they brought in local entertainers and dancers, who were great.
  • On-board electricity is 220 Volts and cabins are equipped with European and Australian power points. Bring an adaptor and a power strip if you want to charge multiple devices at once.
  • The engine room is located on the Rhine Deck at the stern end of the ship but it’s sound-proofed, and noise was never an issue.
  • Sometimes riverboats dock side-by-side with other ships, so it’s possible you might not have a view in specific ports.
  • There’s one main dining room and a café next to the bar. They also have a recreated Italian restaurant at the front of the ship that can accommodate 32 guests each night. There’s no extra charge, but you do need to make reservations once you get onboard the ship.
  • For those guests on the third floor, there’s an invitation-only chef’s table, which is in the rear of the main dining room.
  • If you have special dietary needs, let them know in advance and they can accommodate—unless you require Kosher food.
  • The staff aren’t anal about guests using hand sanitizer before going to the dining room like cruise ships. In fact, the dispenser is kind of off to the side.
  • There’s live TV, an on-demand video library (some free) and a live webcam.
  • Here’s a link to the ship’s locations.
  • More Scenic FAQs.

WANT TO GO? Interested in going on a cruise? We have partnered with Cruise Planners which is a top rated travel agency to help plan your perfect trip. Contact Mike Gelman (1-800-724-5868) and tell him Johnny Jet sent you.

The Scenic Pearl in Lower Austria
Scenic Cruises Backpack (they give all guests one)
Scenic Cruises Danube River Map
Reception area
Scenic Pearl Lounge
Tea station in lounge
Scenic Pearl bar
Fresh fruit
Macarons in cafe
Welcome drink
Room hallway
Room key
My cabin
L'Occitane toiletries
Closet space
Closet space
Rooms with a view
Flat screen TV
TV remote
Live webcam
Movies on demand
Live TV
Mac Minis
Electrical outlets
Scenic Tailormade GPS guides
Scenic Tailormade GPS guides
Scenic Pearl Captain
Hungarian entertainers
Hungarian dancers
Cruise director
Scenic coaches
Inside Scenic bus
Private performance we received by the Vienna Imperial Orchestra at Liechtenstein Palace in Vienna
Goulash after the show
My room view (parked next to another ship)
Hand sanitizer station
Main dining room
Dinner menu
Friendly staff
Dinner buffet
Local cheeses
Fresh salads
Daily soup
Dessert station
Ice cream station
1st lock! Slovakia
Inside the lock
Breakfast buffet
Breakfast cheeses
Scenic Pearl Bell
Chef's table
Filet mignon - course # 6 of 7
View from room
Heading into a double lock
Double lock
Tight fit in lock
Italian restaurant
Fine Champagne
Portobello appetizers
Portobello dessert
Sunset on the Danube
Electric bikes
Bike ride through the Wachau Valley in Lower Austria
Fun Australians


Johnny Jet

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36 Comments On "12 Reasons to Take a Scenic River Cruise in Europe"
  1. Shannon|

    I’ve always thought this sounded interesting, but I got the impression that it was more for people who were closer to retirement age. Would you say that’s true? I’m in my early 30’s. Were there many people in that age range on board?

    1. Anonymous|

      On our cruise there was only 1 person in his thirties a couple in their late forties or early fifties but mostly it was the older generation. However having said that you would still enjoy the cruise just for its amazing scenery and the places you get to visit in a short time. The breakfast and lunch were outstanding but I found the dinner too hectic with so many people being served all at the same time and the food a little too fancy and that didn’t live up to expectations. Also the wine that was usually presented with the meals wasn’t that great in my opinion and you usually had to ask for something else with all that was going on meant you were often left with an empty glass for some time. However overall it was the best holiday I have ever had and I have already booked two more cruises with Scenic.

  2. Alan Fowler|

    How would you rate their pricing?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I never been on another so I can’t rate it

      1. Alan Fowler|

        Oh, fair enough. Good point. So, what are their prices?

        1. Johnny Jet|

          Not cheap. About $6,500 for 15 days per person

          1. M. Roth|

            What do you have for AMA Rhone river cruises?

          2. Johnny Jet|

            Never been on them!

          3. Escape Hunter|

            That’s a heavy price. You could travel a LOT with that sum of money…
            These river cruises on the Danube aren’t that well known. I don’t know why. I’ve been to some of those places and they’re breathtaking!
            I’m sure more river cruise companies will discover this opportunity and will start selling cheaper cruises!

  3. Nancy|

    When were you on the Danube. We tried Viking leaving June 2nd from Budapest but due to flooding Viking could never get us to our Passau destination! Very disappointing. Finally got us to Munich where ‘cruise’ ended!

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Left the Danube on Sunday

      1. Nancy|

        Ah, you missed the flooding! Enjoy

  4. John Livingstone|

    This looks like a great trip. We had a terrible trip in Spain with CroisiEurope arranged by EuroRiverCruises in New York. Visit my little site at http://www.CroisiEuropeSucks.com to see how bad a river cruise can be. By the way we have been on Viking, Uniworld and others and always had a great time. As for ages, most are retired but active and fun people llke us!

    1. Nancy|

      Oh my, to bad. Good to hear that you are positive about Viking & Uniworld. As I posted above, we had a problem with Viking due to Danube flooding. They probably should have never started that cruise. Agree you do meet interesting, active people.

