Winning the top accolade for the second year running, Uniworld brings the atmosphere of opulent hotels to the rivers with its boutique fleet of 19 individually designed vessels that stand out from the crowd. Dining is exceptional and onboard facilities include swimming pools, cinemas, liveried butlers and splendid staterooms, some with four-poster beds.
The first completely new-build from the luxury line, the all-suite vessel carries just 110 passengers who are looked after in style by a crew of 68. The 220 to 750 square feet rooms all boast industry-first king-size beds and, most notably, there are no waterline cabins with fixed windows. The ship boasts a covered swimming pool and a stunning glass-domed Palm Court.
On its French "Space" ships, Scenic Diamond and Scenic Sapphire, Scenic Cruises took a good thing and made it better. Passenger counts were reduced from 167 to 155, and brand-new Owners Suites were put in. The line also added hot tubs and a demonstration cooking bar for its new Scenic Culinaire enrichment program; it also expanded its spa and fitness, with a gym and a first-in-the-industry salt room.
Avalon's innovative Active Discovery cruises appeals to passengers wanting more than classic sightseeing excursions. The programme includes jogging tours of Vienna, kayaking, cycling and hiking. Launched on the Danube last year, the programme is being extended to the Rhine for 2018. Avalon has also introduced new health-conscious vegetarian dishes based around fresh, local produce sourced from small farms.
Historian and adventurer Paul Strachan pioneered river cruising in Myanmar when the former Burma was virtually isolated from the world. With a fleet of 16 small ships that evoke the spirit of the colonial vessels of the once mighty Scottish-owned Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, Pandaw sails to remote, off-the-beaten track and often hard-to-navigate Asian destinations, including the shallow waters of Myanmar's lesser-known Chindwin and the Irrawaddy Delta's labyrinth of waterways.
Avalon bucks the norm with beds that face the window, which is great if you want to take a rest in your cabin and enjoy the passing scenery. Its "Comfort Collection Beds" include memory foam mattress toppers and a choice of pillows, resulting in some of the most comfortable beds on the rivers.
AmaWaterways was the first line to become a member of the prestigious French gastronomic association La Chaine des Rotisseurs. The range of included dining venues includes the intimate Chef's Table. Complimentary sparkling wine is available at breakfast followed by carefully selected wines with lunch and dinner. Multi-award winning Executive Chef Primus Perchtold oversees all European menus and one of his recipes is left on cabin pillows each night.
Scooping this accolade for the second year running reflects Viking's commitment to creating journeys that immerse passengers in the culture, history and cuisine of destinations when they're onboard. The 'Culture Curriculum' programme showcases music and dance performances, cooking demonstrations and guest lectures. One day cruisers might be watching a glass-blowing demonstration and the next learning how to make apple strudel, painting like Van Gogh or tasting Dutch cheese.
Tauck launched family cruises more than seven years ago with its Tauck Bridges programme; long before other lines welcomed youngsters onboard. Kid-friendly excursions include Louvre treasure hunts to making apple strudel in Vienna, dining in fairy-tale castles and geo-caching along the Danube; plus kid-friendly activities onboard. Plus there are no single supplements, making it easy for single grandparents or other family members to join a multi-generational group.
With its vast fleet of Longships, Viking River has the most choice of cruising dates in Europe and beyond, and offers many of the features that have become the hallmark of river cruising, such as beer and wine at lunch and dinner, an included shore excursions at each port, onboard enrichment sessions, free Wi-Fi and alternative terrace dining.
The world's largest river cruise line, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, wins this category for the second year and once again leaves passengers spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing where to go. Viking operates 65 vessels offering more itineraries throughout Europe and Asia than anyone else. The portfolio expands again in 2018 when the rebuilt Viking Ra sets sail on the Nile.
Once again Uniworld's fleet of beautiful ships make the line a winner for offering the very best in lavish and luxurious living afloat. Interior decor is stunning and unlike any other cruise line, with silk-lined walls, antique furnishings, original paintings, Murano glass chandeliers and hand-finished details by master craftsmen. Carrying fewer passengers than similar size vessels, service is exemplary and the fine dining rivals the best restaurants ashore.
Uniworld stands out for intuitive, seamless service and crew members who consistently go the extra mile. By day two they will have learned your name and favourite cocktail and be unobtrusively on hand to cater to your every whim. All suites come with dedicated butlers immaculately dressed in tail coats, pinstripe trousers and white gloves. In the U.K., cruises are booked through Titan, which includes VIP home to airport transfers.
From rubbing shoulders with royalty to going on behind-the-scenes tours and visiting out-of-the-way places, Tauck's shore excursions are exceptional, blending in-depth sightseeing with once-in-a lifetime experiences. They include 'Tauck Exclusives', such as Champagne receptions followed by a private concert and personal tutored wine tastings with vineyard owners. Three Tauck directors and a cruise director accompany every cruise and all excursions are included in the fare.
Expedition specialist Pandaw has long recognised that single supplements are an unfair burden for passengers that prefer to travel solo. In a welcome reaction to the growing number of independent travellers who want to explore far-flung destinations, Pandaw is offering no single supplements on cruises that are bookable through to 2019. These include sailings along the Red River, Duong and Black Rivers in Vietnam and the Irrawaddy in Myanmar.
Amadeus bucks the trend by not including excursions in the fare, aside from a handful of shore tours on some group bookings. This makes it very affordable, albeit with no compromise on quality. Passengers can do as much -- or as little -- as they please by picking from an "a la carte" programme of three or four excursion packages, which can be booked in advance at a discounted rate.
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