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River Boats in Germany

Don't let your time in Germany go by without taking a holiday cruise - or even just an afternoon excursion - along its scenic rivers.

The nostalgic steamship 'Goethe' on excursion.

Eight days on the Rhine, Basel to Amsterdam; seven days on the Elbe, near Prague to Magdeburg, and eight days on the Danube, near Nürnberg to Budapest.

These are among the pleasure cruises offered by Viking River Cruises on the rivers of Germany and adjacent countries, past an ever shifting panorama of towns and cities, pastoral landscapes and forests.

Less elaborate day cruises on the Rhine and Mosel are offered by the Köln-Düsseldorfer (K-D) Line.

River cruise passengers are able to go ashore in the evening at many of Germany's more interesting places; great cities like Cologne, Düsseldorf and Dresden; the Roman town of Xanten, the carnival city of Mainz.

Viking has 14 cruise ships offering service in Germany on the Rhine, Mosel, Main, Danube and Elbe Rivers, and along the Baltic coast as well. Cabins are equipped with radio, TV, telephones, baths and air conditioning, and the beds fold into couches during the day, making the cabins pleasant sitting rooms. The boats also have sun decks, heated swimming pools, saunas, solariums, bars, shuffleboard and rows of shops. There are gourmet meals in the dining salons, dancing to live music, champagne breakfasts, midnight snacks and a captain's reception at the start and conclusion of each cruise.

The Elbe trips are burgeoning. Since they are mainly in the former East Germany they only became of real interest with unification. Viking's Danube cruises are also much in demand, so booking well in advance is highly recommended for both the Elbe and Danube.

Excursions, too

Cruise ships are only part of the picture. K-D offers a number of excursion boats for people who prefer to spend a few hours, rather than a few days, on the river. You can sip wine or have coffee and cake during an afternoon excursion.

A very popular K-D trip covers the romantic part of the Rhine. If you travel from Rüdesheim to the Lorelei you will probably get your fill of castles, vineyards and storybook towns. Rüdesheim is a picturesque wine town and the Lorelei is the fabled rock where lovely maidens supposedly lured transfixed sailors on the rocks with their enchanting songs.

A particularly pleasant excursion from Koblenz to Rüdesheim is on board the nostalgic K-D paddle-wheeler Goethe. Daily round trips depart Koblenz at 9 a.m.

The excursion boats usually stop at least once an hour. You can disembark for some sightseeing or a meal and either continue your trip on the next boat or return to your starting point on the next boat going the other way. On the Rhine you can also go back to where you came from by train, but be warned that a one-way excursion ticket on the K-D costs only slightly less than the round trip fare.

A popular way of appreciating the beauty of the Rhine is at the four "Rhine in Flames" spectacles with floodlighting, fireworks and fanfares. They take place each year around Bingen (July), Koblenz (August) and St. Goar and Oberwesel (September). In all cases you can view the whole spectacle from a K-D boat while dining and dancing in mid-river.

Maybe you want a river-borne birthday party or company outing. This can also be done. Fare reductions are usually offered for groups, and the bigger the group the bigger the reduction. Whole boats can also be chartered, and they can tie up on the docks and double as hotels when a trade fair or some other event is straining the capacity of a city on one of the rivers.

The Rhine rises in Switzerland and flows through France, Germany and Holland before emptying into the North Sea. The Mosel, far narrower and more intimate than the Rhine, meanders for 160 miles through an idyllic German countryside, joining the Rhine at Koblenz.

The Danube rises in Germany's Black Forest, flows through Bavaria past Ulm, Ingolstadt, Regensburg and Passau, and then on to Vienna and Budapest before emptying into the Black Sea in Romania. The excursions from near Nürnberg to Budapest start on the Rhine-Danube Canal.

The Elbe rises in Bohemia and flows past the celebrated porcelain-making city of Dresden as well as the great seaport of Hamburg before emptying into the North Sea.

Most of the riverboats operate only between April and October, though there are a few Christmas season specials. To give you an idea of this year's prices, the Rhine trip from Rüdesheim to St. Goar is €16.30 one way and €18.30 round trip. Food and drink on the K-D are extra, but prices are in line with those at restaurants ashore.

The eight-day Basel-to-Amsterdam trip on the Rhine, one way including meals, will cost between €1399 to €2249 depending on the season and the category of your accommodations. The eight-day Elbe trip from near Prague to Magdeburg, same conditions, is €1299 to €2299 depending on the boat used. And an eight-day round trip on the Danube from near Passau to Budapest and back ranges from €899 to €2339 depending on accommodations and other factors.

Groups of 10 or more on K-D trips get reductions of 10 to 25 percent depending on the size of the group. Children up to 4 travel free and children over 4 and under 14 go for only €5.00 no matter how long the trip. There is a special "Family Ticket" available for 2 adults and 2 children (under 14). Senior citizens and students often get special fares, too, and prices can be somewhat lower in April and May.

For further information: www.k-d.com/en/home/, www.vikingrivers.com.