Around the World

European River Cruising – A More Private, Comfortable Cruise

Dec 2021 | By Catherine Daley

European River Cruising is a highlight in my travel book, and here are 10 reasons why

One of my first boyfriends liked to camp, but we took very little gear and slept on the rock-hard ground. For years I took my kids camping. We started out with a tent that had about 1,000 poles, and then moved up to easier models as camping equipment evolved.

As the years progressed, as well as my age, I preferred a softer bed, so we packed blow-up mattresses, pads and lounge chair cushions. My son and I saw an old tent trailer for sale one day. We negotiated a price and then repaired the rotting canvas with camouflaged duct tape, as best as we could. It was missing a leg, so we had to balance it with rocks on the front left side. My friend called it the Tiltin’ Hilton. Today, I’d rather sleep in a bed at a Hilton, than go camping.

Needless to say, my travel requirements are more refined these days. I’ve planned, organized, and even packed, for any number of people, so to go on a river cruise and have all that done for me (except the packing) is one of the highlights of my heightened tastes.

I have good news and bad news. Read on to get the good news.

The bad news when it comes to ocean liners

I debated with how to express my preference, without giving large cruise ships a bad rap. I’ve sailed through the Caribbean, the Greek Islands, along the south coast of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, and around South America – all on different cruise lines. I enjoyed each trip, but there were some undesirable elements that weren’t so appealing.

The number of people on an ocean liner is the biggest organizational factor that each company must face. Be prepared to stand in a queue as they check you in before boarding – and this line-up may have you fanning yourself in the hot sun without any benches to sit on. But this is only the first of many. Each time you debark and embark at a port of call, it’s a bit like a herd of cattle funnelling in to a single line to be scanned and tagged.

Due to the size of the vessel it’s unlikely that the ship will be docking close to the actual city centre or major attraction that’s been advertised as one of your tour packages. Many passengers pre-book, so to book a not-so-popular tour, or to put your name on a wait-list, could have you waiting in line again. And, the same could be true for the specialty restaurants.

If the ship is too large to enter the port, you may have to take a tender, which is a small vessel that will take you from ship to shore. This is very common in the Greek Islands. Once on shore, you still have to board a bus or a shuttle to take you to your destination. Sometimes it’s nice to just jump in a taxi and have a local resident show you around for a couple of hours.

Diners now have more choices, but there was a time when you were assigned a table with people you’d never met. It could turn out to be a delightful surprise, or you could sit with a couple who were sourer than the lemons in your drink – true story.

The operation of these large cruise liners is impressive, and the staff are well-trained and obliging. Still, if it’s a nice day, the pool can’t accommodate everyone who might like to go for a dip.

Now for the good news on river cruising

Many travel agents are finding that those who enjoy ocean cruising are booking for later in 2022. As of September 2021, European River Cruises were selling out. I’ve travelled on AmaWaterways, Uniworld and Viking longships, as well as a Viking small ship, which can navigate both rivers and oceans. Viking has now added 11 ocean cruise ships to their fleet. On average, each ship can accommodate close to 1,000 passengers, half of which are crew and staff. All guest rooms are veranda staterooms.

A typical longship accommodates less than 200 passengers, and most rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows or sliding doors. One of my favourites was a Viking cruise on the Danube starting in Budapest, with an extended stay in Prague. Picturesque is the best way to describe the ever-changing view, and one of the reasons that I loved it.

1. Easy check-in. Once on board, a buffet is offered while the staff finishes cleaning the rooms.
2. Most tours are included with the price, but upgraded ones are also offered.
3. When in port, which is usually in a city or town, you can get on and off at your leisure.
4. Depending upon the port, boats are often stacked, which means that you might have to walk through a couple of others to reach dry land, but it’s all very cordial.
5. The pre-planned tours were always on time.
6. Viking had their own buses in most ports, but all coaches were comfortable and well-staffed.
7. Because you’re centrally located, walking tours and guided tours don’t require a full day of traveling.
8. On-board entertainment, talks and activities are also available.
9. Because of the limited number of passengers, it’s more intimate, and travelers quickly meet like-minded people for meals and cocktails.
10. River cruising is truly magical. Each stop is so unique, and you immediately feel like you are immersed in the culture.

Check with your travel agent for voyages on Avalon Waterways, Tauck, AmaWaterways, Viking, Crystal and Uniworld River Cruises – to name a few.