European river cruises are booming, and more meeting and incentive travel planners are considering them for their top-tier events. After my recent familiarization cruises on two different river ships sailing through Western Europe, I understand why – and recommend them wholeheartedly!
The two river lines I sailed with were Amadeus River Cruises (Luftner Cruises) through Holland and Avalon Waterways on the Rhone River. Both ships, Amadeus Queen and Avalon Poetry II, provided an upscale boutique hotel experience with superb hospitality and a relaxed ambiance – not to mention stunning views of passing scenery. And the food! Fresh, locally-sourced, and delicious. Of course, free-flowing regional wines are always included with meals.
Reviews of my two European River Cruises:
Amadeus River / Luftner Cruises: Amadeus Queen – Tulip Serenade
March 31 – April 4, 2019, Roundtrip Amsterdam
My staff and I were invited to sail on Amadeus Queen during an exclusive 4-night familiarization cruise. It was an incredible experience for all of us! From the warmth of the staff to the exquisite fine dining, Amadeus Queen exceeded all of our expectations.
We traveled through the scenic waterways of Holland and Belgium during peak “tulip time” and it was magical!
Dutch & Belgian Waterways: Destination Highlights
Antwerp, Belgium: Walking through the streets of Antwerp with its Flemish Renaissance architecture was quite lovely. Along the way, we enjoyed the best Belgium waffles and hot chocolates we had ever had. We actually brought back the secret recipe to make the waffles at home.
The tour was well organized by the ship’s staff, and coming back on board to Belgium beer was a pleasant surprise.
Rotterdam, Holland: After an early morning stretch class on deck, my staff and I opted for a fantastic sightseeing tour of Rotterdam – the unique architecture of this dynamic city is impressive!
The central market hall, with its abundance of local food specialties, was one of our favorite stops. We feasted on everything Dutch we could have dreamed of, from the cheeses to the stroopwafels.
Amsterdam, Holland: Our cruise included an overnight in Amsterdam, which gave us more time to explore one of the most unique cities in Europe. The tour of Keukenhof Gardens during the peak of tulip season was an indescribably beautiful experience – we didn’t want to leave!
However, there was much more to discover in delightful Amsterdam, including a visit to the Van Gogh Museum. And of course, we returned to the markets to have another taste of every Dutch delight!
Onboard Amadeus Queen
Back onboard the ship, the feast of local fare was marvelous! That was one of our favorite meals (although every meal onboard Amadeus Queen was one of our favorites). We met the ship’s master chef who was happy to share a few of his best recipes – another highlight of our cruise!
Most memorable onboard experience: On our first evening, we were invited to have dinner with our hosts, Dr. Wolfgang, and Martina Luftner (pictured above). The meal was extraordinary, and we felt honored to “break bread” with the Luftner Cruises founders. What a legacy they’ve created with their fleet of Amadeus river ships! Dr. and Mrs. Luftner could not have been more gracious, and their stories were fascinating.
Amadeus Queen Cruise Experience – Overall Impressions
Amadeus Queen (162 passengers) is a stylish vessel with first-class amenities and gracious European service. Most of the 69 staterooms have panoramic drop-down windows and French balconies, and the 12 suites feature walk-out balconies.
One of the unique features onboard Amadeus Queen is the indoor pool with a roof that can be opened in warm weather. Other highlights include the River Terrace open-air lounge in the bow of the ship and Amadeus Club with evening entertainment. All are great venues for receptions and group events.
Amadeus provides wonderful exposure to the cultures and cuisines of the ports they visit. We would highly recommend an Amadeus river cruise for top-tier incentives with sophisticated, well-traveled participants.
Avalon Waterways: Avalon Poetry II – Rhone River French Discovery
May 14- 21, 2019, Port St. Louis to Lyon
My husband Gene and I joined a group of prominent (and fun!) meeting & incentive industry professionals onboard Avalon Poetry II for a Rhone River familiarization cruise. We traveled northbound through the heart of central France during Avalon’s “Active & Discovery” cruise, and we were both captivated by the experience.
Rhone River: Destination Highlights
Port Saint Louis: We loved the scenic bike ride to the lush Camargue Regional Natural Park, home to more than 400 bird species—including pink flamingos. At 30 kilometers roundtrip, it was also a great workout! For those who preferred a more relaxed excursion, Avalon also offered a guided walk through the nature park or a visit to an oyster farm.
Arles: In Arles, we opted for a hiking excursion that included an unforgettable audio/video experience of light, images, and music at the Carrières de Lumières. Other complimentary activities in Arles included a guided tour of the city and painting workshop to learn the style and technique of Vincent Van Gogh.
Avignon: Our guided electric mountain bike ride through the Gard region was fantastic, with plenty of off-road sightseeing. The electric mountain bikes were just pure fun!
Other “Active & Discovery” options in Avignon included a wine-blending workshop at a local wine estate, and kayak tour through the waters of Pont du Gard – the highest elevated Roman aqueduct.
Customized Evening Event: The crown jewel of the cruise was Avalon’s exclusive evening event at the magnificent Palace of the Popes. Our industry group was treated to cocktails and dinner at this 14th-century gothic fortress. To say it was an impressive event would be an understatement!
Viviers: We didn’t plan an excursion in Viviers, so we requested bikes from the ship (both Amadeus and Avalon have complimentary bicycles on board) and branched out on our own for an enjoyable ride. We were lucky to find a medieval festival taking place in the middle of this medieval town – it felt like we were on a movie set!
Other Viviers excursions included an underground wine-tasting and a lavender discovery tour.
Tournon/Tain l’Hermitage: Although our rail-bike adventure was canceled due to weather, others in our group raved about their hike to a picturesque vineyard for wine-tasting. Avalon also offered a “chocolate experience” discovery tour with a visit to the Valrhona Chocolate Factory.
Lyon: What a beautiful city! We went exploring on the urban hike excursion to the Traboules, with a lot of stops and guided explanation. We broke away at one of the stops to wander on our own and ended up walking to the old town for lunch. It was a great day – as all our days were – especially as we got back to our “home away from home” aboard Poetry II.
On Board Avalon Poetry II
We were absolutely delighted with our panorama suite. The window opened to transform the living space into an open-air balcony, and we woke every morning to fresh breezes and enchanting scenery.
After our “Active and Discovery” days ashore, there were several inviting venues to relax and share stories with our industry friends. The two local entertainment surprises were great – we all loved The Gypsy Kings and the French jazz group!
Our most memorable onboard experience was having dinner upstairs in the Sky Grill while cruising through the soaring walls of the Lock Bollène. What an incredible view!
Avalon Poetry II Cruise Experience – Overall Impressions
Avalon Poetry II (128 passengers) is a contemporary and comfortable ship. There are two full decks of suites featuring Avalon’s signature wall-to-wall panoramic windows that open to take in the river views – simply spectacular!
Avalon “Active & Discovery” European river cruises offer a premium experience for incentive programs and milestone events. The choice of complimentary excursions will appeal to everyone in your group. From casual and leisurely to cultural and active, the opportunities to create memorable destination experiences are unlimited!
Why a European River Cruise for Your Incentive or Corporate Event?
For planners (and attendees) seeking immersive and culturally-rich destinations experiences, river cruises can’t be beat! Unlike traditional ocean-going cruise ships, these small ships are able to dock right in the heart of Europe’s most charming towns and cities.
Many of the new river vessels feature staterooms and suites with step-out balconies or panoramic windows that open to transform the space. And corporate event planners also love that intimate river vessels are perfectly sized for private ship charter.
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