Courtesy of Viking

Europe remains at the vanguard of river cruising, with more than two dozen new ships launching there this year alone. In exchange for occasionally crowded waterways, you get some of the most innovative boats in the business—more like ocean liners than the barges of old. As well as adding spas, heated pools, and connecting cabins, cruise lines are making room for multiple restaurants, designing cabins to enhance views of the passing landscape (huge windows, French balconies), and getting wise to the importance of Wi-Fi. Here's a breakdown of the newest ships.

May 27, 2015

Amras Cruises: Amadeus Silver II

Max passengers: 168
Rivers: Danube, Main, Moselle, and Rhine
What we love: Contemporary, subtly designed cabins; panoramic windows that, when open, turn into French balconies; a baby grand in the lounge for nightly recitals.
Excursions: Each cruise includes one “surprise” activity, such as a cooking class or an exclusive museum tour.
Cost: Seven nights from $2,950, including airport transfers, Wi-Fi, beer and wine with meals, bicycles, one excursion per port, and tips.

 

Avalon Waterways: Avalon Tapestry II and Avalon Tranquility II

Max passengers: 128
Rivers: Rhine and Rhône (Tranquility II); Seine (Tapestry II)
What we love: Amazing views, with beds facing floor-to-ceiling windows that open wider than on most ships; regional dishes like Alsatian escargot soup; a larger-than-average fitness center.
Excursions: Tours are categorized by pace: slow, moderate, or simply on your own.
Cost: Seven nights from $2,398, including Wi-Fi, beer and wine with dinner, and at least one excursion per port.

 

Viking: Viking Beyla and Viking Astrild

Max passengers: 98 each
Rivers: Elbe
What we love: Sleek, Scandinavian-designed cabins with good-sized verandas and heated bathroom floors; outdoor dining on the Aquavit terrace.
Excursions: A dedicated concierge helps plan personalized excursions, like going with a chef to a local farmers’ market in Dresden.
Cost: Nine nights from $2,599, including Wi-Fi, one excursion per port, and beer and wine with meals. Look for half-off specials.

 

Scenic Cruises: Scenic Jasper and Scenic Opal

Max passengers: 169 each
Rivers: Danube and Rhine
What we love: A “vitality” pool (plunge on one side, jets on the other); butler service in all cabins; electric bikes for excursions; four dining venues.
Excursions: A new option called Scenic Tailormade lets guests explore independently using special GPS devices loaded with walking tours. Themes include food, history, and culture.
Cost: Seven nights from $3,400, including airport transfers; Wi-Fi; all beer, wine, and spirits; all excursions; and tips.

 

Tauck: Esprit

Max passengers: 118
Rivers: Danube, Main, Moselle, and Rhine
What we love: Flexible mealtimes and menus featuring hearty, regionally inspired dishes like German sausages and boeuf bourguignonne.
Excursions: Many tours offer Tauck guests exclusive access—a champagne dinner and opera performance at Vienna’s privately owned Palais Pallavicini, for example.
Cost: 12 nights from $5,390, including airport transfers; Wi-Fi; all excursions; bicycles; all beer, wine, and spirits; and tips.

 

AmaWaterways: AmaVista and AmaSerena

Max passengers: 164 each
Rivers: Danube, Main, and Rhine; Dutch and Belgian waterways
What we love: Connecting staterooms with twin or French balconies; an emphasis on food (a cozy tasting-menu restaurant, gastronomy-focused excursions); a heated pool with a swim-up bar.
Excursions: A new partnership with adventure company Backroads means cruise guests can try out new biking and hiking tours along the Danube. (Book through backroads.com.)
Cost: Seven nights from $5,398, including airport transfers, Wi-Fi, beer and wine with meals, bicycles, and one excursion per port.

 

Uniworld: Maria Theresa

Max passengers: 150
Rivers: Danube and Rhine
What we love: Baroque-inspired atrium (antique mirrors, gilt balustrade); white-and-royal-blue state- rooms; a pillow menu; a 10-seat cinema.
Excursions: On “Do as the Locals Do” tours, experts lead the way to their favorite restaurants and sites around town.
Cost: 14 nights from $6,986, including airport transfers; Wi-Fi; all beer, wine, and spirits; one excursion per port; and tips.

 

A-Rosa: A-Rosa Flora

Max passengers: 183
Rivers: Moselle and Rhine
What we love: Jewel-toned pops of color; sauna and steam room with panoramic views; yoga classes; ingredients from farmers’ markets.
Excursions: Instead of set tours, guests receive 200 euros in credits to pay for excursions of their choice.
Cost: Four nights from $1,428, including Wi-Fi; all beer, wine, and spirits; excursions; and tips.

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