  5. Caro|

    I cruised the Rhone River on the Scenic Emerald in April and had a wonderful time (and agree with all you’ve written here). I did a bit of comparative research with other companies, and whilst Scenic’s prices were not as cheap as others, they are the only company that includes EVERYTHING – including all drinks from the very well-stocked bar. I got friendly with another Aussie girl and her mother, and we worked our way through the cocktail menu over the course of the cruise ;-)
    A highlight was a meal with a local family in their home- did your trip include that?

  6. Michael Bennett|

    My wife and I have done a 14 Day cruse from Amsterdam To Budapest ,It was our first ever conducted tour , we joined in Paris and left in Prague, We where spoilt rotten so the next year we done the Canadian Rocks tour with them and Loved it , This year we are joining the in Zurich and ending up in Amsterdam and we know we will be spoilt.

  7. Helen|

    We had the opposite problem with water levels in October 2011 – not enough water depth & very steep gangways! Had booked the trip from Budapest south to the Black Sea. We had to leave the ship at Nikopol in Bulgaria, but they made every effort & got us to the promised Black Sea, at Constanta. I’ve also cruised the wonderful Moselle, lined by vineyards, golden in the autumn season. So calm & still – reflections were perfect.

  8. Morena|

    I had never heard of a river cruise. Will have to add this to my next eurotrip :D

  9. Ben May|

    Great review mate. (See what I did there??) I can say that because I am from Australia ;)

    This is definitely on my list of things to do!

  10. bfree2read|

    On a sea cruise, during a dinner conversation with a lovely couple, it was recommended to me to check out the river cruises. This sounds very interesting. Did you talk to anyone traveling alone on their views regarding pricing, etc.?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I did but since the cruise charged for double occupancy the ones I spoke to talked a friend into going with them

  11. Dave|

    I actually lived in Budapest and often seen the river cruises coming through all the time! I always wondered what it would be like to take a trip sometime! Looks great!

  12. bag2retire (@bag2retire)|

    Took Viking in early May (missed the flood) from Budapest and ended with extended stay in Prague. Best cruise ever! Nothing like Carnival. First class fun all the way. Not cheap, but worth every penny.

  13. Adam -|

    Spain has long been a favoured holiday destination for tourists from all over Europe, for a variety of reasons. From its cities to its beaches, its nightlife to its festivals, its cuisine to its architecture, Spain is one of the most culturally rich places in Europe.

  14. Nancy Reid|

    On my bucket list and hope I get to take a river cruise before I check out! The itinerary has a richness you cannot experience on a mega ship!

  15. Maggie|

    This article is very interesting, Johnny, as I am one of those who started river cruising despite having never been on an ocean cruise – and I had previously assumed it was ‘old people’ as you did… Needless to say I fell in love with it, and now want to go on them all the time! I like how practical they are, and flexible too. No need to worry about getting internet signal on a river cruise! I like to travel with Viking River Cruises, as they always give you plenty of activity options (or ‘shore excursions’, for the posh name) when you reach a new destination,
    but you can also wander off and do your own thing too. Plus, the food is just divine, and as you said totally inclusive. I would personally recommend the Rhine Discovery cruise, if only for the wine!

    1. Nancy|

      Hi Maggie-
      Sounds like you enjoy riverboat cruising like we do. We did Rhein in ’12 and Danube this year. Any others that you’ve done? Have you tried any other cruise lines for a good comparison?

  16. Anonymous|

    Great article, great information!! Thanks!!

  17. Alan Lewis|

    You only get the free articles pressed if you are on the Danube deck not the lower Rhine deck. Also you get the back pack etc on the 2nd cruise if you go again not after the first one. I went in August 2015 Amsterdam to Budapest best holiday I have ever had and I have already booked two further cruises with Scenic for 2015. Expensive yes but everything is included.

    1. chrissieann|

      Maybe you missed out there, as you SHOULD have received a backpack before or on your FIRST holiday with Scenic. We wouldn’t do a river cruise with any other company; we are looking forward to our our next one in May next year.
      Scenic holidays are the best… We have also done New Zealand and Australians trips with them. Amazing!

      1. Anonymous|

        It was only by accident that I went with Scenic as I was looking for a river cruise for August 2014 in January 2014 Now I know better and I plan and book as soon as the brochures are out. I tried several cruise lines such as Avalon etc but they were fully booked so I managed to get a cabin with Scenic and of course now I am glad that the others were fully booked. As I have mentioned elsewhere I have already booked tow more river cruises for August 2015 and I am waiting for the brochures next year as I want to book a further cruise for 2016. I intended doing the Russian cruise but things are not so good at the moment with Russia and Europe and that cruise does not seem as inclusive as the normal European river cruises. The backpack wasn’t that important its not the sort of thing I use anyway but I will mention it to them when I next book. Thanks for the info.

  18. Adam|

    River Cruises are a wonderful way to vacation. There is nothing like it..

  19. Sheryl|

    hey Johny Jetson…great review!!!…I will be doing the same trip in March and really looking forward to it now…thanks a lot

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Thank you

  20. Sheryl|

    how pathetic is this site??… I sent a thanks for a great review and you wipe it!!!! certainly wont be sending any more!!!!!!

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I don’t wipe anything! All comments need to be manually approved by me since we get so much SPAM. I’ve been on a plane without WiFi. Approving comments (bad or good, just not SPAM) now.

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