While some of these themed river voyages aren't all that unexpected (a wine-themed cruise in Bordeaux, for example), a handful of river cruises are pushing the envelope by offering unique themes that revolve around things like tattoos, passion plays and active exploration. Many bring on subject matter experts who are mini-celebs in their field, such as authors or TV chefs.

Here's a rundown of some of the themed river cruises to be on the lookout for in 2019 and beyond:

One-Off Theme Cruises

Plates & Places With Joanne Weir

What it is: As part of the Plates and Places cruise, television personality and professional cook Joanne Weir will sail with AmaWaterways in June 2019, shooting two new episodes of the PBS series "Plates and Places" while onboard the weeklong Romantic Danube sailing. During that time, she will offer two presentations for cruisers, where she will relate her favorite stories and share recipes.

Ship: AmaMagna

Departure Date: June 2, 2019


Cruise With Jann Arden

What it is: Canadian songstress and Avalon river cruise ship godmother Jann Arden hosts one of Avalon Waterways' 12-day Blue Danube Discovery voyages from Budapest to Prague. Cruisers will be treated to a private concert and CD signing onboard from Arden, who is perhaps best known for her hits, "Insensitive" and "Could I Be Your Girl." The nearly sold-out voyage is the second outing for Arden, who hosted an equally sold-out river cruise journey with Avalon back in 2017.

Ship: Avalon Envision

Departure Date: June 16, 2019


Connie Marco Hosts "Humanity in the Most Inhumane Time"

What it is: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection hosts educator and speaker Connie Marco, who presents a series of lectures on her family and the Holocaust. Marco's parents, along with the parents of her husband, are Holocaust survivors. On an itinerary from Vienna to Prague, Marco shares her family's history with passengers, including much of the research that formed her thesis.

Ship: River Princess

Departure Date: June 23, 2019


U in Drag

What it is: River cruising's first-ever drag-themed river cruise debuts onboard U River Cruises this summer. Cruise with celebrity drag queens Jiggly Caliente, Darienne Lake and Phi Phi O'hara (as seen on the hit television-reality series, "RuPaul's Drag Race"). This weeklong river cruise from Nuremberg to Frankfurt includes onboard performances and appearances by the celebrity drag queens, a karaoke night, a drag makeup session, a comedy show and other fun diversions. In one of the ports of call, passengers will decamp the ship for a local pub crawl. No one is going to have to “sashay away” from this river adventure.

Ship: The A

Departure Date: July 6, 2019


The Romantic Danube With Samantha Brown

Samanta Brown (Photo: AmaWaterways)

What it is: Travel personality and AmaMagna godmother Samantha Brown sails aboard AmaWaterways this July on the Romantic Danube from Vilshofen to Budapest. On the sailing, Brown will share stories, tips and insider information along the way to Budapest, along with presentations on how to truly appreciate the essence of travel.

Ship: AmaMagna

Departure Date: July 14, 2019


DJ Kearney Sommelier Cruise

What it is: Emerald Waterways hosts Vancouver, Canada-based sommelier DJ Kearney and other wine experts on a voyage through Provence. Tastings, seminars and vineyard explorations highlight this voyage, which also includes British Master of Wine, Tim Atkin; American wine expert and talk show host, Robin Stark; and Australian Master of Wine, Andrea Pritzker.

Ship: Emerald Liberte

Departure Date: July 27, 2019


Michael Bonacini, Celebrity Chef

What it is: Emerald Waterways offers a foodie's delight on the Danube as celebrity chef Michael Bonacini hosts an intoxicating sailing from Budapest to Passau. Onboard inclusions range from cocktail parties, Q&A sessions and, of course, plenty of opportunities to sample the local cuisine in each port of call.

Ship: Emerald Destiny

Departure Date: Aug. 4, 2019


Leora Raikin Hosts "Viewing History Through an Artist's Lens"

What it is: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection features South African-born, Los Angeles-based author, artist and curator Leora Raikin, who gives a series of lectures about the artwork of her great uncle, Lithuanian-Israeli artist David Labkovski, who chronicled the changes his life in his local Jewish community underwent during the Holocaust. At once beautiful and heartbreaking, these works of art offer a connection with history that is all too apparent on the Danube.

