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Many of Europe's most fabled cities -- Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest and Vienna, for starters -- have grown up along the Continent's waterways and there's no easier or more comfortable way to explore them, and the stretches of forest, gorges, water meadows and vineyards in between, than by ship.
River cruising has its similarities with ocean voyages: great food, service and value for money being just three of them. There are differences, too. Ships are much smaller, carrying no more than around 160, and are therefore more intimate. And, most important, you'll always have a view, whether you're lazing on deck gazing up at the medieval castles along the Middle Rhine or docked in the heart of Budapest, with all the bridges over the Danube lit up at night.
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The Danube River, and the cities, towns and villages that lie alongside it, is crisscrossed by a massive patchwork of transportation infrastructure that serves planes, trains and automobiles. And yet, there's no better way to experience the ebb and flow of this dynamic, historic region than to center your travels along the region's most ancient transportation channel: the Danube River.
What's special about a Danube cruise? It's rich with all kinds of history, much of which is ancient – representing Gothic, medieval, baroque and other fascinating periods of time. Much of the landscape is hilly or mountainous and frames beautiful views of darling villages and towns. And, the stops along the way balance destinations you've certainly heard of, including Vienna, where we begin, and Nuremberg, where the cruise ends. In between are some delightful surprises, like the village of Durnstein, where Austria's winegrowing industry is centered, arty Linz, sleepy Passau and super-charming Regensburg.
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific?
The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights.
For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays).
However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise.
As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.