From the major river cruise ports and art meccas of Amsterdam, Paris and St. Petersburg, Russia, to the important art movements that can be traced along France’s Seine and Rhone rivers, art often plays an integral role in the river cruise experience.

River cruise lines are now taking the love of art that many of their itineraries inspire a step further by giving guests the opportunity to embrace the artist within on sailings that include drawing, painting and photography lessons.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection in particular has developed a robust roster of these art workshop itineraries. The river cruise line is hosting nine departures this year on which there will be a professional artist or photographer offering courses free of charge to guests.

Two departures, one on June 28 on a 13-day Imperial Waterways of Russia itinerary and the other on Oct. 21 on an eight-day Venice & the Gems of Northern Italy sailing, will be hosted by artist Larry Aarons.

Aarons is a graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts. He works in multiple mediums, and his work has been featured in art shows in Florida and New York as well as in numerous publications. The actor Robert de Niro purchased a portrait Aarons created of him for his private collection.

The classes and all sketch materials are included in the cost, but class sizes are limited to 10 students. Participants will receive an introduction to the charcoal and brush sketch method, tips and critiques from Aarons, the opportunity to sketch the landscapes being visited and hand-drawn mementos from the sailings.

Additionally, Uniworld has four departures it calls Floating Paint & Wine Workshops. The four cruises will be hosted by artist Davi D’Agostino, a member of Oil Painters of America.

Vincent and Theo Van Gogh’s graves in Auvers-sur-Oise, a popular port of call on Seine river cruises.Vincent and Theo Van Gogh’s graves in Auvers-sur-Oise, a popular port of call on Seine river cruises.


Participants can choose to paint tulips on the May 13 Castles Along the Rhine sailing, an eight-day itinerary from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam, or on the July 8 Gems of Northern Italy itinerary, 10 days from Milan to Venice. D’Agostino will also be teaching participants how to paint poppies on an eight-day Paris & Normandy itinerary departing on Sept. 9 as well as on an eight-day Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux cruise departing on Sept. 16.

D’Agostino’s courses and all paint materials are included in the cost, and the cap is 12 people. D’Agostino will offer an introduction to using acrylics, providing painting tricks and techniques. And according to Uniworld, in order to help get the creative juices flowing, regional wine will accompany the painting courses.

Avalon Waterways features painting classes on some of its new Active Discovery itineraries, as well. The river cruise line offers a painting class as an included excursion in Amsterdam on its eight-day Active Discovery on the Rhine sailing, which travels from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. There are four 2018 departures for this itinerary and six 2019 departures. The class provides an overview of the techniques of the Dutch masters, such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and gives participants the tools to try their hand at painting.

Additionally, there is the option to attend a painting workshop in the southern French city of Arles on Avalon’s eight-day Active Discovery on the Rhone itinerary, which is new for 2019, when there will be four departures. Class participants will study the style and techniques of Van Gogh, who lived in Arles for more than a year during the late 19th century. The Dutch artist produced some of his most famous paintings while in Arles, including “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” “Night Cafe” and “Hospital at Arles.”

Canal barge operator European Waterways also offers its barges for charter to create art cruises where passengers can paint landscapes along the way.

Uniworld river cruise passengers hone their photography skills in Burano, Italy. The river cruise line has nine departures this year on which there will be a professional artist leading courses.Uniworld river cruise passengers hone their photography skills in Burano, Italy. The river cruise line has nine departures this year on which there will be a professional artist leading courses.


Honing photography skills

In addition to honing passengers’ love of painting and drawing, several river cruise lines are also hoping to arm passengers with the tools to develop another visual arts skill: photography.

For example, boutique river cruise line Emerald Waterways this year added a south of France sailing that includes a smartphone photography workshop. The line’s Aug. 4 Sensations of Southern France departure will feature host Jack Hollingsworth, a travel and lifestyle photographer and author of the book “The Joy of iPhotography.”

After shooting with traditional cameras for years, Hollingsworth recently “fell in love” with his iPhone camera, which he now uses as his primary capture tool. Over the past six years, he has shot more than 500,000 images in more than 20 countries using only his iPhone. He regularly teaches seminars and classes on smartphone photography.

During the sailing, Hollingsworth will lead guests in workshops designed for novice smartphone camera users. Guests will learn how to compose a better shot and which apps to use and how to use them. Hollingsworth will reinforce the lessons with hands-on assistance during afternoon and evening onboard sessions and during shore excursions.

The eight-night sailing on the Emerald Liberte travels through the French regions of Provence and Burgundy. The itinerary includes Chalon-Sur-Saone, Beaune, Macon, Tournon, Arles and Avignon.

Scenic, Emerald’s luxury sister river cruise line (they are both owned by Australian parent company Scenic Tours), will also be offering photography insights to passengers via its recently forged partnership with National Geographic. Last year, National Geographic Expeditions partnered with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours to launch National Geographic River Cruises.

In 2018, National Geographic River Cruises is offering eight itineraries, with seven in Europe and one on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. The European cruises, which sail the Rhine, Danube, Main and Moselle rivers; the inland waterways of Holland and Belgium; France’s Bordeaux region; and through Portugal’s Douro Valley, will feature a National Geographic photographer who will share techniques and help guests hone photography skills.

Photojournalist and travel writer Mark Edward Harris, center,  teaches photo workshops on Uniworld cruises.Photojournalist and travel writer Mark Edward Harris, center, teaches photo workshops on Uniworld cruises.


Uniworld, too, offers onboard photo workshops in Europe, which are being hosted by Mark Edward Harris, a photojournalist and travel writer whose work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Conde Nast Traveler, Life magazine and Travel Weekly.

The river cruise line first offered the photo workshop cruises last year and has brought them back for 2018 due to popular demand. The photography workshops are designed for beginner and intermediate photographers using everything from a smartphone to a point-and-shoot camera and professional-grade equipment.

Harris will conduct lectures on how to best capture landscapes, cityscapes, portraits of locals and travel photo essays that tell a compelling visual story. He will give participants photo assignments for each day of the cruise and will also shoot side-by-side with guests during excursions.

He will host three back-to-back river cruises this summer: the 11-day Portugal, Spain & the Douro River Valley, which departs on July 5; the eight-day Paris & Normandy sailing on July 15; and the eight-day Castles Along the Rhine on July 22.

Mark Edward Harris assists a photography workshop participant during an excursion.

Mark Edward Harris assists a photography workshop participant during an excursión.


On Europe’s rivers, art is everywhere

For those who love art but maybe don’t want to immerse themselves to the degree of taking lessons, there are plenty of destinations in river cruising that showcase the arts for enthusiasts of all degrees.

Avalon, for instance, offers several art-themed sailings throughout France. On the Seine River portion of these sailings, passengers have the opportunity to visit Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny and to join an excursion in the French coastal town of Honfleur, which was popular with impressionist painters, including Monet and Eugene Boudin. In Auvers-sur-Oise, 20 miles outside of Paris, there’s the chance to visit the village Van Gogh called home for the last two months of his life and which inspired his final works.

While Avalon has chosen to emphasize these ports and their connection to the arts with its art-themed sailings, these are traditional stops on most Seine cruises, making the river a particularly gratifying cruise option for art lovers.

And of course, Paris, a highlight of any Seine cruise, also offers numerous opportunities to embrace the arts with its high-profile museums and arts venues, not least of which is the mother of all art museums, the Louvre.

Amsterdam, another major river cruise embarkation and disembarkation port, is also home to some bucket-list art destinations, including the Rijksmuseum, which features works by Dutch masters Rembrandt and Vermeer, and the Van Gogh Museum….


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