“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part
of the very earth itself.”
― Laura Gilpin
Have you considered river cruising? If you like to travel independently buy have figured out that you really could benefit from having someone else make your arrangements on a daily basis, river cruising could be your best new experience.
The long narrow ships plying European rivers are much in demand these days, and for good reason. They offer comfortable accommodations, excellent cuisine, well thought-out itineraries through major cities and attractive countryside, and locally based guides all through one source.
The ships are small enough (120-200 passengers) to assuage non-cruisers’ fears of being trapped in a mob. Everyone has an outside cabin, and cabins on all but the lowest deck offer panoramic windows or balconies.
Dining offers the pleasure of discovery as most river cruise lines include the cuisine of the region you are visiting on their menus. (But if you are not feeling curious they always have delicious “old reliable” entrees such as steak, salmon and roast chicken available too.) Many companies are including wine and beer with dinner at no extra cost, usually featuring local vineyards and breweries. Breakfast and lunch usually are served buffet style but dinner is served by wait staff. All meals are open seating so that you can dine when you are ready, at a table for two or with people you just met on yesterday’s touring.
Ah yes, the touring is not to be overlooked! The ships usually dock at piers in the historic heart of each city. Every day offers a guided tour of the city’s highlights at no additional cost. This is usually a walking tour but there might be a brief trip on a motor coach so you can see a spectacular view or historic site which is further away. The locally based guides speak into a personal microphone and their comments are beamed to each guest’s individual receiver with earphones. (Think “guided tour at the MFA.”) This eliminates the distraction of trying to sort out your guide’s voice from a competing group of speakers if you are in a crowded site. Each day’s included tour might take up only half a day; the rest of the day is free for you to enjoy local flavors and sights, or to join in an additional tour offered by the cruise line. On our latest river cruise we usually had a choice between an active pace and a slower paced tour. If you are always waiting for others to catch up, or if you are usually the one lagging behind the others, it is nice to know you can self-select to travel with people of the same energy level. In some cities they even offer cycling tours on the bikes they carry onboard.
You can find river cruises on most major (and some minor) rivers of Western Europe. It is even possible to cruise from the Netherlands to the Black Sea thanks to the Europa Canal which connects the Rhine-Main rivers to the Danube. The same operators have expanded to offer cruises in Southeast Asia, Russia, China, and Africa. Of particular note, this year’s sailings from Paris down the Seine to the English Channel include excursions to the Normandy beaches which saw the D-Day landings seventy years ago. Tulip time in the Netherlands is wonderful for floral enthusiasts. Christmas Markets in December are not as cold as they sound and very atmospheric. Many itineraries are wonderful at any time.
If you have avoided “cruising” for a variety of real or imagined reasons, you might well find river cruising to be a different sort of experience. If you usually like to travel on your own but have become a bit weary with sorting and planning your own itineraries, I suggest you accept the aid of the better river cruise companies. If you like to move easily from one place to the next (without fighting train schedules, maps, and traffic signs) let the captains do the “driving” while you dine and watch the landscape go by. It is an optimum combination of many wonderful things! I will be happy to help you sort through options.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
13 February 2014