CroisiEurope's M.S. Camargue

The words "budget" and "river cruise" aren't often found in the same sentence. That's because river cruises, due to their number of fare inclusions and small size, are usually priced in the thousands of pounds, as opposed to the hundreds of pounds you'd spend on a budget ocean cruise.

That being said, there are some river cruise lines that charge less for itineraries than others. Often these lines are more a la carte with their offerings -- allowing passengers to purchase their own shore excursions, for example -- or limit included drinks. Others have older ships without the bells and whistles that are on more expensive lines. And still others are either the more value-orientated version of a higher-priced cruise line or divide their fleet into segments where the older ships are cheaper.

No matter which line you're interested in, you'll pay more to travel in Europe's high-summer holiday season, from June through to the end of August. Shoulder season can bring bargains; it's also a time when many cruise lines reduce (or cut altogether) the dreaded single supplement. When putting this list together, we looked at published high season rates for 2017 and 2018, excluding airfare and special promotions, with a cut-off point of £275 per person per night.


Jupina Amour

A-Rosa

What It Is:

A-Rosa is a German river cruise line that has opened bookings for Brits in recent years, and last year partnered with the U.K. tour operator Cosmos. The line sails on the Rhine, Danube, Main and Moselle, Rhone, Saone and Seine, on distinctive ships that have red lips painted on the hull.

Average Cost:

While fares can vary greatly, depending on length of cruise and itinerary, a seven-night cruise on the Danube in summer 2017 costs from £200 per person per night. Prices are in euro if passengers book direct with the line, or they can buy packages through Cosmos in pounds, which also include the air fare.

Inclusions:

An A-Rosa fare includes gratuities, all drinks (except for premium brands) and, usually, a half-day shore excursion daily for U.K. passengers (other shore excursions can be purchased onboard).

Amenities:

A-Rosa has gyms and swimming pools on its ships, and bikes are available for hire. There's also a larger-than-average spa and sauna -- a rarity on river cruise ships.

What to Know:

A-Rosa has some big differences from the traditional river cruise experience. If you travel on the line as an English-speaker, you might be in the minority, although the staff all does speak English. Almost all meals are buffets, with one a la carte meal in the fare. A-Rosa welcomes families, and children under 15 travel free with parents on some sailings; some cabins have extra pulldown beds to accommodate. Overall, most cabins are 156 square feet and have fixed double beds, with few that can be pulled apart into singles.


The River Cruise Line

The River Cruise Line

What It Is:

This Brit-popular line sells exclusively to passengers from the U.K., and had built up a loyal following of mature and retired cruisers who return time after time. The line sails on the Rhine, Moselle, Danube and Douro and is best-known for the 100-passenger The Lady Anne, a unique heritage vessel that is the oldest on the Rhine and has been chartered by The River Cruise Line since 2001. Its other ships include the "premium" vessel, Serenity, which is akin to the larger ships operated by other companies and carries 190 passengers.

Average Cost:

As with all lines, fares vary depending on the length of the cruise, and the line offers itineraries starting from five nights, that are ideal for first-time cruisers testing the water, to longer cruises. Prices start from £100 per person per night.

Inclusions:

Fares include return coach travel from regional pickup points and ferry crossings from Dover, Hull or Newcastle. Passengers also have the option to fly, travel by Eurostar or make their own travel arrangements and fares are adjusted accordingly. Shore excursions are not included on The Lady Anne, providing the flexibility for passengers to decide how much or how little they want to do, and a daily excursion is included on its "premium" vessels. Drinks are not included and these can be purchased individually or through a drinks package.

Amenities:

These vary, depending on the ship but are there are no gyms, spas or other facilities as the line provides affordable cruises with a focus on old-fashioned home comforts rather than luxury amenities.

What to Know:

Compared with modern river vessels, the cabins on The Lady Anne are small, starting at 66 square feet and are pretty basic with no TVs or other trappings. However, they all have heating and air conditioning. Passengers are allocated dining tables for the duration of the cruise with a mix of buffets and a three-course fixed menu served at dinner with only one choice for each course; vegetarian meals are available with advance notice. On the other ships there are a la carte menus.


