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Bicycling excursion on the Danube hosted by Amawaterways (Photo: Amawaterways)
Bicycling excursion on the Danube hosted by Amawaterways (Photo: Amawaterways)

Best Active River Cruises

In theory, any river cruise can be an active one, given that shore-centric itineraries allow passengers to pursue all manner of land-based activities.

Many lines, particularly those plying Europe's rivers, already provide bicycles for their passengers. (And if they don't, you can always rent one in port.) But as competition in this fast-growing segment of the cruise market heats up, some lines are seeking to attract a broader -- and younger -- clientele by offering a greater scope of active and adventurous pursuits.

Here's a look at some best-bet lines for river cruisers who like to be on the move.

Updated December 31, 2018

AmaWaterways

Bicycling excursion on the Danube hosted by Amawaterways (Photo: Amawaterways)

A leader in the active river cruise space, AmaWaterways was the first line to bring a full-time wellness focus to its ships. The Wellness Program, which will be on nearly every ship in the AmaWaterwasy fleet by the beginning of the 2019 season, features an onboard wellness host who teaches between four to six classes a day, leads active walks in port and holds at least one lecture a cruise. (The program isn't available on sailings in Portugal or Africa.) Classes focus on stretching, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, core, resistance bands and circuit training, and they're doable for people of all skill levels.

The cruise line also packs more than two dozen bikes and helmets onboard its river ships for guests' free use, and it will arrange for a guide, if requested, at no extra charge. Biking tours of many ports are offered, and a few hiking options are available as well, depending on the port.

For die-hard cycling enthusiasts, Ama has partnered with travel outfitter Backroads to offer fully supported rides. Some are round-trip excursions that depart and return to the ship. Others are longer forays in which participants bike while the ship sails, meeting it at the next port. Daily routes offer a couple of variations in duration and difficulty.

Additionally, the AmaWaterways/Backroads partnership offers some walking and hiking options, so those looking to explore Europe on foot can enjoy expert-guided active tours.

Most of the Backroads sailings limit participation to 30, but several full-ship buyouts are offered each year.


Avalon Waterways

Cycling excursion hosted by Avalon Waterways (Photo: Avalon Waterways)

Biking, hiking and canoeing play into the line's Active Discovery itineraries. Unusual opportunities on the cruise range from archery lessons to exploring an underground salt mine.

Besides athletic pursuits, passengers can engage in immersive experiences like hiking along a World War II smuggling route; joining a question-and-answer session with a count in an Austrian castle; taking a Viennese cooking class; and visiting a farmer in his apricot orchard.

Avalon added bikes to each of its Europe-based ships. They're free and available for independent touring. Additionally, the line offers optional guided excursions in locales where cycling is especially good. These include the Dutch countryside outside Amsterdam; Austria's Wachau Valley; Germany's Kaiserstuhl wine region; and along the Moselle River in Germany.


CroisiEurope

The Strasbourg, France-based affordable cruise line's active excursions give passengers a solid selection of hiking- and biking-focused cruises. Among them: Hiking cruises in Austria and Hungary; in Portugal's Douro Valley and in France's Rhone Valley and Provencal Rhone. Each itinerary offers concurrent excursions for non-hikers.

Bike-cruise itineraries offer multiple route options on most days to accommodate cyclists of varying stamina levels.

Other routes are the Danube River, Burgundy to Provence via the Saone and Rhone rivers; on Bordeaux's Garonne River; on the Loire River; and on the Rhine (departures from Basel to Amsterdam and in the reverse direction).


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Scenic

Scenic Jade cruising past the Parliament Building in Budapest, Hungary (Photo: Scenic)

Every ship in Scenic’s extensive fleet comes equipped with electric-assist bikes, which allow riders to determine how much (or how little) effort they want to expend while exploring around the rivers in Europe. All cruises also offer yoga onboard, and ships have fitness centers for those who want a little workout on their own. All ships sailing the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers have salt therapy lounges.

Additionally, Scenic has partnered with Trek Travel to offer hard-core cycling along the Danube and Rhine rivers. Each day, passengers sailing as part of the cycling group can journey along the rivers, through historic towns and across gorgeous countryside. (Passengers can elect to take a day or two off if they’d rather try some less-active pursuits.)

On the cruise line’s National Geographic sailings, passengers can enjoy activities not found on other Scenic itineraries, including hiking to the hilltop ruins at Durnstein or a bike ride in Bordeaux to a chateau owned by relatives of National Geographic Explorer Jacques Cousteau, who was born in the region.


Tauck River Cruises

The Putting Green on Tauck's ms Sapphire (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Each of its ships stocks 12 Jan Janssen bikes (a popular Dutch brand) for complimentary use. A number of guided excursions are offered, including a ride along the Rhine and Moselle rivers; cycling through vineyards along the Rhone River; and, on some of its family-oriented itineraries, guided rides along the Seine in Paris and the gardens at Versailles. On some cruises, the line runs an included "Active Tauck" hike that is relatively tame in nature.


Uniworld

The sun deck on Uniworld's Joie de Vivre (Photo: Cruise Critic)

The line maintains a fleet of free cycles for self-guided or escorted group excursions. It also provides walking sticks for hikers. And on some itineraries, guided kayaking trips are offered. These "Go-Active" options are a component of Uniworld's Well-Being on the Water initiative, which offers lighter meal options, an onboard "wellness coach" and onboard classes such as yoga.

In 2016, Uniworld launched a partnership with upscale tour operator Butterfield & Robinson. Cyclists make tracks on shore using the ship as a floating hotel and spa. Butterfield & Robinson guides and support crew lead the way. The river cruise biking option is offered on select sailings on the Danube, Rhone and Rhine rivers.

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