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In Praise of French Balcony Cabins on European River Cruise Ships

Avalon Waterways French Balcony Stateroom

Avalon Tranquility II - Royal Suite 3

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

UUniworld SS Antoinette - Cat 2 stateroom

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!

AmaWaterways AmaSonata Suite

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.


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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!

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  1. 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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