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In Praise of French Balcony Cabins on European River Cruise Ships

First time river cruisers might feel that perhaps they need to pay the extra for a sit out balcony, an open air space to sit in by opening the glass door from their cabin, sometimes called a veranda.  But the bigger space usually comes with a bigger price tag.

As someone who has sold river cruises for many years and has many happy repeat clients working with lots of different holiday budgets, I’m going to stick my neck out and say I don’t think it matters that much.  Choosing a French balcony over a veranda on a European river cruise ship, is certainly not second best.

Sitting on your own veranda on an ocean ship can seem like an oasis of calm, somewhere to escape to during the down times of days at sea.

Downtimes on river cruises during the day are few.  You wake up in the morning and then go to breakfast.  If the weather is ok, then you could take a coffee on your veranda.  Or you could open your French windows and look out with the coffee in hand instead.

But now it’s time to leave the ship, small bag in hand for the day’s exploring.  You won’t see your veranda again for the rest of the day.  Or, the weather is so nice, you are heading up to the top deck, book in hand to take advantage of one of the sun loungers or the marble pool or to meet some fellow guests for a chat over a coffee under a parasol.  Or after a day’s exploring, then you might still want to go to the top deck, Aperol in hand? Do you see where I am going with this?

By far the best place to watch the view of the river bank is on the top deck which gives you a 360 degree panoramic view which you can never get from your stateroom, even if you have the biggest one on the ship.

Scenic Jasper Amber Opal Pool

Let me try and explain why I believe some of the best French balcony stateroom options, offer just as much as a veranda on the central European rivers. Where does the term French balcony come from?  Is it pretending to offer something that it is not. Wikipedia simply offers the phrase a “false balcony” which is true if a little harsh.

Why do river ship staterooms have French balconies?

Simple fact, river ships can only be a certain size in width and height, being limited by the height of the bridges and length and width of the locks.  So the river cruise operators are restricted, they can’t go out and they can’t go tall. Which means cabins with verandas have to use the available space for a seating area outside from space within the cabin. Unless you have best suite in which case you will usually be at the front or back so able to have a walk out veranda 

Viking River Cruises have small French Balconies on their Longships Viking River Cruises have decided to sell the French balcony short and all hail the veranda.  Give them their due, they’ve been selling river cruises for a while now and know they can get their customers to pay for the veranda.

The Viking Longships have the small French balcony cabins  on the rivers in their modern fleet. At 135 sq ft, your cabin, it could be argued, has been compromised by a veranda. And it’s not yours, but the guy over the corridor who has taken the other 40 sq ft from your cabin! But then he’s paid for it.

Uniworld – French Balconies go for elegance

Uniworld SS Maria Theresa Suite

The exterior of a river cruise ship simply looks more elegant with French balconies. Verandas can give the appearance of a Canary Island waterfront covered in flats (apartments). Uniworld however, I have to take my hat off to, they have realised it and have enclosed their verandas in electronically removable glass, keeping the lines of the ship sleek and clean. The SS Antoinette, SS Catherine and  the SS Maria Theresa, all have this design. Shape and form do matter and the boutique river cruise line have taken this into consideration. However, an insiders tip, the French balcony stateroom, with its electronic window which glides away so beautifully, is the same size – 196 sq ft – as the veranda cabin on the upper deck. So the veranda itself which is wide enough for a sideways chair has taken the space off your cabin. For more interior space, the category 2 is a good choice.

No verandas on Tauck, Avalon or Riviera

Tauck River Cruises MS Savor Cat 7 Stateroom The lovely people at family owned Tauck have created their inspiration class ships, the MS Savor and MS Inspire with no verandas at all. Tauck have said completely and utterly no to their brand new ships having verandas. A brave move for one of the world’s best travel companies you might say. Designed in partnership with Scylla, their long term ship operating partner, these beautiful ships contain more suites than other ships at the luxury end of the market, so huge cabins with ample room for a veranda you might think. But no. My beautiful category 5, 225 sq ft, stateroom on the MS Savor, with its wonderfully comfy bed, Nespresso machine, separate seating area and a gorgeous Molton Brown smell had no veranda and was much bigger for it.  Let me just mention that we are Tauck certified agents as I passed my exam, (but that’s a whole other blog piece).

