How to Decide if an Active River Cruise is Right for You

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I've been saying for the past few years that river cruising is probably one of the best ways to travel in Europe if you want to see a lot in a short amount of time. River cruises allow you to get a taste of a region without all the hassle of planning out all the details on your own.

But every time I bring this up as an option, I have people skeptically ask me whether a river cruise is really right for them.

“Aren't river cruises just for old people?” they usually ask.

And it's true that most river cruise lines market to Baby Boomers and retirees with disposable income. BUT, I always point out that it's only a matter of time before Gen Xers and Millennials become the market for river cruises because of the ways our travel styles are evolving.

At Clam Castle in Austria
What the new generation of river cruiser might soon look like!

Recent studies have shown that Millennials are traveling differently than many people would have expected; we want to spend money on memorable experiences and traveling, but we don't always have the time to plan out our bucket list trips on our own.

Which is why I think it's super smart that river cruise line Avalon Waterways is starting to offer cruises that appeal more to this generation.

Amanda at Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest

Note: This post was brought to you as a result of a paid project between myself, Avalon Waterways and iambassador. As always, all opinions are completely my own.

The Active & Discovery cruise

Not long ago, Avalon Waterways decided to bring a totally new type of cruise to the market: the “Active & Discovery” cruise, which would focus more on active excursions and tours that offered opportunities for deeper cultural immersion.

Instead of the standard walking and bus tours in the “usual” river cruise ports, Avalon began pushing the envelope, developing different types of tours in destinations that weren't always on the usual cruise routes.

What resulted was a type of cruise with more interesting tour options that has been appealing to a different type of river cruiser.

Bread baking class in Vienna

I sailed on Avalon's “Active & Discovery on the Danube” itinerary in June, and was pleasantly surprised to find all sorts of people onboard with me. There was the multigenerational group of sisters and aunts; the family with teenagers; the couple on their very first trip to Europe; and so many more.

While the average age on most other river cruises I've been on has been mid-60s, I'd say the average age on this one was probably close to 20 years younger.

Signs an active river cruise is right for you

To help illustrate what an active river cruise is really like, I've come up with a list of things you can expect on this new type of cruise. If one or more of the below is true, then an active river cruise with Avalon Waterways might be right for you!

1. You want to be active on vacation

Amanda cycling in the Wachau Valley in Austria
Cycling in the Wachau Valley

Duh! Obviously the number one reason that an active river cruise might be a great choice for you is if you want to keep moving, even on holiday. Cruises are often stereotyped by visions of buffet lines and lounging by the pool, but they don't have to be.

On an active river cruise with Avalon Waterways, you'll have a chance every day to get your heart pumping. The Danube cruise I went on had 4 bike tours, 2 hiking tours, 2 canoe trips, and even a running tour offered throughout the week. Additionally, the ship had 16 bikes of its own onboard you could take out at any time, as well as daily yoga and other fitness classes lead by the ship's Adventure Host.

Yoga class on a river cruise ship
Yoga on board the Avalon Impression

The best part about this style of cruising was that you could go out and have your adventure, but then come back to the comfort (and air conditioning!) of the ship. It felt good to work up a sweat on a bike ride, but then come back to the ship to take a shower and sit around in a robe while you sailed down the river.

Amanda at a viewpoint over the Danube River
Sweaty but smiling after a hike up to this view out over the Danube

I will say that even after a week of multi-course meals and far too many afternoon tea (read: cookie) breaks, I didn't gain a single pound while on this cruise!

2. “Relaxed luxury” sounds good to you

Avalon Waterways doesn't really market itself as a “luxury” product, even though its ships and service sure seem luxurious. They purposely don't use “the L word” because there's nothing stuffy or inaccessible about a cruise on an Avalon ship.

Instead, the phrase the cruise line has been using to describe what it offers is “relaxed luxury.” So yes, someone will be there to pour your wine and make up your bed every day, but you can also wander around the ship in flip-flops and go out for a sweaty hike in the afternoon and not feel weird about it.

Amanda relaxing in an Avalon Waterways state room
Relaxed luxury: the photo shoot

If this sounds like your sort of atmosphere, then Avalon might be the river cruise line for you.

3. You want the big picture taken care of for you

Many of my Millennial friends often tell me that they feel like they might travel more if they had time to actually *plan* a trip. In an era where time is money and none of us ever seem to have enough of either, it can be overwhelming to sit down to start planning a trip from scratch – especially if you don't do it very often.

The good thing about a river cruise is that everything is more or less planned for you once you book. Your meals and accommodation are covered; you don't have to worry about getting from Point A to Point B since you just sail there; someone can even help you book flights, and will pick you up from the airport.

