In Praise of French Balcony Cabins on European River Cruise Ships

Avalon Waterways French Balcony Stateroom

Avalon Waterways French Balcony Stateroom

First time river cruisers can feel they need, what the Americans term a “veranda”, a sit out balcony and not a French balcony.  Why? This would not really be my preference.  I would choose a French balcony over a veranda on a European river cruise ship. You are not trying to see past 4,000 other people to the shore as you would on an ocean liner.  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.

Douro River 360 View from the Spirit of Chartwell Sundeck

Douro River 360 View from the Spirit of Chartwell Sundeck

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.

So, I am writing a piece in praise of the French balcony. Where does the term French balcony come from? Are the French particularly scarred of heights and prefer not to be able to look down when stepping outside the safety of the bricks and mortar? Is it a phrase coined by the English to criticize the French for not providing a proper balcony for Queen Victoria? Is it an oversell? Pretending to offer something that it is not. What hapless travellers have crashed full frontal into the triple glazing to demand an explanation forthwith from their charlatan travel agent only to be told, blame the French? 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. Imagine an “Anthem of the Rivers” trying to plough its way down the Rhine. If it were even possible, to navigate, what currently takes a 7 night itinerary would take days longer, as the captain would simply have to go more slowly, so you get my point. Operators are restricted. They can’t go out and they can’t go tall.

So, cabins with verandas have to use the available space for a seating area outside as well as a cabin inside. See the flaw in the plan so far?

Viking River Cruises sell small French Balconies on the Longships

If you are Viking River Cruises then you have decided to sell the French balcony short and all hail 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! Even the lower deck cabins with the half height window are 150 sq ft.

Uniworld French balconies go for elegance

Uniworld Cat 2 & 3 stateroom on SS Antoinette with electronic french balcony

Uniworld Cat 2 & 3 stateroom on SS Antoinette with electronic french balcony

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). There I’ve said it! 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 soon to be launched 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 veranda envy on Tauck, Avalon or Riviera

Tauck, MS Inspire, MS Savor, Cat 7 suite

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. 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.  Let me just mention that we are Tauck certified agents as I passed my exam, (but that’s a whole other blog piece).

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 want a veranda on a river cruise ship? Then you can do both!

AmaSonata, Cat BB, Twin Balcony, Stateroom

AmaSonata, Cat BB, Twin Balcony, Stateroom

Which brings us finally to AmaWaterways. Berlitz have rated them 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. There, problem solved!

Have a good Friday.


Global River Cruising

SS Antoinette Review – Day 7

Today was our final full day on the SS Antoinette.  The Uniworld staff are exceptionally good.  As usual we were greeted at breakfast by smiling staff asking us how we were and following up on our conversations from yesterday.  This is not over the top hospitality but a high level of care from staff, that however busy they are are always able to take the time to ask whether you enjoyed the excursion, whether you had tried to specialty of the day or whether there was anything else they could get for you.  I was very pleased to see that my coffee cup was getting filled without me asking – a very important point for a six cups at breakfast girl!

A Morning Visit to Cologne from the SS Antoiniette

Cologne is the biggest and busiest place we have visited.

Cologne Cathedral

The cathedral took 600 years to build due to its gothic style and the swarms of tourists put you in mind of other European city tourist hotspots such as Notre Dame in Paris.  The Christmas markets were also getting set up and it started to all feel really Christmasy.  Armed with our map from the ship’s Cruise Manager we went off to explore ourselves around the vast array of high end shops and household names which the German consumer seems still to be enjoying.  We ended up going off the map.  We thought it best to route march back just in case we missed the 1pm sailing time.  We made lunch with time to spare but felt able to tuck in due to our unplanned exercise.  The roasted suckling pig was amazing as was the fish and chips.  There goes the button on my trousers!

Scenic Cruising along the Rhine to Amsterdam on the SS Antoinette

Now we were scenic cruising again on the SS Antoinette along the busy 21st century Rhine.  Armed with hot chocolate we headed for the private area at the front of the ship for the best view of the industry on the banks, the deluxe riverside houses built by Germany’s new middle classes and watching the captain pick his way through the coal barges, container ships and other river cruisers all the way up past Dusseldorf onto our rendez-vous with Amsterdam.  Some colleagues brought the remains of their wine from lunch and we stayed on the top deck for hours just watching the river going by.  It was heaven.

Drinking hot chocolate on the River Rhine on the SS Antoinette

When the cold got the better of us, the staff called us into L’Orangerie for afternoon tea.  We obviously said we were just looking.  But then the small hot scones with jam and cream just begged to be tried plus the German specialty cakes which the Pastry Chef, who was serving them had worked so hard to produce.  It would have been mean to have said no.

Uniworld provides an add-on in Amsterdam for 3 days in a hotel and this is very popular.  A briefing was given to the people taking this option.

 Our Farewell Gala Dinner on the SS Antoinette

Time to dress up for one last time and enjoy the food and the entertainment.  The menu lived up to its billing:

Farewell Gala Menu, SS Antoinette









We didn’t have a particularly early night as we were heading into Amsterdam the next day.  Everyone decided to let their hair down and enjoy Greg and Margaret for one last time.

Dancing on the SS Antoinette

Thank you to everyone at Titan and Uniworld for a fantastic trip.  River Cruising in such style has enabled me to relax, sightsee and enjoy the most wonderful service and food.



