It’s been a while since I’ve read about ancient history, but I’ve always imagined what it would be like to walk in the footsteps of Pharaohs, to wander among impressive ancient temples, curious how they were built. I find this all absolutely amazing, considering the sites and artifacts date back over 2000 years.
Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the largest land, sea and air invasion in history, when more than 160,000 allied troops landed on the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy. A significant and historical milestone, with much attention.
As it should have.
As I watch the stories of all those involved, the history, the incredible heroes and heroic actions, I find myself yearning to walk these beaches, to pay tribute to those who fought so bravely for our freedoms. My parents were teenagers during this war, and I imagine families with a direct connection to D-Day feel the same, if not more strongly, as I do.
A perfect way to experience the WWII landing beaches is on a river cruise between the heart of the City of Light and Le Havre, an itinerary that includes a wonderful mix of gardens, art, culinary delights and history dating back to the 13th century. The diversity of experiences is why I have been long drawn to this itinerary.
Is this an itinerary for you? Check out what's included.
Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways
River cruising and barging has grown exponentially over the past few years, and options continue to expand. For those who have been on the rivers and love the experience, new and varying choices are exciting but can become overwhelming. For those new to the experience, all these options can certainly be daunting.
But selecting the right river cruise doesn't need to be any of this.
Following these steps will help narrow down your choices on finding a good match.
The rivers of Europe have you experiencing a lot of old world charm in cities big and small. Amazing, photogenic old world charm, all with their own unique personalities.
For anyone wanting to explore ancient cities and historic castles, walk through charming wine villages, take in the lively city of Amsterdam or visit one of 40 museums in Basel, a Rhine and Moselle river itinerary is a great fit.
Plenty of picture perfect moments await you on itineraries that include one or both rivers. Following are my top nine most photogenic places to see.
Earlier this year I wrote about all the new cruise ships being launched in 2018 and 2019. They included Seabourn's all suite ship the Ovation, Scenic's Eclipse Discovery yacht, Viking's fifth ocean cruise ship Orion and Ponant's new explorer class Le Laperouse and Le Champlain ships, the Celebrity Edge and Holland America's Niew Statendam which launched in December and the mega ships launched by Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.
Not to be outdone, Amadeaus, AmaWaterways, American Cruise Lines, Avalon Waterways, CroisEurope, Crystal, Emerald Waterways, Uniworld and Viking launched or will launch new river ships.
A lot of new ships. Very exciting!
There is very little about river cruising I don't like, except that the time goes by far too quickly. Then again, for me, every cruise feels that way, no matter the length.
A rarely talked about fact in ocean cruising is that itineraries are not set in stone and cruise lines can change them with little or no notice. My guess is that most people never read the contract details, so when this happens, they are "shocked". While most sailings follow the scheduled itinerary, stops are occasionally skipped or changed due to weather conditions or operational logistics that make it unsafe to call on that particular port.
This too can happen on a river cruise, especially when the river levels are too high or too low to navigate. Levels too high make it difficult to get under the bridges; levels too low make it difficult to navigate through sections of the river or to get close enough to the pier.
River cruise ships are built for optimal performance (for example the navigation bridge lowers down into the ship so it can get under bridges) and have incredibly low drafts (some as low as 1-3 feet under the keel!). This allows for minimal interruption, but even the best designs can't cover every situation.
How do you plan for this and what happens to your cruise if there are changes made to the itinerary?
When it comes to European river cruising, the upper Danube and Rhine are invariably the ones first time cruisers will sail. And with good reason. Both are wonderful rivers to explore. With distinct personalities, you will find big cities, quaint villages, history, culture, food, beer, wine, and so much more, whichever river you choose.
With that popularity though, means more ships on these rivers to accommodate the huge interest. Undoubtedly still a wonderful small ship experience, but if you've "been there done that", you may want to check out these lesser traveled, less crowded yet exceptional options in Europe.
For the explorer at heart, you won't be disappointed.