Avalon Artistry II - Panorama Suite Balcony

Another operator who is launching more and more suite ships is Avalon. Most staterooms are now over 200 sq ft, with an extra wide, 11ft French balcony. The flat glass which covers the entire wall is fantastic for making you feel like you are part of your surroundings. It feels like you are outside even in the cooler months when you are less likely to have the window open.

One of the best inventions of the last few years has been the completely disappearing French balcony glass. So, although the Riviera ships, the William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, which do various itineraries on the Rhine and Danube, do have four deluxe suites with outside space – and you have to be booking a year in advance to get one any time during May-September – everyone else on the middle and upper deck gets a glass wall that opens to the world and saves themselves a few quid in the bargain.

Still can’t decide between a French Balcony or Veranda?

AmaWaterways AmaSonata Suite

Which brings us finally to AmaWaterways. Berlitz rated them again in 2019 as having the best fleet on the European rivers and their new Concerto class ships really are stunning. These ships have middle deck French balcony cabins at 170 sq ft, with disappearing, sliding glass doors opening the whole cabin up to the river. All categories above this feature the AmaWaterways Twin Balcony concept with both a French balcony and a veranda. 

If you really can’t make your mind up, then this would be perfect! 🙂

Speak to an expert travel planner

Speak to an expert travel planner

Simeon knows every cabin and every ship on every river and is very happy to help you make the right choice.

About Alex Leete

Who is Alex Leete? A passion for travel and over 15 years' experience in the industry encouraged me to set up Global River Cruising, our own family run company. Over the last few years we have been on as many river cruises, ships and seen as many destinations as we possibly can so we can rightfully call ourselves "experts". As independent specialists we work hard to find the perfect river cruise for our clients - at the very best prices too!

View all posts by Alex Leete

Ask a Question


  1. Hi Alex.

    I’ve just booked an AMA Mekong River cruise for my 75th birthday in March 2021. I’ve had to go for the lowest grade cabin (C) on the AMERADA, cabin 102 on the Tonie deck. I would have had to pay an additional £1000 for a grade B on the Saigon deck but my budget wouldn’t stretch to it. The cabin has a French balcony . Really looking forward to it.

    1. Hi Ron

      That sounds like a really wonderful way to enjoy your birthday. AmaWaterways are a fabulous river cruise operator and will certainly look after you very well. I am a little confused about your statement about your AmaDara stateroom though. The Cat C, B & A staterooms are all the same in terms of layout and amenities, it is just their location on the vessel that differs. So your stateroom, No. 102 on the Tonle deck, has a twin, French and full sit-out balcony – you can see some images on our AmaDara ship Page



  2. Thanks for this. Considering a trip on AMA on the Doura…husband has a little claustrophobia and generally on the mega cruise ships we get a balcony for his sake. I am thinking the French balcony is cheaper and should work for him.

    1. Hi Carol

      Thank you for your comment.

      I would say from a feeling of light and space the difference between an outside balcony is probably pretty minimal, potentially the accommodation may feel more spacious with a French balcony. Although it does also depend on the overall size of the cabin.

      On the Douro AmaWaterways do not actually have cabins with French balconies, the Douro vessels have a slightly different design to the other European ships to reflect the local river conditions. All cabins above the lower deck on the AmaVida and AmaDouro do have full sit out balconies – so in this case the decision is effectively made for you.

      You can see details of the vessels and itineraries available from AmaWaterways from the following link: AmaWaterways Douro River Cruises
      You can see a wider selection of Douro cruises, including other operators from the following link: All Douro River Cruises

      AmaWaterways are certainly a wonderful choice, we’d be happy to talk through some of the options with you and assist you with your booking. You can call me free on 0800 471 4754, or if you prefer I’m happy to call you at a convenient time.


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