Who has watched Downton Abbey and noticed the beautiful advertisements for European river cruises? The breathtaking video and the narrator has you reaching for luggage to travel “the world.” River cruising worldwide continues to grow with many different suppliers in the marketplace and orders for new river ships scheduled for many years into the future.
Rivers throughout the world were used eons before roads were created and have always been vital to survival and settlement. Among the many of Europe’s great cities that have grown up on the banks of the rivers are Prague (Elba/Vltava), Budapest (Danube), London (Thames), Frankfurt (Main), Paris (Seine), and Vienna (Danube).
Although river cruises offer adventure and romance, the rivers are essential for commence, transportation of goods as well as providing drainage, irrigation, and water supply for their countries. Many rivers are currently being used to generate hydroelectric power and remain a primary resource to many nations.
The choices for European river cruising are anywhere from a barge ride to an elaborate five-star hotel on water. The advantages to taking a river cruise are similar to an ocean cruise … unpack once and the world comes to you through your view from your stateroom. The hassles of ordinary travel are almost eliminated and someone else does the driving. No worries about seasickness either. It’s all smooth sailing. Unlike ocean cruising, there are no casinos or bingo or annoying games; cultural events rule here. Usually the river ships tie up to the docks close to the city center and you can walk directly ashore. Most ships have bikes available for touring the city. There is always something to see and do with some of the day spent sailing the river and some portion spent touring or visiting a town.
There are seven key rivers in Europe (the Danube, Rhein, Elbe, Rhone, Seine, Po and Douro) with over 300 river ships operating on them. The ships can accommodate between 100 and 200 passengers depending on the line. All the river ships are flatbottom and can cruise in shallow water. They also have some flexibility to lower parts of the top deck to fit under overpasses and bridges. Some have swimming pools, while all have great views while you enjoy your breakfast or dine under the stars. The food is fantastic with world class service. It’s a great way to travel.
The cost of a river cruise tends to be more inclusive as reflected in its higher price point. All excursions and gratuities are included. Meals are usually prepared with local produce and meats/seafood and you might even shop with the chef as he goes to the local markets. Wines, liquors and soft drinks are usually included with lunch and dinner. Many of the suppliers even offer free airfare depending on when you sail. Best pricing is dependent on how well in advance you plan your trip as well as what time of year you travel. I have seen great pricing for early spring to see the tulips and late in the year to visit the holiday markets, but as the amount of river ships increases, I expect to see a slight price point drop because of the competition.
Be aware that rivers are natural entities and the weather can be unpredictable. Variable conditions mean nothing, such as depth of the river, the current or flow of the water, is fixed. A couple of years ago there was a major drought in Europe in the summer that left river ships unable to leave the docks. Guests were transferred to upscale hotels and taken on tours of Europe by other means. Back-up plans are in place to ensure your safety and enjoyment of a great European vacation. River cruise operators and passengers alike must be flexible in their approach to this type of vacation. But assuming all goes to plan, a river cruise can be relaxing, educational, inspirational, and social as well as a lot of fun. Your biggest decision will be deciding which cruise line to go on. Great adventures await!
Marci DeWitt owns a local travel agency, Anchor and Away Travel, a Dream Vacations franchise. She can be reached by email at mdewitt@DreamVacations.com.