France - a land rich in history, art, wine, great food and delightful people. These are a few of the reasons that draw us to this wonderful part of Europe. If you are thinking about a river cruise, the lines that sail the region have done an exceptional job weaving these experiences into their itineraries.
How to choose? Despite many similarities, each of these five waterways have unique personalities., which, depending on what you'd like to experience, should help you choose one or at least narrow down the choices.
Still can't decide? Choose one that best matches your dates and budget AND GO! You'll enjoy the experience no matter which area you choose.
Photo courtesy of Ponant
A good number of new ships are being launched in 2018 and 2019, with more coming in 2020.
This year will bring Seabourn's Ovation, Scenic's Eclipse Discovery yacht, Viking's Orion and Ponant's new explorer class Le Laperouse and Le Champlain ships. Celebrity is showcasing the new Edge and Holland America is introducing the Niew Statendam, the sistership to the lovely Konigsdam. Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean all have new mega ships.
Not to be outdone, Amadeaus, AmaWaterways, American Cruise Lines, Avalon Waterways, CroisEurope, Crystal, Emerald Waterways, Uniworld and Viking will all have new river ships in 2018 and 2019.
Whew! That's a lot of new ships!
While they all have distinct personalities, four of these ships stand out with unique and exciting features : a Magic Carpet, the Blue Eye, 34 extra feet, a submarine and helicopter!
Photo courtesy of European Waterways
When you think of cruise lines, which ones to come to mind?
More often than not, the big cruise lines are mentioned. Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Celebrity and so on. Given the amount of advertising they do - TV ads, magazine ads, celebrity endorsements, social media, etc., it's not surprising they are top of mind.
These cruise lines are absolutely the right vacation option for many. But if you want experiences that are, in my opinion, second to none, look at what I like to call "under the radar" cruise lines. Smaller companies that aren't marketing powerhouses, so you may not have heard of them before.
Following are 6 of my top choices (in alphabetical order).
Photo courtesy of Sea Dream Yacht Club
There is a lot of excitement these days in the world of cruising with all the new ships recently or soon to be launched. Much of this excitement is focused on the mega ships - the ones with 4000+ passengers. I must say, they are beautiful, with all the "latest and greatest" on board, new technology, new restaurants and even a race track on the top deck of the Norwegian Bliss coming in May. Imagine that!
As an avid cruiser, I understand the lure of all these amenities. The ships have become destinations in of themselves. Perfect for a certain group of travelers.
Under the radar, though, are plenty of small ship cruises. New ships and new itineraries, for those seeking a very different experience from the bigger ships. Adventure, expedition, luxury, river, sailing, yachting - as small as 12 passengers up to about 700 - lots of options to be had!
Calabasas, CA - (Nov. 20, 2017) - AmaWaterways proudly announced today its partnership with Master Chef and James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Joanne Weir, as the lead sponsor of her new PBS series, “Plates and Places with Joanne Weir.” Two episodes of the series, set to debut in February 2018, were filmed in Fall 2017 during AmaWaterways’ Enchanting Rhine river cruise, capturing the culinary highlights on board as well as regional specialties from the cities and towns along the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel. During the cruise, which took place on board the fleet’s newest ship, AmaKristina, Weir shared her love of cooking with guests through cooking demonstrations and the addition of small touches to the tasting menu at the intimate Chef’s Table restaurant.
We hire companies to clean our homes and our pools. We have people who cut our lawns, trim our trees, run our errands, wash our cars. We even take our pets to day spas. These services make our lives easier and better every day, right?
So why not do the same on vacations? You deserve it. Vacations are special- a time to reconnect with yourself, spouse or partner, a time to celebrate special occasions, a time to simply unplug.
Transform your vacation and pamper yourself by
having the butler do it for you!
