I find river cruising to be one of the most enjoyable travel experiences available to those seeking to get to know Europe. Let me count the ways:
- Intimate Size. I love the intimate sizes of the ships and the coziness of the staterooms and the quietness of the morning. There are few things in life that are better than waking up and stepping out onto your private balcony to feel the cool river air as the morning mist lifts to reveal a landscape that takes the breath away.
- Unpack only once. You’ve probably heard this many times before, but let me set the scene for you. You embark the ship, follow your escort to your stateroom, unpack and relax, knowing that you will not need to look at your suitcase again until the end of the cruise. And, each day you’ll wake up in a different city, unless, of course, the boat is overnighting. In Lyon, Paris, Bordeaux, Budapest, Vienna and Amsterdam river cruisers often remain overnight so that guests can enjoy the nightlife of these vibrant and culturally endowed cities. River cruising offers hassle-free travel (airlines, take note). Can you imagine trying to visit Europe’s marquee cities by motorcoach? Or driving? If so, be sure to pack light.
- Variety. One of the beautiful things about river cruising is that no two are alike. Even if you’ve cruised the Danube two or three times, you can return and have a new experience. Maybe you visit different cities, or instead of the city tour, you straddle a saddle and pedal along the river. I’ve cruised the Danube a dozen times now. I still love it and always look forward to returning. The range of experiences that river cruising offers is vast and no matter what your passion, you can likely find a river cruise that complements your lifestyle and interests.
- Activity. River cruises can be extremely active. You can pedal along the old river towpaths, many of them now paved for pedestrians and bicycles, or stretch your legs on activities that range from gentle walks to rigorous hikes. Ocean cruising has sea days where entire days are spent with no land in sight; river cruising has no such equivalent. You’ll enjoy hours of scenic cruising during the day, but each day you’ll also stop at a destination where you can stretch your legs during a walk or a hike, or pedal a bicycle for a few miles or for many miles. I’ve pedaled as many as 70 miles in one day on some of my river cruises.
- Engagement. I’m sure I would love cruising along just about any river (the Mississippi is gorgeous for its broad expanse), but the fact that river cruises take travelers through the heart of Europe is like the apple in the strudel. It adds an essential flavor to an already delectable experience. During a river cruise, you’re engaged not only with the landscape but also with the local life and culture. Often while ocean cruising, you’re too far offshore to see much of anything while in transit, but riverbanks are only yards away. And, unlike some shoreside ports, where culture has been compromised by vendors selling their mass-produced wares, river cruises deliver you to capital cities and country villages alike, where you’ll witness the comings and goings of daily life and be able to intermingle with people beyond the confines of the tourism industry. (Keep in mind that I love ocean-going vessels, too, for a variety of other reasons.)
- Accessibility. During your river cruise, you often dock just steps away from city centers or major attractions. Most times, the only thing that stands between your ship and the shore is a gangway of no longer than 30 feet. In fact, all you have to do is step out onto your balcony—or open the doors to your French balcony—and you are in Europe. You typically fly into a major European city, and with a short transfer you arrive at your floating boutique hotel. Boarding is a breeze, as there are no long lines at the terminal, no interminable waiting and waiting and waiting to get on board and settled into your stateroom.
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com.