Amadeus Provence

Amadeus River Cruises 

What It Is:

Austrian-owned Amadeus is another long-established line that is well-known in its homeland and more recently opened to bookings from the U.K. where it is sold through Fred.\ River Cruises. Founded more than 30 years ago, it is one of Europe’s longest running lines and has a fleet of 14 vessels that sail on the Rhine, Main, Moselle, Rhone, Saone and Danube, and further afield to Asia and South America.

Average Cost:

As with all lines, prices vary depending on length and itinerary. A seven-night French cruise on its newest ship, Amadeus Provence, is priced from £210 per person per night.

Inclusions:

Amadeus fares include wine with lunch and dinner for U.K. passengers.

Amenities:

A stand-out feature on the line's newest vessels is the walk-in wardrobes in every cabin. Amadeus also features gyms, spas and a hair salon on its ships, the latter a rarity on river vessels. The addition of Amadeus Provence, with unique features including an infinity pool, brings the fleet to 14. There's also a larger-than-average spa and sauna -- a rarity on river cruise ships. The Amadeus Queen, being launched in 2018, will be the first to feature an indoor pool.

What to Know:

Standard cabins average around 172 square feet. Amadeus combines low fares with a high level on onboard amenities through not including any excursions in the price. Passengers can book a range of a la carte shore tour packages in advance or book individual excursions when onboard. Dining tables are allocated at the start of the cruise and U.K. passengers will be placed with fellow English speakers. All crew members are bilingual and announcements and excursions are in English.


Rhine River

U by Uniworld

What It Is:

Launching in 2018, U by Uniworld is the ground-breaking new brand of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection which offers luxury all-inclusive cruises. The first line offered exclusively to passengers aged 21 to 45, U by Uniworld cruises will be much less expensive because of a reduction in inclusions, such as fewer meals and shore excursions. The line is currently revamping two of its existing 116-passenger vessels, River Ambassador and River Baroness, which will be renamed The A and The B and feature sleek black hulls. The ships will sail on seven-night itineraries on the Rhine, Main, Danube and Seine.

Average Cost:

Cruises on the Rhine, Main and Danube will start from £128 per person per night, and French cruises will be priced from £257 per person per night.

Inclusions:

Fares include two meals each day (mostly breakfasts and dinners) and one or two shore excursions each day.

Amenities:

Full details on the ships have yet to be announced, but there will be a fleet of bikes, street food-style menus and dishes for sharing, along with onboard mixologists and DJs.

What to Know:

The remodelled ships will feature standard and more luxurious cabin categories described by the line as "I just need a comfortable place to sleep and stash my stuff" to "I'm going all out in a suite". Cabins will average around 128 square feet and there will also be single cabins and studios sleeping up to three. Sailings will feature overnight stops and longer stays in major cities such as Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam and Budapest. Another difference is that excursions will be active, with some taking place at night.


Jane Austen

Riviera Travel

What It Is:

U.K.-based Riviera Travel operates 13 vessels on the Danube, Elbe, Main, Moselle, Rhine, Rhone, Seine and the Douro. It specialises in value-for-money cruises targeted at British travellers.

Average Cost:

A seven-day cruise on the Danube in August is priced from £142 per person per night.

Inclusions:

The Riviera Travel fleet has tea and coffee making facilities in all cabins (except the Swiss Sapphire and Douro Spirit), which is very rare on river vessels. Room service is offered for continental breakfast. In addition to the main restaurant, newer vessels have a chef's restaurant, with seating for 24 diners, which can be reserved at no extra charge. Tipping is discretionary.

Amenities:

These can vary, depending on the ship. The newest vessels, such as the Thomas Hardy and Emily Bronte, have a splash pool and spa and wellness area including a nail and hairdressing salon.

