Cycling and River Cruises with Backroads & Ama Waterways
By Brian E. Clark
I’ve done cycling trips from Canada to Chile to Cuba to Ireland – to say nothing of pedaling through California’s wine country and riding across Iowa as part of RAGBRAI, an annual tour which attracts more than 10,000 cyclists every summer and is sometimes referred to as a “rolling Woodstock.”
But I’ve never done a river cruise in Europe that includes cycling excursions through vineyards, orchards, small villages and fields of flowers. One of those adventures, however, is definitely on my bucket list.
Holly Hunter and her husband Mark Kelleher of Jackson, Wyoming floated down the Danube from Prague to Budapest a few years back as part of a Backroads’ (backroads.com) cycling trip on an AmaWaterways (amawaterways.com) vessel. They said they’d do it again in a heartbeat.
“Our boat – which had about 120 guests – was lovely, even luxurious and the staff was spectacular,” said Hunter, a retired businesswoman.
“The food was delicious and it never felt crowded,” she said of the seven-day trip, which included 22 Backroads riders. “One of the nicest things was that our hotel floated along with us, so we never had to move our luggage.”
Hunter used an electric-assist, e-bike for her pedaling and did shorter excursions, while her husband – an avid rider – did longer trips and rode every day.
“The guides were great and got the bikes all set up for you at the start with GPS systems and there was always a sweep vehicle for anyone who was straggling,” she said. “Why, they’d even hold your hand, if you needed that.”
“There were some spots I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle without the e-bike, but most of what I did was rolling hills,” she said of the colorful, late autumn trip.
“And when I wasn’t cycling, there were other things that we could do, like hike, visit a castle or tour a winery,” added Hunter, who said Budapest was the highlight of the trip for her. “That was great, because often couples have different interests and cycling abilities.”
Kelleher, who worked for the National Park Service for 40 years, said he rode between 150 and 200 miles on the trip. Because he usually logs between 2,500 and 3,000 miles a year on his road bike, that was a mellow amount for him.
“It was relaxing, though one day was tough because the route the guides chose had a lot of climbing,” he said.
Like his wife, he said he appreciated that they did not have to switch hotels and move their luggage.
“You could settle in and not have to worry about where your bags were going next.
As for the boat, he, too, was impressed.
“It was quite nice and the food was delicious,” he recalled. “But I ate too much and drank too much wine, which is why I wanted to get out and bicycle every day.”
Liz Einbinder, a spokeswoman for Backroads, said her company and AmaWaterways will offer more than 150 Bordeaux, Danube, Douro, Rhine and Seine River departures this year and 2023, including nine full-ship charters and select sailings on board AmaWaterways’ new ship AmaMagna.
Marking the seventh year of their collaboration, Backroads will also bring what she called their “best-in-class” adventure tours to Dutch & Belgian waterways. Three departures are slated for April 2023, where guests can enjoy the region’s famed tulips, windmills and cuisine as they sail and cycle between Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Bruges, Belgium.
In 2015, AmaWaterways and Backroads teamed for a variety of active travel river cruising experiences – adventuring through Europe’s most captivating destinations with what she called Backroads’ “immersive, meticulously planned biking and hiking tours, then ending the day in the comfort and luxury of an AmaWaterways river ship.”
She said Backroads’ thoughtful trip design and unique routes take guests away from busy port and tourist destinations to explore the best biking in the region and immerse them in the local culture.
On every Backroads trip, she said expert trip leaders and attentive support with multiple vans allow for greater flexibility and more route options each day.
In addition, Einbinder said Backroads’ new Dolce Tempo Easygoing E-bike River Cruise on the Rhine River is for travelers new to active travel, or those who want to explore the world actively and at a more leisurely pace. Two departures are scheduled for September 2022 with another three planned for 2023.
Here’s a rundown of Backroads river cruise trips for 2022 and 20223:
Recommended For Couples, Friends & Solos
- Bordeaux River Cruise Bike Tour (space available on 2023 sailings)
- Dutch & Belgian Waterways River Cruise Bike Tour (sailing beginning in 2023)
- Rhine River Cruise Easygoing E-bike Tour – Dolce Tempo
Recommended For Families
- Danube River Cruise Family Bike Tour – 20s & Beyond
- Portugal’s Douro River Cruise Family Bike Tour – 20s & Beyond | Older Teens & 20s
- Rhine River Cruise Family Bike Tour – 20s & Beyond | Teens & Kids
Full-Ship Celebration Bike Tour River Cruises
- Danube River Cruise Full-Ship Celebration Bike Tour
- Portugal’s Douro River Cruise Full-Ship Celebration Bike Tour
- Rhine River Cruise Full-Ship Celebration Bike Tour
Tom Hale, Backroads’ founder, said his company’s river cruises have been guest favorites since it launched its first departure with AmaWaterways in 2015.
“The opportunity to only unpack once while relaxing in comfort aboard such a luxurious ship is the perfect way to explore multiple countries, get immersed in the beautiful back roads and trails of Europe, and enjoy the truly impressive accommodations and hospitality of AmaWaterways,” he said. “Our new Dutch & Belgian Waterways tour is the perfect trip for anyone who loves biking, tulips or Belgian beer.”
While aboard, he said Backroads participants and their companions enjoy unique signature twin-balconies in most staterooms, as well as connecting and triple occupancy staterooms that are ideal for the growing multi-generational travel group markets. Additional amenities include a daily “Sip & Sail” complimentary cocktail hour, heated sun deck pools with swim-up bar, hair and massage salons, fitness centers and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the ships.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.