You might think it an odd fit… a solo woman traveler who gets seasick, doesn’t usually take tours and dislikes water is contemplating a…. river cruise? Hmmm. But I was asked by Vantage Travel to put together a post on river cruises − even though I don’t like cruises. Who could turn down that kind of challenge?
When I think of a European river cruise, I think… too sedate, even boring… for couples only… too regimented… too expensive… and yes, these are all preconceived ideas because I’ve never actually been on a river cruise.
So I began researching. I spoke with friends who had been on river cruises. I looked for any reason I might have to want to step foot on a boat and sail along a river.
I came up with 30!
And slowly, river cruises began sounding, well, appealing. Attractive. Fun even. In fact, in the end I really wanted to be on one.
What changed my mind?
SOLO RIVER CRUISES IN EUROPE: 30 REASONS I’M INTRIGUED (AND TEMPTED) BY A EUROPEAN RIVER CRUISE
1. Shore ahoy!
For someone who dislikes water because she can’t swim (you’ll usually find me swaddled in a lifejacket on the smallest of crafts) the idea of being on a river where you can always see the shore is the equivalent of taking a Valium − truly calming. Being able to see land all the time makes me feel tremendously safe, knowing that whatever happens, I won’t float off into the distance. It makes my inability to swim irrelevant. And, no sharks.
2. Calm and steady
This probably should have been #1: rivers don’t roll, so even if you’re prone to seasickness, you’ll be as good as on land. I remember spending some time on a friend’s barge on the Seine and I was fine; that same friend had a sailboat in northern Spain and at night, in port, I was so seasick I had to sleep on the wharf. So yes, the bliss of not getting seasick.
3. Spending time in port
This allows you to actually see things. On a bus tour there’s a lot more ground to be covered and a lot of nip in and nip out. This seems more leisurely to me, more of a vacation.
4. Cool itineraries
You can cover a lot of ground on a river cruise, it seems, both in terms of distance and in terms of interests. Some will combine city breaks with historical itineraries, or include foodie delights like cooking classes. Doing this all on your own would be a lot more time consuming and yes, you’d still be on a weaving, swaying bus.
5. Calling all history addicts
I’m a history buff, and much of Europe’s history developed along its waterways, so this is an opportunity to follow in Europe’s footsteps and learn about its past. Cruises along the Rhine, for example, may include (flat) bike trips while showing you some of the most historic settlements around.
6. Enjoying my own company
I like the idea of a lot of solo time. It sounds as though I could spend as much – or as little – time alone as I want. Sometimes I enjoy my solitude and like to march off on my own to discover a place. But it can also be nice to meet with others for a while and share impressions, and this sounds as though I could have a bit of both.
7. Being close to the action
I hadn’t given much thought to proximity, except when weighing trains against planes. Like trains, river boats in Europe tend to dock IN town, not around the bay at some cruise hangar that looks more like a disreputable warehouse than a medieval village…
8. The cost: you absolutely get what you paid for
When I first saw a sticker price I almost keeled over. But then I did the math. Take Switzerland, with a daily cruise price of US$ 286. First, finding a hotel in Switzerland at under US$ 200 a night is a feat. They do exist, but even the Swiss describe them as ‘spartan’. And that’s just the room. Food for the day will cost another $100 if you pay for three meals and a coffee (coffee alone sets you back at least US$ 4 – I worked in Switzerland until recently so this all comes from personal knowledge). The Swiss river cruise I looked at includes the food and sleep AND 11 guided tours and transport between cities and the use of onboard bicycles and food and wine tastings (average cost of one of these would be US$ 90). So adding it all up, a river cruise is surprisingly cost effective.
9. The view, of course
When you drive into a city, you see its modern expansion and its outlying districts. But when you sail along its waters, you see the town as it sees itself, as it was created. Cities in Europe first developed along strategic waterways so seeing a place from where it was meant to be seen hits at the heart of its history.
10. Speaking of views…
Ever rented an expensive hotel room just to find that the view – looks onto the back of skyscrapers and parking lots? That’s certainly happened to me, and the idea of a glittering shore slowly passing by sounds like heaven, not to mention that it changes every day. That also means a different port each day, so different foods, different scenery and different cultures. Diversity!
11. Get the best shot
I like my Instagram and I’m always on the lookout for great photography, and let’s face it, seeing a place from the deck of a nearby boat means you’ll capture it just as it should be, not too close, and not so far that a chateau will be a dot in the distance
12. Life on the river
People actually live on rivers, in barges and houseboats as well as in buildings. Some of these boats are stationery, some are on the move. Either way, life on the river looks different from life on a street. When I stayed on my friend’s houseboat in Paris, I was concerned about traffic rush hour whereas she was mainly preoccupied by weather.
