Looking for a unique vacation? Consider river cruising. River cruising has never been more popular than it is right now. River cruise companies can’t seem to build the river ships fast enough, and the proverbial phrase, “If you build it, they will come”, seems to be true when it comes to river cruising.
In fact, European river cruising is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry, growing at an annual rate of 16%. Projections are that 22 new river ships will be launched in the next two years. They are designed for more experienced travelers who have an interest in geography, culture, and history. However, they are perfect for first-timers as well, because they definitely make traveling easy.
Last summer we spent a week aboard a river cruise with our extended family, our daughter, son-in-law, and two twin grandchildren, age 15. We all enjoyed it tremendously! Drawing from my recent first-hand experience, here are three reasons why you will enjoy a river cruise.
River Cruises are hassle free. You unpack once and visit new destinations every day, no packing and unpacking. Also, getting on and off the boat is really easy (in comparison to large cruise ships). We picked up small cards with our names on them when we left and returned them when we returned. This way the crew knew if everyone was aboard prior to sailing. No x-ray machines or waiting for your number to be called to get on or off.
Sightseeing abounds and is included. As we were always within view of land, we could see surrounding villages and castles as we sailed. To facilitate the great views, we had a balcony, there were large floor to ceiling windows in the main dining and lounge areas of the ship, and the entire top deck of the ship was open for unobstructed viewing. From the river, we got a close-up view of local life.
The shore excursions are included in the price of the cruise. There was an excursion every day, and it was a good excursion. We were ushered into new motor coaches to visit some sites that were a bit further away, and we had guided walking tours directly from the ship for those sites adjacent to the ship. We toured windmills, castles, historic town centers, cathedrals, and modern sites, so there was a wide variety of inclusions. Most of the tours took place in the morning, so we had the afternoon to do sightseeing on our own or to take an optional tour. As an optional, we visited the Mercedes Benz factory in Germany.
Life aboard is casual and intimate. The boats are relatively small compared to ocean-going cruise ships. Everyone could be seated in the main dining room at the same time, so we could easily find our family members or others we wished to connect with. We saw and visited with many passengers again and again during our trip, so we easily built relationships with others aboard and felt we were traveling with friends.
We were able to visit the wheel house to meet the captain and learn how ships negotiate the river. No suits or gowns or formal nights, however all were appropriately casual . The same staff waited on us each day, so they got to know our preferences and who our family members were. The tour director went out of his way to accommodate us when we wanted to show a private family video on the occasion of our anniversary. He even ordered champagne for us! We definitely did not feel like a number on this cruise!
Most river boats are advertised as a luxury product. We felt our cruise on Viking was comfortable, but not luxury (no butler suites, white gloves, or room service). Some river cruises do offer the luxury product, however. With very few exceptions, the river ship experience does not provide activities for children. Our teen grandchildren were the only ones on board. We anticipated that, and it was fine with us, as we were more into the touring and the extended family experience. Our grandchildren like to read and they watched some movies in what little down time they had.
Our cruise went without incident, but sometimes high water will prevent boats from passing under bridges. In which case, passengers are transferred to motorcoaches in order to proceed. This is more likely to occur in the spring.
Itineraries and cruise lengths vary, as do the levels of service and inclusions. We are happy to talk with you and help you select the perfect cruise!