Sunset on the Avalon Impression

The only thing you really have to agonize over with a river cruise is which excursions to sign up for. On Avalon, there are a lot to choose from – sometimes up to 5 different tours every day! – but each style (Active, Discovery, and Classic) is slightly different, meaning you can mix and match depending on your interests.

A river cruise is probably one of the most stress-free ways you can travel in Europe. Instead of worrying about flight routes and public transport and where you're going to have dinner, you can fully immerse yourself in the excursions and spend the rest of your time relaxing on the ship.

Cycling past vineyards in the Wachau Valley in Austria
Cycling in the Wachau Valley

4. You want to see a different side of Europe

Along with the active excursions, I liked my cruise with Avalon because we didn't go to all the same places that the other river cruise lines go. Yes, we started in Budapest and stopped in Vienna (both very popular cruise ports), but we also stopped in smaller towns where we were usually the only boat docked.

Sailing the Danube

Avalon Waterways is dedicated to sustainable tourism from a development perspective, too. They want to work with smaller local communities to develop new tours and excursions to share with their guests – meaning you get to do some things on an Avalon cruise that you won't do on any others.

Some cool off-the-beaten-track places we visited on my cruise included castle ruins in Visegrad, Hungary; an old theater in Grein, Austria; the tiny town of Engelhartszell, Austria, and more.

Tour group in Engelhartszell, Austria
Learning about Trappist monks in Austria

We took tours with local guides who spoke about what it was like to live in a trendy Vienna neighborhood, grow up in Budapest during its Soviet days, and run businesses in small Danube-side towns.

So even though this is labeled as an “active” cruise, there's also a lot of meaningful cultural exchange on offer for those interested in learning about Europe beyond the main tourist sites.

Austrian marching band
We stumbled upon a Confirmation-day marching band concert in Grein

5. You want to travel with family or friends

Of all the river cruise lines I've traveled with, I think Avalon Waterways – and specifically these new Active & Discovery itineraries – is best suited to families. And, indeed, there were several families onboard my sailing, including some with teenagers and a couple with younger kids (kids 8 and up are welcome on Avalon).

There were other multi-generational groups of family and friends, too, who would often do different things during the day and then meet up again at mealtimes.

Some of you can go visit St. Florian Monastery…
… while others can do something outdoors or just stay on the ship.

Everything about the way Avalon structures its cruises makes this “choose your own adventure” style of travel possible. Every day there are multiple excursion options, multiple ways and places to eat meals, and a knowledgable staff to help you decide what everyone should do.

This isn't to say that a river cruise like this isn't suitable for couples – it totally is! (In fact, Avalon sets its dining rooms up to very couple-friendly with plenty of 2-seater tables.) But it's also a great option for families or groups who want a trip that will suit everyone.

Amanda in front of a yellow wall in Grein, Austria
Or hey, you could travel solo, too!

6. You don't want to take the same cruise that everyone else does

Lastly, if you're like me and want to travel a little bit differently than all of your friends, an Active & Discovery river cruise could be just the way to do that.

You might have friends who have been to Budapest or Vienna, but did they visit Memento Park in an old Trabant, or shape hand-rolls in a baking class? Did they hike to an ancient castle or ride a portion of the Danube Cycle Path? Did they kayak on the Danube or taste beer made by the only Trappist monks in Austria?

Memento Park in Budapest
Our group was the only one at Memento Park in Budapest
Trappist beer tasting in Austria
Trappist beer tasting in Austria

Chances are they probably didn't, which is just one more way that Avalon's cruises stand out from the other options out there.

Even though I've been on river cruises before, and even though I've visited some of the cities we stopped in on previous trips in Europe, everything I did on my cruise with Avalon Waterways was new to me.

READ NEXT: 6 Highlights from an Active River Cruise with Avalon Waterways

If you've ever thought that a river cruise wasn't really for you, you might want to reconsider. An active river cruise might be the perfect introduction to this style of travel in Europe!

Would you ever consider trying an active river cruise?

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Going on an active river cruise with Avalon Waterways

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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6 Comments on “How to Decide if an Active River Cruise is Right for You

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  1. I wish I had this post back in 2017 when I was trying to talk my daughter into doing a river cruise with me. She refused to go because she thought it would be all elderly people. I love that some cruise lines are offering more activities that appeal to all age groups. The excursions and activities you did on this cruise sound fantastic!

      Yes, the average age on this cruise was much lower, and there were so many unique excursions. I do think the average age of river cruisers is dropping, though, as word gets out about how great these trips can be!

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