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All inclusive? Mid-range or luxury? Balcony upgrades? Savings or free flights? There are a bewildering array of decisions to be made when choosing your next river cruise.

So River Cruise Passenger has combed the world to create the best possible comparison chart to help you find the perfect cruise.

It’s a guide, of course, and can’t replace great advice from a travel agent. But it does demonstrate the big differences that can be found across the waterway lines.

We’ve compared staterooms and cabins, shore excursions and inclusions. And then, to make it easier to assess, we’ve calculated a true daily rate.

Instead of comparing the red hot summer season, we chose the early 2019 shoulder season – by far the best value and often a pleasanter, less crowded cruising season.

AvalonCroisiEuropeCrystalEmerald (through Evergreen)RivieraScenicTauckUniworldVikingTravelmarvel
ShipAmaStellaTranquillity IIL’EuropeCrystal MahlerEmerald StarCharles DickensScenic CrystalEspritRiver DuchessEmblaTravelmarvel Jewel
Sailing dateApril 26 2019May 21 2019April 19 2019May 20 2019May 1 2019May 5 2019April 2019May 19 2019May 1 2019April 12 2019April 15 2019
Number of nights1414181514141414151414
ItineraryMagnificent EuropeJewels of Central Europe EastboundAmsterdam-BudapestGrand EuropeSplendors of Europe - WestboundHeart of EuropeJewels of Europe - EastboundBudapest - Amsterdam NorthboundEuropean JewelsGrand EuropeanTravelmarvel Gems
Cabin categoryCategory ECategory EMain DeckPetite Suite S5Stateroom DNickelby Deck stateroomStandard suite ECategory 1ClassicStandard FCategory E, Window Stateroom
Square footage160172150188162151160150151150151
Window/ balconyWindowWindowWindowBalcony WindowWindowWindowWindowWindowWindowWindowWindow
Daily rate (pp)$628$636$268$1,190$496$414$579$740$780$585$499
Port charges (pp/pd)IncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
Gratuities (on ship, pp/pd)IncludedIncluded$13IncludedIncluded$13IncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
Gratuities (on shore, pp/pd)IncludedIncluded$5IncludedIncluded$5IncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
Beverages (pp/pd)IncludedWine and beer with mealsIncludedIncludedIncluded at mealsWine and beer with meals + $28 package for drinks at other timesIncludedIncludedIncludedWine and beer with meals + $28 package for drinks at other timesIncluded at lunch and dinner
Shore excursionsIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
Current incentiveFly free ($1602 pp)$1,000 per person off if booked by July 24$0Early booking savings $4,480. Early full payment savings $334.Early payment discount of up to $400 per person - book and pay 6-8 months in advance and save $150pp. Book and pay 9 – 11 months in advance and save $250pp. Book and pay more than 12 months in advance and save $400 pp.$0$300 if paid in full by October 31, Fly free if booked before August 31 ($1178 pp)$0Fly free ($1779 pp)Fly free ($1837 pp)Fly free ($1838)
Value of incentive (pp/pd)$1,602$1,000$0$321$127$0$1,178$0$119$131$1838
True value per day$514$611$286$869$466
Entry level balcony upgrade$3,300$2,7985,540 (not balcony, upper deck room)$13,505 (all suites have panoramic windows)$1,950$2,750$3,145$820$2,500$800
Balcony per day/ pp$236$199$17$900$139$196$225$59$167$57
Fly Free is based on Sydney to Amsterdam return with Singapore AirlinesFly Free is based on Sydney to Amsterdam return with Singapore AirlinesFly Free is based on Sydney to Budapest return with Singapore AirlinesFly Free is based on Sydney to Amsterdam return with Singapore Airlines

What you need to know

* Nights – An eight day river cruise is better considered as a seven-night cruise, as on the final day you may depart as early as six am. Even if you’re lucky enough to check out as late as nine am, it’s hardly what we would call a full day. For that reason, we’ve calculated the per day based on the number of nights you’ll spend on board, to give you a better idea of the value of your cruise.

* Pricing – All the prices given are for one person, but based on double occupancy. For the most part, solo travellers will pay a single supplement, but Tauck, Avalon and Emerald are currently offering to waive the supplement.

* Gratuities (on ship) – Many of the lines we compared include gratuities for staff in the fare cost. Others give a daily recommendation in Euro, though we’ve converted it to Aussie dollars. In these instances, make sure you have Euro cash on you.

* Gratuities (on shore) – This works the same as onboard, though gratuities are usually smaller for drivers and tour guides, so we recommend carrying Euro coins rather than notes.

* Beverages – Nearly all river cruise companies offer complimentary soft drinks, speciality coffees, beer and wine during lunch and dinner. A few include drinks at the bar between meals, others charge for them; some offer beverage packages and others simply have an a la carte option.

* Current Incentive (per person) – AmaWaterways, Emerald, Scenic, Uniworld and Viking are offering free return flights to your cruise departure city. The value of these was calculated based on Singapore Airlines departing Sydney two days before the beginning of the cruise. Scenic is also offering $300 off if paid in full by the end of October, and Avalon is offering $1000 off per person as an earlybird incentive.

* Value of Incentive (per day/pp) – We divided the amount of the incentive, calculated as above, by the number of nights to arrive at a per day value.

* Daily rate/Square Foot – This is purely to give an indication of how much you are paying for each square foot in your stateroom – not that you’ll spend a lot of time in there when there’s so much else to do!

* Balcony Upgrade – Most of the entry-level staterooms have fixed windows, except for Crystal, where even entry-level staterooms on its new vessels have Panoramic Balcony-Windows that raise and lower (except on Mozart, which does have some fixed windows). CroisiEurope does not have balconies on the majority of its vessels, but it does have windows that open for fresh air. If having access to the outside world from your room is important, you might want to upgrade to a balcony room, so we’ve provided the cost of the upgrade, in total and per day.

* Shore excursions – On all lines, enjoyable shore excursions are included, but many lines also offer alternatives for an added cost, which you may find are well worth investing in.