I thoroughly enjoy various forms of travel, from renting a condo on the beach, exploring cities and beautiful countryside by car or local transportation, to (of course), cruising. In fact, my "Happy Place" is a vacation on the water. I love seeing miles and miles of ocean, especially when the sunshine is bouncing off the waves or sailing past landscapes only seen by sea. Funny coming from someone who has lived in the desert for over 30 years (and where temps are over 120 degrees this week!).
Last month I came back from a wonderful trip to Europe that included a river cruise, and this travel type has an official spot on my vacation list.
Why do I enjoy river cruising?
For one thing, it is a vacation "on the water". Similarities to ocean cruising include the fact that they are floating hotels with great amenities, unpacking/packing once, waking up in a new destination just about every day and no worries about having to find a hotel and restaurant every night.. No driving, no wrong turns, no second guessing GPS directions, no stress. Cruising - river and ocean - is simply a fantastic way to travel.
For years I had heard about this beautiful garden near Amsterdam. Friends and colleagues considered Keukenhof a "must see" experience. But I never understood why. I love flowers, but really, what was the big deal? The pictures I had seen just didn't register until I personally walked the gardens last month while on my Rhine River cruise trip.
Whenever I take a cruise that includes a significant investment in airfare (i.e. Europe), I try to add a few a extra days pre/post cruise. Why not? I'm already there, so I take advantage of the opportunity whenever my schedule allows it.
I did just that last month both before and after my Rhine River cruise. Prior to, I spent a few days in Zurich and explored the beautiful surrounding region. I'll share more about my time after in Amsterdam in another post.
Freezing temperatures and snow that even surprised the locals greeted my arrival into Zurich. I learned years ago I can't do anything about Mother Nature, so when she hands you some lemons, adjust and make some lemonade!
Even though I knew ahead of time the first few days would be iffy weather-wise, I have to admit it was really cold walking around Zurich's Old Town, which limited exploration time in the city. The hot chocolate and coffee sure were good though, and that stop in the chocolate shop - well, let's just say the cold weather kept us in there longer than advisable!
But the cold and dampness spurred us into action. We adjusted our plans, and for that we were justly rewarded.
A charming town located approximately 30 minutes from our Rhine River cruise stop in Breisach, Colmar is considered to be one of the prettiest towns in France. Intrigued by this description, and wanting an opportunity to photograph half-timbered houses, I decided to take this optional tour, despite a little bit of rain. This tour did not disappoint.
Colmar was like stepping into the pages of a fairy tale.
A question I often get asked when speaking to people about European river cruises (or any river cruise, for that matter) is whether or not it matters the direction you go. Is it better to cruise downstream or upstream?
I have always been under the impression that going downstream is better - you know, "going with the flow". In the grand scheme of things, though, I think either direction is fine. Cruise lines have designed the itineraries with the direction in mind. You generally have same port stops and of course the same scenery. So the decision is really personal preference.
However, there are a few small and a few major
differences regarding the direction which may be important to you.
For many cruisers, ocean and river alike, a trip to northern Europe's Baltic region is on many a wish list. And for good reason. The area offers a different and unique experience, a view into a region that often times is a bit of a mystery.
Major cruise lines visit the Baltics (in the summer months only), with itineraries between Copenhagen and Stockholm and beautiful stops in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Read more about
THE BALTICS - BEAUTIFUL STOPS ON A NORTHERN EUROPE CRUISE
River cruise itineraries on the Volga are seeing great interest as well, traveling between Moscow and St. Petersburg, exploring quaint villages and historical sites along the Volga River. Check out more details here.
In most cases, it is St. Petersburg that draws curious and adventurous travelers to these itineraries. A real gem in the Baltics, St. Petersburg is Russia's second largest
Photo courtesy of Paul Guaguin
I admit, I am a bit of a cruise addict. I love to cruise - both ocean and river. While I know there a large number of people who have never cruised or don't see the excitement like I do, I believe it's because they haven't been introduced properly or they haven't been on the right cruise that fits their style.
