River Boat AMA A Passing CastleQ – Everyone we speak to in Hartford says do the Danube the first time. It seems like it is like doing Paris on your first trip to Europe. But we had dinner last night with a neighbor who happens to have moved here from Stuttgart, and he says he prefers the Rhine. We’re so confused, we thought we’d just let you make the decision.

A – It is confusing because brochure-speak makes all the rivers look and sound beautiful. And then there are those magnificent ads from Viking River on Public Television (we naturally assume that our followers watch public television – if you don;t, please return to Cruise Critic). The fact is that we can argue any of Europe’s rivers from the lovely and underrated Duoro in Portugal to the lovely Moselle and Seine.

We’re not sure that first time European travelers should begin with Paris. Better to save it, after you have seen eastern and Central Europe, and toured the Greek Islands. So no, we don;t feel that one has to start with the Danube, although with Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, it is the safest “you’re going to love these places” river in Europe.

The Rhine River cruises fulfill the dreams of most first-time river cruisers with a wonderful collection of old Roman ruins, Cathedrals, and, of course, castles. The best section of the Rhine is between Mainz and Cologne. Normally, when you do a Rhine cruise for a week or more, you will actually be sailing several rivers and tributaries including the Main, the Neckar, and the Moselle rivers.

When you sail the Rhine you are looking at an 820 mile potential journey that takes in six countries including Austria, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Holland, and Switzerland. So you could easily argue, and we would agree, that it is the Rhine, and not the Danube that is Europe’s most important waterway. You will see terraced vineyards and incredible castles yes -but you will also be traveling a rather congested waterway with a fair amount of industrialized sections of the river in view.

There is one memory about a Rhine cruise that is really special, aside from the fact that if you are there, you are missing the US Presidential campaign coverage – in mid-summer, July and August, many of the hilltop castles participate in a pageant called “The Rhine in Flames” in which the most stately palaces and castles are beautifully lit at dusk. Slowly cruising by this incredible scene is almost worth the price of admission.