Cruising riverboat style: Is it the right choice for your next vacation? These are the top considerations to see if river cruising should be on your top travel list.
- consider your desired experience
- consider even if you’ve already seen Europe by bus
- think about who you would bring
- consider the value
- look at all the new itineraries
- understand the pace
- expect a floating hotel
- plan a river cruise for your bachelor party
- pick the first cruise you see
- ignore the captain
- forget to add a cruise excursion
- forget to bring a valid passport
Consider a river cruise if you want to experience a new country or destination in depth. If you do not have a lot of time, you can immerse yourself in a country in as little as seven days. Most river cruises stop at a new port every day, and sometimes twice in one day. The boats can pull right up to shore so you can quickly get into the local village. Local guides tour you through palaces, wineries, old walled cities, and charming streets filled with regional specialties. You can choose the pre-arranged tour, or choose an optional tour. For the adventurer or specialty group you can arrange your own private tour. Renting a local bicycle is a great way to see a new destination.
Consider a river cruise if have already traveled on a bus tour through Europe and want a new inclusive experience. Many bus tours through Europe stop at a new place every day. A local guide gives you the highlights of the town or city you are visiting. The great bonus of a river cruise is you only unpack once as the captain guides you down the river to the next great port.
A river cruise is the perfect opportunity for a few couples, a larger group, or family to share in the experience together. The ships are small enough for you to meet easily for dinner, drinks, or to plan your next day of activities. On a recent cruise, two couples were sharing their third river cruise experience together after meeting on a cruise down the Rhine River five years ago. They are talking about cruising through Poland next year with a new couple they met on their last cruise.
Themed cruising has become very popular. Plan your cruise around a music festival, winery tours, or hiking tours to name a few examples. Generations of family members can sail together and learn more about their family history.
Consider the value of the inclusive price in river cruising. River cruising is a great value when you consider they include at least three meals a day, beer and wine with dinner, and wine with lunch on some cruises. They include daily shore excursions and nightly entertainment. A couple celebrating their wedding anniversary on a recent Viking cruise line were enjoying the spa and Jacuzzi after a day of sightseeing and wine tasting. The newer cruise ships have come a long way in cabin size and amenities. More cabins have balconies or floor to ceiling windows, larger bathrooms, and multiple dining choices.
Look at all the new itineraries of the river cruise lines. There is a river cruise in almost every part of the world. Some of the more exotic destinations are China, Vietnam, North Sea, The Black Sea, and even the Amazon in South America. In many countries, because of the small ship advantage, you can meet with locals and really see how they live.
Meals are prepared, beds are made, and tours are planned. You will love a river cruise if you like to grab a book, your camera, and a drink, and head up to the top deck to watch the world go by.
If you have cruised on one of the new mega ships – think ice skating rink, 10 restaurants, pools, a mega spa, and sailing with a few thousand of your new closest friends – and you loved it, a river cruise is probably not for you. For a river cruise, expect smaller ships. They typically have a small workout room, some have a sauna or a whirlpool spa, and newer ships may even have a small swimming pool.
Cabins tend to be smaller and storage may be limited. Keep this in mind when you are packing. The dress is smart casual on board. Typically, you will have two dressier nights for dinner on a seven day cruise. A dress shirt, jacket, and slacks for gentlemen, and a cocktail dress or nice pantsuit for the ladies would be appropriate for dinner. The pace is much slower and there are fewer passengers on a river cruise compared to the big cruise ships. Typical river cruises can accommodate about 120 passengers.
What happens in Vegas – does not happen on a river cruise. There aren’t any casinos, shopping promenades, all night discos, and party suites. The evening entertainment on a river cruise is typically a local musician or dance group or a jazz piano player.
River cruising has grown so much in popularity that one cruise line, Viking River Cruises, has recently introduced six new ships to keep up with the demand. Consider the size of the ship, the amenities, and the cruise ports when choosing a ship and itinerary.
Multi-generational family cruises would be best suited on one of the newer long ships. These offer more activities and space for the family to gather together.
On a recent Uniworld Rhine cruise the captain had warned a passenger to sit down because of the low bridge ahead. The gentleman ignored the command at first until he saw the bridge coming right towards his head. He promptly obeyed. This “don’t” really is to tell you that on a small ship you will get to know the crew very well. By the end of a seven day cruise it is easy to know most of the staff by name. They are trained to provide top notch service.
For most cruises, you will also be flying overseas or out of the country. Add on an excursion before or after the cruise to extend your vacation. If you are flying ten hours to get to your departure port, it is worth staying a few extra days and enjoying more of the destination. A cruise departing from Nuremberg can easily begin with a stop in Prague. A few days in this amazing city and a quick train ride will have added an extra memory to your scrapbook pages.
A valid passport is required for any international travel for US citizens. Your passport, in general, should be valid for at least six months after the completion of your trip. And you may need a Visa as well. Make sure you have all the proper documents before you travel. Be aware of the baggage limitations.
River cruising is not for everyone. But, now you know what to expect and how to decide if a river cruise is truly for you. If you are ready to hit the waterways you will have a unique, intimate, and cultural experience. And you will most likely make some great new friends.