River Cruising

By+Linda Jenkins, Manager, Leisure Travel, CTA ,

Ten years ago I was invited to do a river cruise in France, and as a Francophile, what could be more appealing? It was the beginning of a new travel phase in my twenty-year career that I embraced with an undying passion! We have traveled the Rhone, the Soane, the Rhine, the Moselle, the Danube and the Seine and continue to look forward to our next adventure. Europeans have been enjoying river cruising as a vacation for many years, here in the US we are just starting to “catch on”.  There is no better way to discover a country than to travel its beautiful rivers, enjoying major cities and villages along the way. And NO packing or unpacking everyday!

There are many itineraries now, not just in Europe, but also in Egypt and China, and tourists from all over the world are experiencing new countries and cultures in a relaxing and exciting new way. In addition, many river cruise lines offer special itineraries that celebrate events or holidays. One of my favorites (so far) is the Christmas Markets in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.  Not only are the ships decorated for the holidays, but we visited the famous markets of Nuremberg and Munich.  Imagine spending an afternoon enjoying the traditional sights and sounds of the holidays in Europe, while experiencing the many historic sights. And the food!  All your meals are included on board, but we did not let that keep us from enjoying the local treats.  From Strudel to Sacher Torte, you won’t be disappointed.  In the evening we were often entertained by local performers.  Many times we were in port so we were able to walk into town to enjoy a drink or revisit a place we had seen during the day.  We had two Christmas parties on board with caroling and special foods.  One evening some retired members of the Vienna Boys Choir came to serenade us-- what a special treat!   There are also special wine sailings which celebrate the harvest or the turn date of a wine.  Or how about a Tulip time cruise in the spring and enjoying the fields of colorful tulips and windmills along the way, the symbol of Holland -- incomparable!

Let me give you an idea of a day on board.  For early risers, there is a special little breakfast in the library, where you can share a cup of coffee and the dawn of a new day in a city or village with a few like-minded travelers while the other passengers sleep! Next, full breakfast in the dining room. Leisurely, delicious and interesting as you are sitting in a dining room with huge glass windows, enjoying the view.  You will then be given time for your sightseeing excursion, an included feature of river cruises. The tours are usually half-day, allowing you free time to discover the city or village by yourself.  Because the riverboat is usually docked right in the city, in many cases you can just walk back into town very easily.  Most of the tours are a combination of walking and some form of transportation.  There are a few optional excursions you can purchase, but all the general sightseeing is included (for instance, we did a lovely walking tour of Salzburg that was included with the cruise, but for those who wanted the experience a full day of the “Sound of Music tour”, there was an additional cost.)  Then back to the boat for a lovely lunch with your fellow boat mates and a restful afternoon reading or playing cards, or back into the village for shopping or sightseeing on your own. At the appointed time, you will return to the ship to be met with some warm wine or tea and time to relax in the lounge or your room.  Most people reconvene in the lounge for a drink before dinner and sharing of the day’s events. This is also the time the cruise director talks about the next day’s schedule and our destination. Dinner is at 7PM, single seating, allowing you to sit with anyone you like for a specially prepared dinner including selected wines of the region. Most people return to the lounge for the entertainment, some go the library for Bridge or board games. The riverboats hold between 80 and 140 passengers, an intimate size allowing you to meet and enjoy, and really getting to know your fellow passengers.

Now, if I have given you the impression that the riverboat experience might limit the amenities—not at all! Most have lovely libraries with a selection of books, magazines and daily newspapers, along with board games.  Most have a small fitness center and a hot tub on deck to be enjoyed day or night.  There is internet access to get caught up on your daily communication. You’ll not only find entertainment but lectures about the destinations.  And plenty of deck area to enjoy the outdoor experience of sailing by castles and ramparts and vineyards!  The fine dining experience is enhanced because the staff provides very personalized service; they get to know the passengers quickly and their special requirements or pleasures.  The cabins, your home away from home, are comfortable featuring hotel style beds, with European style duvets and Egyptian cotton linens, flat screen TV’s, hair dryers, safes, individual climate control and plenty of storage.  Many have floor to ceiling windows, some with sliding glass doors.  All are designed to maximize your travel experience.

River cruising is a fascinating and relaxing way to enjoy the world and a fabulous travel value.  It is an all-inclusive travel package which includes accommodations, all meals, including wine with dinner, sightseeing and entertainment.  You know what your vacation experience will cost before you leave.  And again, NO packing and unpacking!
From the historic rivers of Europe, the legendary Nile and the exotic Yangtze, there is no easier way to travel!