13. Taking it easy
Remember that movie, “If it’s Tuesday, it’s Belgium?” Well, that’s exactly how I don’t like to see the world. I’m a proponent of slow travel. I like taking my time and while a river cruise in Europe would ferry me from place to place, it would do so in a leisurely way. I like the idea of not rushing, of drifting along with enough time to actually see things rather than rush by snapping them on my phone and hoping for the best.
14. That single supplement – BEGONE!
Depending on the company you can sail solo with no single supplement! In Vantage’s case, 6-8 cabins are built specifically for solo travelers like me. This sends me a signal: I won’t be the only solo person on a cruise, and I won’t be out of pocket for traveling on my own.
15. My pet peeve: packing and unpacking
I’m not lazy, but Mediterranean that I am, I enjoy taking time to… enjoy life. One thing I hate about multi-city travel is having to pack and unpack all the time. On a river cruise, you get to unpack ONCE. You don’t have to change rooms every day. That works for me!
16. Can I really take all that?
I’m so used to traveling with a single carryon – all those budget airline constraints – that the idea of actually packing a suitcase filled with my own things takes a bit of time to sink in. Even if I don’t need a whole suitcase, there’s the sheer luxury of being able to underpack a suitcase and leave plenty of empty space to bring things home. As in shopping, for a change.
17. Am I the only one who doesn’t like homework? (within reason…)
A river cruise would allow me to go lighter on the research. Whenever I travel, I spend weeks tracking down the best deals for hotels, the most recommended restaurants at affordable prices, every sight I should see… in fact it’s so time-consuming and frustrating I sometimes throw my arms up in despair and just wing it. This way, I can cut back severely on the research but still get to see everything I want. It’s a relaxing thought.
18. Add on travels before or after
Because river cruises by their nature don’t start and end at the same place, I see a great opportunity for using them as part of a journey. I could easily spend a week before a cruise traveling on my own, and then join a small group to see everything I’d missed.
19. Bigger is not better
I remember my horror at watching a huge cruise ship head straight towards me in Venice – a 15-story hotel that looked none too steady and dwarfed the scenery it was supposed to admire. I see that river boats are small and cozy, with under 200 passengers rather than thousands.
20. Pamper me, please!
I tend to budget carefully when I travel, so that I can travel longer… but once in a while, I like a bit of luxury. When I traveled across Africa for a year, I stayed in a five-star hotel once a month to pamper myself. I like the idea of being pampered on a cruise as I’m transported through Europe’s extraordinary waterways.
21. Maybe I’m just a royal in disguise
The one comment I keep hearing about luxury river cruises is that they have lots of staff to attend you – no waiting interminably for a waiter or service. My partner, who has taken a cruise on the Rhine, tells me service is as good if not better than in a top hotel.
22. Please bring on the food
If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I’m all about food (too much, some days!) So the idea of having highly-trained chefs who specialize in all sorts of cuisine and teach me how to duplicate what they do definitely speaks to me.
23. Can they stay at home? Just this once?
Now I know I’m bound to upset someone with this statement but… river cruises don’t have a lot of children! I love kids but – not necessarily on my vacation, which is the only time I ever get to rest and rebuild my energy. I need a bit of quiet to do that and not having children of my own, I find “family-friendly trips” don’t give me the down time I need…
24. Maybe you don’t like to fly all the time…
This is an easy one: it’s great to have budget airlines that criss-cross Europe but I like the idea of going through countries rather than over them, so floating versus flying sounds rather nice.
25. And you love getting up at dawn for an early flight to your next destination, right?
Yes, I thought so.
26. The transport issue is resolved.
One of my major headaches is organizing transport from A to B when I travel. It’s fun, but it’s time-consuming and if I only have a week or two, I don’t want to spend half a day trying to figure out which bus connections I’ll need to make to get somewhere by sundown.
27. Do you ever worry about the driving?
If you want to travel at your pace, you can rent a car. I don’t know about you but when I’m not familiar with local road customs, I’m a bit stressed at the wheel. I’m also stressed on public transport, having barrelled down windy and winding mountain roads in screeching buses once too often. I like the idea of staying off the road, the place where most accidents happen. (Less motion sickness, too.)
28. I hate hidden extras
I love the idea that most things are included on river cruises – transport, accommodation, tours and meals. That’s precious little extra cash I’ll need, other than for tips or shopping.
29. Be hip!
River cruising is one of fastest growing segments of the travel industry – there must be a reason for it. And, if you don’t like feeling left out…
30. First-timers’ paradise
I’ve done a lot of traveling but not everyone has. If I were a first-time traveler, I’d love to have someone to take care of it all for me, from sightseeing to service on board to sorting out any problems I might have. Come to think of it, I’d like that anyway, first-timer or not.
So no, a European river cruise was not on my bucket list at all. Perhaps I should change my mind.
This post was written in partnership with Vantage Travel.
— Originally published on 12 March 2017