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Best Active River Cruises

Jayne Clark
Colleen McDaniel

Last updated
Jan 9, 2023

Read time
4 min read

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 Europe river cruise lines 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.

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AmaWaterways Is a Leader in the Active River Cruise Space

AmaWaterways was the first line to bring a full-time wellness focus to its river ships. There is a dedicated Wellness Host on nearly every ship who teaches up 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 U.S. 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 Offers a Varied Active Program

Biking, hiking, canoeing and jogging tours play into the line's Active & Discovery itineraries. Unusual opportunities available on cruises 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 has complimentary bikes on each of its Europe-based ships. 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 is a Solid Choice for Hikers & Bikers

The French-owned 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, while non-cycling passengers can join other shore tours.

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).

E-bikes, Yoga and Fitness Centers Puts Scenic Ahead

Every ship in Scenic's extensive fleet comes equipped with e-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 centres for those who want a little workout on their own.

All ships sailing the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers (excluding Scenic Gem and Scenic Azure) have salt therapy lounges. Scenic is the only line to offer these therapy rooms which are lined with mineral-rich salt bricks to help passengers relax and unwind.

Go for Tauck River Cruises for its Guided Cycles

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.

Browse Upcoming Tauck River Cruising Cruises

Uniworld River Cruises is Best for Luxury Active Cruises

This luxury river 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 "Let's Go" options are a component of Uniworld's Wellness on the Water initiative, which offers lighter meal options, an onboard wellness coach and onboard classes such as yoga.

Uniworld has a partnership with upmarket 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 selected sailings on the Danube and Rhine rivers.

Publish date January 09, 2023
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