If you asked someone roughly 20 years ago about River Cruising, you would probably get a long solemn and puzzled look followed by “try the Thames from Westminster to Tower Bridge”. Yes that is a “river cruise”, and admittedly enjoyable for all of 30 minutes, but it’s not as we know it in the cruise world.
Latest statistics show that River Cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors in the cruise world. Last year, 8,000 brits took a river cruise for the first time, bringing the total number of Brits embarking on river cruises to 140,000. With these kinds of volumes coming through, new and improved vessels are being rolled out. Viking River Cruises launched their “Longboats” a couple of years ago. New to river cruising is Crystal Cruises, who will be adding a sparkling voyage on their seven luxury ships which have been given the nod. But of course, the bottom line is… You’ve guessed it… Rivers and Destinations!
For an insight into this tranquil and relaxing way to cruise, accompany me on our virtual tour of the globe.
As we prepare our virtual globe, our first stop is Europe. Ahead of the market are the popular Central waterways - the Danube and Rhine - which offer the perfect backdrop of castles and valleys. From Amsterdam to Basle, in Switzerland, a 7 day Rhine sailing provides a tour of most of Northern Germany.
Next stop is across the 60 mile Main Danube canal, which links the Danube and Rhine, and gives you the chance to terminate your trip in the Black Sea. You visit several landlocked cities on route including Vienna, Budapest and Nuremberg.
The other smaller central European river, Moselle, heads south towards Luxemburg and a little corner of picturesque France. Staying with France, the Seine and Rhone serve this country majestically, with both meandering through rich vineyards, the attractive Chateau’s and the impressive cities of Lyon and Paris.
On her southern border with the Iberian Peninsula, there is the Duoro/Duero. Departing from Porto, it makes its way to Spain’s University City, Salamanca. Recently, this has been one of the must do itineraries and cabins are generally taken up quickly. The Bear of Europe, Russia, also has its share of river cruises, along the Volgar. Steeped in history, this waterway links the country’s two great cities, Moscow and St Petersburg.
As we head south to Africa, Botswana opens up with all her charm and fascinating wildlife. Albeit, the ships are smaller but are packaged with a safari to soak up the entire atmosphere. Moving onto the historic and calligraphic rich country of Egypt, in the North East, the secrets of her past unravel themselves as you sail up and down the world’s longest river: The Nile. The popular itineraries sail from Luxor, which captures the Valley of the Kings. The best time to go is between Spring and Autumn.
As we roll our virtual globe around to the east, we stop at Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The aptly named river Irrawaddy is the new kid on the block. Over the course of 1,300 miles, you get 4 nights on a cruise from Madalay to Bagan. There are many great “virgin” places to see, which will enrich your stay and, no doubt, you will see one or two of the 2,200 Pagodas!
As we roll our virtual globe further east, we are split between the Mekong and the Yangtze in Asia. The former snakes its way around southern Vietnam and Cambodia, passing through small villages and one or two remnants of the Vietnam War. After many years in isolation, both of these countries are emerging in commerce and exports and are fast becoming a magnet for first time Asia travellers.
As we glance north, China beckons us all with the Yangtze, which is the third longest river in the world. Cruises tend to be between 4 to 6 days, but land-based tours are included, such as a visit to the Terracotta warriors in Xian, the Three Gorges Dam, and the two iconic cities, Shanghai and Beijing.
As we move across the Pacific, we enter the USA. The Mississippi is, no doubt, the best known river in the States. With its traditional steamboats and colourful music making, this two-part cruise voyage is a blast from the past. The lower part is the most popular and will links the great musical cities of Memphis and New Orleans.
As we glance upwards towards the North West corner of America, there are two rivers that are somewhat unknown to us in Europe. The Columbia and Snake rivers provide scope for a range of seven-night voyages from either Portland in Oregon or Lewiston in Washington State. Itineraries are a must for adventure and expedition seekers, allowing you to retrace the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. Best time to go is April to November and it’s a cruise that has two diverse weather points. A great alternative to the train/coach tours which cover that area.
Other big river cruises are available, such as the Amazon, Brazil, passing by Manaus (this is where most Ocean ships stop) up to Iquitos, Peru.
But let’s not be fooled by the size of the ship, both Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Azamara Club Cruises and Hapag Lloyd offer “River Cruises” on their flat bottom ships. They visit the Amazon, as well as parts of Northern France, Germany and the Guadalquivir River in Southern Spain. Here, ships dock overnight at one of Spain’s prettiest cities, Seville, which is famous for flamenco, wine and fun.
As we end our virtual round the world tour of river cruises, remember that it’s not how cheap the package is, but the star rating and what’s included. Now for that glass of wine, cheers!