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Cruise Views

Barging into European Waterways

July 21, 1996|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

The long hot days of summer bring daydreams of languidly gliding down a river or canal, lazing on a deck cooled by the breezes, and tasting sun-warmed tomatoes and peaches from local markets.

This year is the 30th anniversary of barge cruises along the French canals, and river cruising on the Rhine dates back more than 170 years.

About 15 years ago, the appeal of European rivers and canals took hold of the American imagination, and the number of vessels, once countable on two hands, runs into the dozens.

The newest riverboat, debuting July 6 with itineraries in five countries and on four main rivers--the Rhine, Main, Danube and Mosel--is perhaps the most luxurious boat yet. River Cloud, built as a sister vessel to the classic 1930s sailing yacht Sea Cloud, evokes the same Art Deco period.

The 49 cabins are richly decorated with rosewood and marble, and teak and brass, and each cabin is an outside with its own TV set, telephone and bathroom with shower. Among them are six suites, each with panoramic windows and sitting area. Two single-occupancy cabins are also aboard. Meals are served at a single seating.

On Oct. 22, the River Cloud offers an Autumn in Paris program that includes three days in Paris before boarding the boat, and includes a city tour, dinner and transfers. Passengers join the boat on the Rhine after a rail journey to Strasbourg, France, then cruise into Germany with stops at Rudesheim, Koblenz, Cochem, Bernkastel and Zell before disembarkation in Cologne. Fares range from $3,700 to $6,995 per person, double occupancy, and cost $5,750 for single occupancy, plus air fare to Paris.

Next year, the River Cloud will sail the Danube between Budapest, Hungary, and Nuremberg, Germany, on seven-day cruises April 12, May 3, June 7, July 19, Aug. 9, Sept. 13 and Oct. 18, at fares from $2,090 to $4,470 per person, double occupancy. Ports of call include Visegrad and Esztergom, Hungary; Bratislava, Czech Republic; Vienna and Durnstein, Austria; and Passau, Regensburg and Kelheim, Germany. Call Elegant Cruises, (800) 683-6767 for more information.

A new pair of riverboats from Europe Cruise Line, the Rhine Princess and the Blue Danube, sail the rivers they're named for, with 120 passengers aboard the former, 148 on the latter.

Both vessels have saunas, swimming pools, whirlpools and sun decks, dinners themed to the country they're sailing through and single meal seatings. The Rhine Princess sails on seven-night itineraries between Basel and Amsterdam at fares that start at about $1,100 per person, double occupancy. The Blue Danube sails between Nuremberg and Budapest on an itinerary similar to the River Cloud above, with seven-night fares starting at about $1,250 per person, double occupancy. For more information, call EuroCruises at (800) 688-3876.

If you haven't been on a hotel barge along a French canal in a few years, you'll be astonished at how elegant these formerly dowdy darlings have become. Forget the old upper and lower bunks and the bathroom down the hall.

The newest pair of luxury barges, lavish renovations of sturdy Dutch working barges, are the new 12-passenger L'Impressioniste and its sister boat La Belle Epoque. Launched last year, they are fully air-conditioned and have saunas, fitness rooms and spa pools, plus bathrooms in each suite-room. All bar beverages and wine, minivan sightseeing excursions, use of bicycles and round-trip transfers from meeting points are included in the fares, which range from $2,150 to $2,690 per person, double occupancy. Call European Waterways at (800) 922-0291 for details.

Travelers 50 and above can get a hefty discount between Oct. 9 and 29 from Lanikai Charter Cruises ([800] 487-6630) on the six-passenger Lanikai, which sails the Burgundy, Loire and Nivernais. Four or more passengers traveling together can take 20% off the regular fares of $1,750 to $2,350 per person, double occupancy; individual travelers or couples can discount 15%.

Abercrombie & Kent ([800] 323-7308) has come up with a dandy discount for fall barge cruisers--$990 for a six-night cruise Oct. 13 aboard the Rembrandt on a Belgium itinerary that emphasizes art museums and biking expeditions. The company's Actief on the Thames in England offers a pair of antiques cruises in cooperation with the Thames Valley Antique Dealers Assn. departing Oct. 27 and Nov. 3. Prices are $1,690 per person, double occupancy, including excursions, use of bicycles and all beverages aboard.

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

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