Every day I hear about a new mega cruise ship. For many, the bigger, the better when it comes to cruising. Personally, traveling on a ship with 4, 5, or 6,000 people is too much for me. Choices are a good thing and given a choice, I prefer a smaller, more intimate river cruise.
While commonly associated with the Rhine, Danube, Seine, and Douro Rivers in Europe, river cruising is now available in Russia, China, Vietnam & Cambodia, and the United States (although U.S. River Cruising is different). Many of the voyages are themed for special interests such as “wine immersion” in France, “Tulip Time” in Amsterdam, “Jewish Heritage” down the Rhine, “beer tasting” in Germany, and the ever-popular “Christmas Markets” during November and December.
Here are some reasons why so many travelers are switching to river cruising:
The boats are smaller and more intimate (120-170 passengers) so you actually get to know your fellow guests. Plus, no long waits to disembark, no stiff competition for pool or deck space, and no feeling like cattle, herded from place to place.
Unlike the large cruise ships, passengers can walk right off the ship and enjoy the destination. There are no lines to disembark or buses to shuttle people to the desired destination. Europe grew up along its rivers, so few river cruise destinations require a bus transfer (ocean cruises arrive at the closest port, which can be an hour away).
Many of the river cruise companies are all-inclusive. That means everything, food, liquor, shore excursions, airport transfers, gratuities, etc., so you won’t receive a massive bill at the end of the trip (like ocean cruises)
Odds and Ends
Seasickness is generally not an issue on river cruises. Also, most cruises include transferring through a series of “locks” to accommodate the changes in elevation, which most people find exciting to watch. You can literally touch the walls of the locks from your balcony as you pass through.
Evening entertainment may be a little sparse, but there is always live music in the lounge, and most cruise lines bring on local entertainers, such as an Oompah band in Passau, Germany or Gypsy dancers in Budapest. While not the thrill ride of a massive ocean cruise, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy, like informative talks on the region, experts on topics like wine and regional cuisine, and cocktails on the deck with new friends from around the world.
The price tag of a river cruise may cause a little bit of “sticker shock.” but when you compare “apples to apples” it’s a good value. Viking River Cruises is the most well-known of the river cruise lines because of a high advertising budget. However, there are many other river cruise lines with high customer satisfaction rates and more complimentary inclusions just waiting to show you the time of your life.
A travel agent who specializes in European River cruising (like me) and has relationships with the sales reps from all the different lines can help you sort through the options and find the perfect fit. River cruising is an excellent option for small groups of friends, family or even work colleagues who would like to travel together. Who would you like to sip champagne with as you cruise through the incredible Wachau Valley in Austria’s wine country?
So, if you’re are finished with the belly flop contests and waiting in line with 5998 of your new best friends on the megaships, why not give river cruising a try? 96% of first time River Cruisers say they would recommend the experience to a friend! Get on board the “civilized” river cruise movement; you’ll be glad you did.