Guide to River Cruising for First Timers
Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to go on your first river cruise. Whether a tried-and-true ocean cruiser checking out river cruising for the first time, or new to cruising altogether, there are several things to keep in mind when planning a first river experience.
These smaller ships – generally hosting 100 to 200 passengers – are able to slip in and out of smaller ports that the mega-ships can’t access. This means that boats often moor right in the midst of a pulsating big city or ancient village, providing immediate access to the sights of the destination. Therein lies the allure of the slow pace and immersive quality of river cruising – that guests are up close and personal with each locale, and given time to savor the unique culture, history and sights of each. Walking tours are popular, and are often complemented by motorcoach and biking tours.
The most popular river cruises in Europe travel along the Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Elbe, Seine, Rhone, Douro and Volga. After a day of sightseeing, the ship will likely sail overnight. As opposed to ocean cruising, it’s truly the route and the intriguing ports visited that are the highlight here, not the ship itself.
Onboard, life is casual and comfortable, as is the dress code. While one won’t find dazzling nightlife and entertainment, multiple dining options and casinos, as one might on a mega-ship, instead guests delight in comfortable staterooms and open-seating dining (meaning one may eat when, where and with whom one pleases) and, typically, an all-inclusive price point, so there’s no nickel and diming. Most river cruise lines include meals, beverages, sightseeing and more in the fare, making for an easy, seamless cruise experience.
River-cruising vessels boast river views in all staterooms, inviting in the ever-changing panoramas of the countryside. Guests are treated to private bathrooms (some with bathtubs), and new riverboats are beginning to add more creative living space and balconies to increase the square footage to enjoy when onboard. Again, as opposed to mega- ship ocean cruising, guests spend most of the day exploring and dining in local ports, so it’s for quiet evenings and sleep that they retreat to the privacy of their cabin. It’s common, too, that river boats have a hot tub onboard.
As for entertainment, the ports themselves headline the show, from sleepy villages to cosmopolitan cities. Knowledgeable guides will lead guests to cultural and historic sites – think castles and chateaux, farmer’s markets and art museums – truly immersing one in life along the river, often with the chance to chat with the locals. After all, back on the ship, there are no line-ups of cooking demonstrations or comedy acts, as it’s expected that guests will want to maximize their time ashore, getting to know each destination inside and out.