I am now going to try a Red Carnation hotel in the UK.  The lady who runs the sister company to Uniworld has just won “Hotelier of the Year” for 2012.  I can’t wait to try it.


Alex Leete

Global River Cruising

SS Antoinette

November 2012

Introduction to River Cruising

River cruising is a relaxing way to discover new places from the comfort of a floating hotel. With an intimacy that is not available on an ocean going cruiser and an accessibility to areas that a car cannot get, they are the best way to discover some of the world’s greatest treasures, both natural and man-made.

River Cruising on the Moselle, Trittenheim

Where else could you see 7 countries on the same cruise by simply stepping outside your hotel? Or feel immersed in the culture and history of an area whilst gliding gently past its everyday life?

Shore excursions are held in small groups with knowledgeable local English speaking guides, as well as on-board educational programmes and local evening entertainment for you to do as much or as little as you like.

River cruisers offer a variety of dining options, and up to eight different classes of suite. Itineraries can range from 3 days to 21, a choice of 3 continents, and travel at any time of the year; there will be a river cruise to suite every taste and holiday preference.

So if discovery and relaxation are two words that describe your perfect holiday, let us make a river cruise your next port of call.

Why Choose River Cruising?

The chances are that as you have found our site that river cruising may well be something that appeals to you. We firmly believe that river cruising is unrivalled in its ability to offer a unique way of holidaying and discovering many sights and cultures throughout the world, stress free whilst your luxury hotel moves with you.

Ever Changing Views
From the comfort of your cabin vista to the unimpeded views from the main outside deck, the ever changing landscape allows you to encounter awe inspiring mountain ranges, lush vineyards, bustling cities and fairytale castles. Unlike traditional sea cruises there is always something to see and daytime cruising is very much part of the attraction.

Visit the Places of Your Dreams
Human civilisation has grown up along the natural waterways of the world and many of these areas have been granted UNESCO world heritage site recognition due to their outstanding beauty and relevance to our history. In St Petersburg visit the Hermitage Museum or the Kremlin in Moscow, the Dutch windmills in Kinderdijke, the Charles Bridge in Prague or the Three Gorges on the Yangzte.

No Need for a Guide Book
All the river cruise itineraries have been created with the most popular sites in mind and the most knowledgeable local staff to guide you on your exploration. Even if you decide to explore independently, staff will always be on hand to assist with suggestions and tips.

Stress Free Travel
River cruising makes some of the most desirable treasures in the world accessible without a motor car. No driving around desperately looking for somewhere to park amongst narrow streets and one way systems. You will always be able to visit the sites you want with the minimum fuss. You can even borrow one of the cruisers free bikes to negotiate those streets and open spaces, away from traffic and fumes.

Unpack Only Once!
Your cabin is your home away from home and is your own floating hotel. Itineraries can range from 3 to 21 nights.

Intimate and Relaxing
River cruise ships offer a relaxed and intimate atmosphere as most will have a maximum of 150 passengers. From cruisers that offer open dining to new boutique ships that offer up to seven different dining experiences and small reservation bespoke dining, there is sure to be a cruise that suits your needs for privacy and socialising. Unlike large cruise liners, the social areas offer a chance to read and relax rather than casinos and large entertainment arenas. Hustle and bustle are not words that describe river cruising.

Onboard Enrichment Programmes
To many passengers this is a time to learn and enjoy the new culture and experiences of the countries that they are visiting and each river cruise line offers a programme designed with different customers in mind. Onboard ,there could be a choice of local cookery classes, language lessons, lectures from prominent local historians and academics, regional music and entertainment and most will be included in the price of your cruise.

A Large Choice of Itineraries and Ships
There are a number of very well established rivers for cruising but the choice of itineraries and ships over the last few years has allowed returnee river cruises and first timers alike to never be stuck for choice. With the range of companies offered by Global River Cruising covering a large choice of the world’s rivers, there is going to be an itinerary and cabin choice to suit all tastes and budgets.

Floating, Luxury Boutique Hotels
Each year there are ships which completely raise the bar once again and passengers are treated to some of the most luxurious floating hotels on the planet. Each boat has a range of suites and cabin types which now can include full balconies. For those who are wanting this extra special level of indulgence, river cruising will exceed your expectations.

All Inclusive Pricing
The best river cruise operators offer all inclusive pricing which really means what it says. River cruising provides a peace of mind that the price you are paying, is the price you will pay. A river cruise holiday offers your transport, your transfer to and from your ship to your airport or train, your food, your excursions, entry tickets, port fees and often tipping. Different packages do vary and this can all be confirmed by your travel consultant before booking.

As most boats are low rise, steps are kept to a minimum and quay side berths allow a shallow ramp. Most also include internal lifts. The nature of excursions varies from itinerary to itinerary and your travel consultant can talk in depth about the amount of walking required. Boats are also fitted with disabled access cabins and again this can be discussed at the time of booking.

Guided tours are also fitted with the latest individual head sets and in ear pieces to help with audio commentary. Please ask at the time of booking and we will be able to recommend a suitable cruise provider.

More in the River Cruise Q & A Series:
Introduction to River Cruising
What to Wear

How to book a river cruise with friends

River Cruising Group ShotYou may have been going on holiday with friends for years now, or perhaps it has just come up as a happy possibility over a glass of wine? But what type of holiday for this year, and how to make a choice that everyone will be happy with? What about considering a river cruise? Continue reading