I love ocean cruising – but what also excites me is the phenomenal growth in and extensive availability of river cruising itineraries worldwide.
Destinations along the Rhine and Danube are the the most popular for a first time European river cruise, but it is always possible to branch out further into Europe. For example, there are new river ships on the Douro (Portugal) and Russian Waterways as well as new itineraries on the Garonne, Loire and Dordogne rivers. For anyone wanting to get a thorough overview of European history at a very leisurely pace – why not take a 14 night Grand European tour from Amsterdam to Budapest?
The world is getting smaller for river cruising as well: cruises along the Nile have always been a favourite, but what about travelling a bit further afield along the Mekong (Cambodia & Vietnam), the Yangtze (China), Ayeyarwady (Myanmar – formerly known as the Irrawaddy river in Burma), the Mississippi or Amazon. Often it is possible to add on a land based stay or tour, so that you can really get to see the country and experience the culture you have sailed through – for instance in China, you can sail past the Three Gorges Dam and then travel onto Xian (to see the Terracotta Warriors), Shanghai and Beijing or what about a 4 night safari cruise on the River Chobe in Kenya, combined with time in the Serengeti and at Victoria Falls.
Just as with ocean cruising there is a wide choice of river cruise lines – each with their own unique features and selling points. You can take a cruise only, a fly cruise or for those people who can’t or won’t fly - why not arrive at the ship via Eurostar or coach?
There are even home pick ups available with some companies. Most of the ships in Europe carry between 100 and 200 passengers and they will not get significantly bigger, as they are governed by the size of the locks and the height of bridges they have to traverse.
If it is true that there is an ocean cruise for everyone – it is also true that there is probably a river cruises to suit all tastes – be it your choice of cabin (no inside cabins on river ships), budget and factors like what is actually included in the price.
Many river cruise lines include shore excursions in their price, utilising the most up to date Quietvox audio systems, which allow you to browse in a shop further down the street and still hear your guide (but some don’t, allowing you the flexibility to explore on your own or just relax on the Sun deck and watch the river flow by), many include local wine and beer at lunch, dinner, or both (again, some don’t – thereby allowing you to buy as much or as little alcohol as you wish) and some include gratuities (on river ships, tipping is very much at your discretion, typically putting a sealed envelope into a box at the Reception desk if you want to).
Some of the ships offer free wifi and others the use of bikes (to work off the pounds you have eaten on board). Certain cruise lines offer mutli generational cruises, welcoming children on board with their own activities, cabins for triple occupancy or inter connecting staterooms. Meals are typically buffet style at breakfast and lunch (sometimes with an a la carte option), with a waiter served dinner (it can be as many as seven course!)
There are usually snacks and 24 hour drinks stations as well. The dress code is a lot more relaxed than on ocean ships, but some people like to dress up for the Captain’s parties. There are no glitzy West End style shows: a resident pianist or duo, complemented by local folk or music groups and/or lecturers is typically the extent of the public entertainment, but many of the newer ships have an extensive in house – in cabin infotainment centre with a plethora of films and TV channels.
There are not perhaps as many river cruise companies as ocean cruise companies – but there is a big choice of companies who own their own ships (typically the newer ones) and companies who either fully charter ships for the season or will charter individual sailing dates. The great majority of cruises sailing have English as the first language aboard, although your fellow passengers could equally come from Germany, France and South America as well as Australia and the USA.
As always, if you would like any other information, please do not hesitate to get in touch!!
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