No self respecting flower child, who backpacked through Europe in the late 60’s and early 70’s, would be caught dead on a multi-day motor coach tour. The memory of the 1969 movie “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” is still all too real. “No way”, they say “That’s not for me.”
Now, all these baby boomers are in their late 50’s and 60’s. They still feel the allure of European travel, but how to do it?
Many have discovered what the Europeans have known for years, a river cruise is a hassle free, non-regimented way to travel. The travelers only job is to stow their suitcases and show up for meals. What could be easier?
There are numerous choices. Short cruises are available from 3 – 6 nights on the Rhine, Rhone, Seine and Danube. Longer cruises range from 7 to 28 nights and will take you from Amsterdam to the Black Sea and almost everywhere in between.
Think of a country in Europe and there is probably a navigable river or canal within its borders. Aside from the obvious programs on the Rhine and Danube, there are cruises on Elbe connecting Europe’s two hottest cities: Berlin & Prague.
Portugal, Spain, Hungary and Italy have river cruises. France is served by 3 major rivers including the Rhine, Rhone and Seine, as well as numerous canals that crisscross Burgundy, Provence, the Loire, Alsace and the Aquitaine. There are even barge canals in England, Scotland, Sweden and Ireland.
River cruising was getting its start when those very same backpackers were getting their first taste of the continent. The first river cruise ships in Europe were converted cargo barges. But, times have changed. Now they are ships, specially designed to move passengers in comfort offering fine dining, great scenery and interesting ports.
What makes the river cruise so attractive? Unlike ocean cruises, where the ship is almost always docked in some awkward or sketchy part of town, a river cruise ship is more like a nice hotel that moves from one central location to another. With very few exceptions, Europe’s main cities grew up around the river and the old town is never more than a short stroll away from the river pier.
Another of the attractive features of the river cruise is that the voyage is as important as the destination. Scenery along the way ranges from pastoral to breathtaking. Dine or have a drink while you float past castles, monasteries, towering cliffs and small villages.
Free time in port is totally flexible. Join one of the excursions (often walking tours through the old town), go off on your own with your guide book, enjoy a beer or some shopping on your own or just stay on the ship and read a book. You’re in the heart of town, so it’s easy to disembark after dinner for a walk or in the morning for a run.
The largest river cruise ship holds 200 passengers; the average ship has 70 cabins that accommodate 140 guests. Barges are more intimate with 3 – 10 cabins. If you take a barge cruise, it’s a good idea to bring your fellow passengers with you. They are ideal for small groups of family and friends.
Virtually all river cruise cabins are outside, affording large windows to enjoy the scenery and provide lots of light. Air conditioned, with TV, radio and hair dryers, these are very pleasant “hotel rooms.” Each cabin has its own facilities including shower, sink and toilet. They are small but are very functional.
The cabins, while comfortable, are not the best places for viewing the scenery. The cabin only has views out one side and that’s just half the scenery. The lounge or the sun deck is the best locations for enjoying the scenery.
Meals are included and arrangements vary by cruise companies but breakfast is usually buffet style. Lunch can be buffet or served. Dinner will be several courses but unlike ocean cruises, river cruises are not completely focused on eating every 2 hours.
The guest determines the pace of the cruise. Sit with a good book on deck, explore every back alley in each port of call or just sit with a beer in an outdoor café.
To re-explore Europe without the headaches, give a river cruise a try.
Source by John McGlade