Last week I listed 10 convincing reasons to take a river cruise. If you need more ammunition to convince your loved one, here are 14 more reasons to prefer cruising on a European river to cruising the deep, blue sea.
1. You get more unforgettable experiences and memories.
- River cruise itineraries include lots of time in port.
- None of your waking hours are wasted in train travel or changing hotels.
- You only need to unpack at the beginning of your trip and pack when you leave.
- Plus, you wake up in a new port every day because—with the exception of some particularly scenic areas or visiting two sites in one day—the ship moves to its next destination while you sleep.
2. Itineraries are more interesting.
Ocean cruises may have days “at sea” but there are never any “on river” days here. Every day you will find yourself in at least one new port and everyone will take advantage of the included guided tours before they seize the opportunity to head out on their own to explore. (Why spend a day enjoying the boat when you could be out experiencing the town?)
As popular as those Rhine and Danube cruises may be, that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. (No Titanic-sized icebergs here, yay!) When it comes to river cruising there are plenty of places you can see and go, beginning with a remarkable assortment of cruises available in France (Bordeaux, anyone?).
If Europe is your style you can cruise all the way from Amsterdam to the Black Sea or see towns on the Volga River as you sail between Moscow and St. Petersburg. If more exotic locations float your boat (sorry, couldn’t resist), don’t despair. Mark Twain may have liked Mississippi river boats, but if India, China, Southeast Asia or Egypt intrigue you more, you’ll find cruises available there as well.
3. Your ship ties up in the middle of town.
Instead of those long walks to a shuttle, your riverboat will often tie up right in town. This means you will have only a short walk or quick bus ride into the heart of the city. Even when the berths are already all occupied and your ship has to tie up to another ship, it's only a short hop and jaunt through the other vessel's lobby or sun deck to get ashore.
Being so close to the action means you have more time in port. It also makes it easy to feel like you’re taking part in a town’s day-to day life. You will be in the local culture as soon as you step off the ship. Oh actually, your tour begins at the dock. After (or instead of) the tour, you can mingle with locals in a sidewalk café within sight of your ship, shop until you drop and return for an afternoon nap, lose yourself in the markets, or explore museums, monuments and other must-see attractions on your own schedule.
4. Excursions are included.
Every port includes a shore tour, from a traditional walk around a town to a bus trip to a local attraction (on the Rhine we took a bus through the Black Forest to an ancient monastery, then visited a cuckoo clock workshop and gobbled/got the recipe for Black Forest cake).
On another occasion we spent the evening experiencing Cologne's brauhaus culture and trying various styles of Kölsch, a pale ale that is only produced in Cologne.
Tip: Consider paying for the optional extra tours. Memories of dining in a local home, exclusive wine tastings or a scenic drive along the Romantic Road can be priceless.
5. It’s easy to “listen up”
Many of the better companies issue passengers a personal Quietvox listening device (wireless receiver and earphones) on arrival. This is one of our favorite features, because it makes it easy to hear the guide perfectly clearly, no matter the distance or venue. No need to stay near the guide in order to hear! (The part we didn’t like: You have to remember to charge it in your room every night.)
6. You always have a view.
You wake up to a view of the river every morning. Later you can sit under a canopy on the open deck—or on some ships soak in a hot tub or pool—and choose to do little more than enjoy amazing river views. Depending on where you cruise you might see castles, farms, kids swimming, fishermen, or maybe a water buffalo or crocodile.
7. You’ll have a unique opportunity for amazing photos.
Cruising means you will have many opportunities to take photos of ancient castles, famous monuments, pretty countrysides, and charming villages along the river.
8. Even the daytime cruising is fun.
As I mentioned before, riverboats don't spend full days cruising, but when there are particularly beautiful stretches like the Rhine River Gorge or the Danube's Wachau Valley, cruise lines make it a point to feature them by cruising the area during daylight hours. Not only is the scenery fantastic, sitting on the outdoor deck of your “floating hotel” is wonderfully relaxing.
Our experience: Our Rhine cruise featured a fabulous themed picnic meal out on the sun deck—complete with beer, burgers, brats and sweet treats … and our scenic noshing was accompanied by German music as we cruised to our next destination.
9. Entertainment is culturally relevant.
The mega-ships on the big blue sea have things like kids’ clubs and glitzy Las Vegas-style revues. Don’t expect that on a river boat, where they focus less on idle time activities and more on the itinerary. What this means is that almost all experiences will be inspired by the port you are visiting.
Your Cruise Director will usually offer a lecture about the upcoming port, and sometimes you’ll even have an opportunity to take a brief language class from a crew member. Occasionally, depending on the night and the port, cruises might bring a folkloric dance troupe aboard or remain moored later so passengers can attend a performance, perhaps a ballet, opera or organ concert.
They do switch things up to keep things interesting, though. Some evenings the entertainment is nothing more than a bit of relaxing background music from the ship’s on-board musician.
Our experience: Having been accustomed to a cavernous auditorium on our previous ocean cruise, we liked this alternative too: enjoying culturally relevant entertainment along with a few of our shipmates in the ship’s intimate lounge. On one occasion we sampled Dutch cheeses and jenever (a local spirit), then joined in a competition as everyone tried their hand at Sjoelbak (Dutch table shuffleboard). On another we had a lesson in how to make Rüdesheimer coffee. I can't recall any of the shows we saw on the ocean liners but I do remember these.
10. Kids are a rarity.
With their focus on itineraries, food and culture rather than on-board entertainment and heavy partying, river cruises rarely appeal to kids and 20-somethings. Most river cruise companies market to people in the age group that prefers history and culture to running around drunk and half-naked.
Our experience: There were plenty of happy passengers in their 40s on our cruise. We suspect the demographic is dropping on the newer, more contemporary vessels.
11. The staff to passenger ratio is excellent.
Because of the limited number of passengers on board, you'll also become quickly acquainted with the friendly, helpful, knowledgeable crew. They all speak English and many are from the countries you'll be visiting.
Our experience: Our waiters learned our preferences quickly.
12. Local foods and wines.
Your menu will include local dishes as well as predictable standards. For instance, you may dine on goulash while in Budapest or have the chance to enjoy sauerbraten while docked in Germany. From breakfast to dinner's dessert, local cheeses, fruits, wines and beers are a part of the ship's menu. Your chef will harvest herbs from the sundeck and prepare your meal with ingredients he purchased while in port as well, so everything will be incredibly fresh.
Our experience: The local breads and pastries were especially hard to resist and the wines were always a treat for our senses. in other words, walking is your waistline's friend.
13. River companies are increasingly eco-friendly
Many of the major river cruise lines are investing in new technology to improve operating efficiency, safety and environmental sensitivity. Viking River’s new longships, for example, have “a state-of-the-art propulsion system [that] delivers a quieter, vibration-free, more environmentally friendly ride. Passengers probably won't notice what's going on below the waterline, but the hybrid, diesel/electric engines save an estimated 20 percent on fuel.”
14. You will hate to leave the ship.
Our experience: The only bad moment we had was leaving the ship at end of cruise.