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.
River cruising, however, is a very different experience from ocean cruising. In a very good way!
For starters, the ships are far more intimate, with less than 190 passengers. You can really get to know your fellow passengers and make new, lifelong friends. It happens on bigger ships, but it is more difficult.
Fewer crowds and security lines are also very noticeable. Mind you , there is no lack of security (you just can't see it) and being able to walk a few feet down the gangplank and be off or on the ship in a minute or two (without having to go through security scanners) is just wonderful. And with fewer people on board, tour groups are smaller and a lot more interactive.
River cruises take you where big ships can't go. Into the heart of the country. Quite often you dock a short distance from the city center - an easy walk to start a tour or simply explore the area on your own (maybe on a bike!)
The destinations, for me, are the primary reasons I enjoy river cruises. Itineraries include a wonderful mix of both iconic cities, small towns and villages. These smaller towns, places one would normally simply pass by when driving, are so full of charm, and offer interesting stories hard to find anywhere else. And I am amazed at how well the locals have preserved this history.
Included tours are also a big plus. I'm a "walker" and I really enjoy exploring cities and towns by foot. Having local guides who are certified and most often live in the area provides an additional depth of cultural immersion and authenticity. The guides share all kinds of knowledge and insider tips that you'd rarely find on bigger organized tours. At times "information overload", it's the little nuggets that often have the biggest impact.
I remember walking through this little alley in Regensburg on our Danube cruise when our guide stopped in front of a non-descript apartment entrance. Nothing really notable until we heard the explanation that this was Oskar Schindler's former residence. Even though I had seen Schindler's List several times, listening to the guide's perspective is something that has stayed with me.
Another big plus is the flexibility of your day. I enjoy the tours, but sometimes wondering off on your own is a special treat. Discover wonderful cafes, unique chocolate shops or local markets. When not a strict time schedule, I like getting "lost" - no particular destination in mind. Its amazing the treasures you find.
I would be remiss by not mentioning the wonderful menu options, four and five course meals, regional foods, wines and beers that are all included during lunch and dinner (and in some cases all day).
In a nutshell, I find river cruising to be an exceptional experience and value. Not my only choice of vacation, but with so many rivers to explore, in Europe, Asia, South America and the US, certainly one of my favorite options.
INTERESTED IN RIVER CRUISING?
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