Ship: River Princess

Departure Date: Aug. 4, 2019


Tattoo on U

What it is: Themed river cruising powerhouse U River Cruises has an entire eight-day voyage from Frankfurt to Regensburg set aside for tattoo enthusiasts. Celebrate all things ink with celebrity tattoo artists Bobby Moss, Reese Hilburn and Steve Tefft, leading tattoo model Heather Moss and tattoo expert Paul Gambino. Passengers can indulge in a number of cool features, including a hosted welcome-aboard party, an on-shore tattoo parlor crawl, a swag bag filled with tattoo goodies and the chance to get tattoos onboard throughout the week from the celebrity artists. An open bar rounds out the features list on this unique river cruise.

Ship: The A

Departure Date: Aug. 17, 2019


The A (Photo: Christina Janansky/Cruise Critic)

Out on the Danube

What it is: U River Cruises has partnered with R Family Vacations for a weeklong LGBTQ+-friendly "Out on the Danube" river cruise. Sailing between Regensburg, Germany, and Budapest, Hungary, this one-time voyage offers plenty of unique inclusions, such as an open bar, LGBT comedy performances, special themed events, cabaret singers, dance parties, cooking classes, mixology classes and an exclusive custom excursion in Vienna. The voyage is hosted by R Family Vacations co-founders Gregg Kaminsky and Kelli Carpenter.

Ship: The A

Departure Date: Sept. 21, 2019


Michael Morgenstern "Jewish Genealogy on the Rhine"

What it is: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection hosts genealogy researcher Michael Morgenstern, who worked as a researcher on the fifth season of TLC's history and genealogy show "Who Do You Think You Are?" and who now serves as Special Projects Coordinator at Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. During the voyage from Basel to Amsterdam, Morgenstern will deliver three informative lectures on Jewish genealogy and how modern research is helping to reconnect families with the past and each other.

Ship: River Empress

Departure Date: Oct. 16, 2019


Marc Hervieux, Opera Performer

What it is: Emerald Waterways hosts French Canadian opera singer Marc Hervieux, who will lead a special French-language river cruise sailing along the Rhone and Saone rivers. Special features include exclusive onboard performances and a special concert held in a church in Avignon.

Ship: Emerald Liberte

Departure Date: Dec. 13, 2019


Holiday Jazz Cruise With Jazz Trumpeter Rick Braun

What it is: The festive season comes to life aboard AmaWaterways as Jazz trumpeter and producer Rick Braun joins AmaSonata for a seven-night Danube Christmas Markets river cruise from Vienna to Nuremberg. Braun will offer four exclusive performances onboard as AmaSonata sails through the heart of Europe's most festive Christmas markets.

Ship: AmaSonata

Departure Date: Dec. 13, 2019


Tulip Time for Garden- and Nature-Lovers

What it is: Garden-lovers, rejoice! This Avalon Waterways sailing has been created just for you. With two departures in April 2020 aboard Avalon Panorama, passengers can kick their Tulip Time game into high gear with these garden-centric departures, which will even feature an onboard botany expert in addition to visits to the botanical gardens in Antwerp and to Keukenhof, a 70-acre "Garden of Europe" that is only open for a few short months in the springtime.

Ship: Avalon Panorama

Departure Date: April 11 and April 18, 2020


Oberammergau Passion Play

Decorated Passion Play Painted House in Oberammergau, Germany (Photo: Michael Warwick/Shutterstock)
What it is: Staged once every decade by the residents of Oberammergau, the Passion Play involves more than 2,000 actors, performers and technical staff that combine to create a performance that details the story of the Passion of Jesus, from the arrival of Christ in Jerusalem to his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Performed each decade since 1634, the performance -- which can sometimes run upward of five hours in duration -- is being featured as a major highlight on numerous river cruise itineraries during the spring and summer of 2020.