It's understandable. Many who have never cruised have an image about cruising that would have me running away as well. And most often those who have tried a cruise once and "never again" have been on ships quite different than their personal style.
Given the large number of ships and itineraries to choose from, its very easy to settle on
Dreaming about a trip to China? Seriously think about including a Yangtze River cruise to the itinerary, especially if this is a once in a lifetime adventure to the region. A Yangtze cruise takes you away from the bustling cities of Beijing and Shanghai and rewards you with amazing scenery, centuries old relics and old world charm on the third longest river in the world.
Most cruises are 3-5 days and sail between Chongqing and Yichang. Some go as far as Wuhan or may start/end in Shanghai. Top river cruise lines including Avalon, Uniworld and Viking offer combined cruise and land packages that include Tibet and China's iconic sites, providing a great way to experience the cities and rural countryside.
The best time to travel is between April and October, with April/May and September/October being the least warm. Quite different from their European counterparts, the Yangtze has no bridge restrictions or issues with water levels being too high/too low. This allows for larger ships and more onboard amenities.
Intrigued? Read on and check out the fascinating port stops.
I had the privilege of visiting Amsterdam a number of years back. It was only a one day visit - a port stop on a memorable cruise to Norway - but I had such a good time on that day I've been wanting to come back ever since. My upcoming river cruise on the Rhine River next year will give me that chance. There is so much to look forward to.
October is Plan A Cruise Month, and each week focuses on a different aspect of cruising. Last week was all about family-friendly cruises, and there certainly are plenty of those to go around! Next week is "Fun in the Sun" and following that "Exploring Nature". This week is all about "Cultural Exploration", and like family friendly cruises, there are plenty of cruises that offer the opportunity to immerse oneself in local culture.
I've spoken often about river cruising and how they get us into the heart of a country,
Even though I live in Arizona and we have the most wonderful, sunny and perfect temperatures during the Christmas season, I still on occasion like brisk weather, snowflakes in the air, crackling fires and warm mugs of hot chocolate. Well no, let me take that back. Gluhwein - yes gluhwein more so than hot chocolate!
Having grown up in Germany, I still have fond memories of the lovely Christmas Markets that pop up in just about every city from the mid/end of November to the end of December. Oh, and the aromas... pretzels, freshly grilled sausages, gingerbread cookies, hot chocolate, hot cider and yes the gluhwein (well, this memory is more recent... promise, I didn't drink gluhwein as a child.). And of course the fresh scent of the pines trees. The Christmas trees were always so beautiful. Christmas Markets really are a wonderful experience, from all the regional foods to the locally made crafts - every market has it's uniqueness!
One of the best ways to enjoy the holiday season in Europe is on a Christmas Market river cruise. No worries about driving, you unpack once, you experience fewer crowds, numerous cultures and numerous markets all on one itinerary. Shall I go on? Imagine picking up that perfect gift in Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam and Strasbourg, one of the oldest Christmas markets in all of Europe. Or spending Christmas through New Year on board ship - what a way to celebrate the holidays and bring in the New Year!
Here are 7 great reasons to consider a Christmas Market river cruise in Europe.
Quebec City, with its fortified walls, stunning Chateau Frontenac and picturesque views of the Saint Lawrence River, has become an increasingly popular cruise destination, for large and small ships alike. The attraction? Inviting European charm, fascinating history dating back over 400 years, wonderful culinary delights and the surrounding natural beauty.
Did you know that Quebec City was established before the pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock? French explorer Samuel de Champlain had previously explored the area in 1603, including Niagara Falls and the Saint Lawrence River. He returned from France in 1608 to establish a fur trading post in what is now Quebec City. He continued to explore the region and write about his discoveries until 1620 when Louis XIII ordered him back to Quebec to oversee the administration and growth of New France, which he did until his death in 1635. Many places, streets and monuments in Canada and the US memorialize him, one of the most notable being Lake Champlain.
Quebec City today has a distinctly European, old world charm, with its stone buildings,