What to Know:

Cabins average 183 square feet. With a typical 4:1 crew to passenger ratio, the vessels carry less passengers (nearly 50 percent less in the case of the Swiss Ruby) than other similar-sized ships catering for up to 200. This provides more public space as well as a smaller, more intimate dining experience.


River Venture

Vantage Deluxe World Travel

What It Is:

A tour company with a river cruising arm, Vantage draws primarily passengers from North America and, to a lesser extent, the U.K. The line sails on the Rhine, Danube, Moselle, Seine, Elbe, Douro, Dutch Waterways, Mekong, Yangzte, Amazon, Irrawaddy and Ganges.

Average Cost:

While fares can vary greatly depending on length of cruise and itinerary, a 15-night cruise on the Rhine and Danube in June 2017 costs about £225 per person per night.

Inclusions:

A Vantage fare includes a daily shore excursion (other excursions are available for purchase) and wine and beer at dinner.

Amenities:

Bikes are available for free use. Ships in Europe have small fitness rooms with a treadmill, stationary bike and free weights; the line's newest ship, River Voyager, has a massage room available for treatments.

What to Know:

Standard cabins are 170 square feet; on older vessels, they're 165 square feet. Vantage also has solo accommodations on each of its ships that are 125 square feet. There's also a roommate-matching program, and single supplements are often reduced.


CroisiEurope Cruise in Dubrovnik

CroisiEurope

What It Is:

The French company CroisiEurope, one of the oldest in Europe, now markets to North Americans Brits and other English speakers. The line is known for its diverse range of itineraries that go beyond the usual European rivers to more unusual waterways such as the Sava, the Tizsa, the Guadalquivir, the Neckar and canals in France and Germany.

Average Cost:

Croisi's newer ships are designated as "five anchor," as opposed to the older "four anchor" vessels; the higher-rated ships cost more. While fares can vary greatly, depending on length of cruise and itinerary, an eight-night Danube cruise in June 2018 on one of the line's four-anchor ships is £225 per person per night

Inclusions:

Croisi's fare includes a daily shore excursion for North Americans U.K. passengers and alcohol an open bar (excluding premium brands). Tipping is optional on CroisiEurope.

Amenities:

These can vary, depending on the ship. Some of Croisi's newer ships have pools, but most do not.

What to Know:

As with A-Rosa, CroisiEurope attracts an international passenger base, and English may not be the main language of most people onboard; the line does seat English-speaking passengers together. At lunch and dinner, a three-course fixed menu of local specialties is served with only one choice for each course; special diets and vegetarian meals are available with advance notice, but you might have to ask repeatedly. Cabins on CroisiEurope vessels range from 75 square feet to 180 square feet, with the most common size being 140 square feet.


Emerald Sun

Emerald Waterways

What It Is:

The lower-priced sister of luxury river cruise provider Scenic (which itself is the offshoot of an Australian tour company), Emerald Waterways has ships on the Rhine, Danube, Rhone, Main, Douro and Mekong.

Average Cost:

While fares can vary greatly, depending on length of cruise and itinerary, a seven-night cruise on the Danube for June 2018 costs about £245 per person per night.

Inclusions:

For its price point, Emerald Waterways has a surprising number of inclusions, which has earned it the Cruise Critic Editor's Pick for Value several years in a row. The fare includes gratuities, at least one shore excursion in every port (with some active options) and beer and wine at lunch and dinner.

Amenities:

Emerald Waterways carries a fleet of 15 bikes on all ships, except for the Douro’s Emerald Radiance, which are complimentary to use on a first-come first-served basis. The ships also have swimming pools -- also with the exception of Emerald Radiance, which instead has a serenity pool -- with a retractable roof that converts into a movie theatre at night, as well as a small gym, massage room and hair salon.

What to Know:

In 2017 and 2018 Brits will make up 50 percent of Emerald Waterways' passenger base -- rising to 70 percent on seven-night itineraries -- with the rest made up of North American and Australian passengers.