Lines: Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Emerald Waterways, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld, Viking River Cruises

Departure Date: May to October 2020

For more information on the Passion Play, see Cruise Critic's Oberammergau Cruise Tips: Seeing the Passion Play By River Cruise.


Reflections on the Seine for Photography Enthusiasts

What it is: Avalon Waterways has designated one of its 2020 voyages along France's Seine River exclusively for photography buffs. Departing May 5, 2020, aboard Avalon Tapestry II, this cruise offers the ability to sail along with seasoned photographers in one of the most picturesque areas of France. Onboard photography classes and seminars are held throughout the voyage, along with opportunities to have your own photography critiqued by one of the onboard experts.

Ship: Avalon Tapestry II

Departure Date: May 5, 2020


Cruise with Diana Gabaldon

What it is: That's right -- writers are a pretty cool bunch. So cool that you might want to sail along with one. Avalon Waterways is offering passengers a chance to cruise along with bestselling "Outlander" author and Avalon godmother Diana Gabaldon. Sailing aboard a weeklong voyage on the Rhine (with two separate itineraries available, converging on the same river cruise), Gabaldon adds to the allure of these itineraries with her storytelling prowess.

Ship: Avalon Expression

Departure Date: June 2 or June 9, 2020



Always Offered Theme Cruises

Holiday Cruises

Christmas market in Frankfurt, Germany (Photo: S.Borisov/Shutterstock)
What it is: Nearly all river cruise lines offer special Holiday-themed cruises that can include voyages celebrating the Christmas holiday season and New Year. In Europe, the famous Christmas markets operate throughout many cities in Germany, Austria, Hungary, France and beyond from about Nov. 25 to Dec. 24. Holiday river cruises can also include festive decor and activities onboard, plus a variety of excursions that take advantage of the holiday activities in ports.

Lines: AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Emerald Waterways, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld, Viking River Cruises

Departure Dates: November 25 to December 31

For more info, see Cruise Critic's Christmas Markets Cruise Tips.


Jewish Heritage River Cruises

What it is: Cruises focusing exclusively on Jewish heritage are popular, particularly along the Danube and Rhine rivers. These tend to highlight some of Europe's most culturally relevant sites, from the moving Anne Frank house in Amsterdam to the equally powerful Jewish Museum and cemetery in Prague.

Lines: AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Emerald Waterways, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld

Departure Date: Various


Family-Friendly River Cruises

What it is: A handful of river cruise lines offer select family-friendly departures during the summer vacation months, along with a few departure dates in December over the holiday season. These kid-friendly river cruises offer activities and excursions designed to appeal to families of all ages, and a few lines -- notably AmaWaterways -- even offer connecting staterooms and triple occupancy on the vessels it uses for these select family sailings.

Lines: AmaWaterways, Tauck, Uniworld

Departure Date: Summer; December

For more, see Best Family River Cruises.


Musical Magic Along the Blue Danube

What it is: Tauck's special 12-day Musical Magic along the Blue Danubeitinerary is a classical music-lover's dream. Interactive onboard workshops, seminars and performances by Tauck's "maestros" are included, along with a number of Tauck Exclusives like a visit to the Opera House in Bratislava with special guests, a Grand Private Imperial Evening at a Viennese palace with gala dinner and performance, the opportunity to experience an orchestra rehearsal in Vienna and an excursion of musical conversation with a professor at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg.

Lines: Tauck

Departure Date: May; July to August; October


Wine and Culinary Voyages

Wine cruises on the Douro RIver in Portugal  (Photo: Diana Rui/Shutterstock)

What it is: It is probably no surprise that wine tasting and river cruising go hand in hand, particularly in known epicenters of wine production like France's Bordeaux region and Portugal's Douro River. Most river cruise lines offer select wine-themed departures each year, complete with guest speakers, wine tasting sessions and wine-themed explorations ashore. Some river cruise lines also offer beer-themed river cruises and culinary exploration river cruises.

Lines: AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Emerald Waterways, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld, Viking River Cruises

Departure Date: Various

For more information, see River Cruise Tips For Wine-Lovers.