Saturday, January 19, 2013

River Cruising

I've had a few people ask me about European river cruises so I thought I would capture some of my thoughts on them. First of all, I love them. I never thought I would get DH on one, however, as he did not like the idea of being on the water.
We went to Egypt in 2007 and it included a three day Nile cruise and he was hooked. In 2009 we took a trip to China which had a three day Yangtze cruise which went through the 3 Gorges Dam. He realized then that the ships do not rock and it was a great way to get around.

We have done the Gate 1 Moscow to St.Petersburg in May 2011. We added several days in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Then we took the Gate 1 Danube river cruise from Budapest to Prague in May 2012 where we added Copenhagen as our first stop and then arranged our own flight to Budapest.
August 2012 saw us on on the Seine from Paris to Normandy and back.
October 2012 we took Gate 1 along the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel. We added some days in Amsterdam and Basel.

The cruise companies can arrange your optional hotel extensions if you wish. We have used them and also booked them on our own. It's your choice.

Another idea is to book back to back river cruises since you are already in Europe. We saw a lot of people do this when in Paris, they took the cruise to Normandy and back and then transferred to another cruise to the south of France. An excellent idea if you have the time.

You can also book your optional tours along the cruise route ahead of time, and we did do that the first time. However, I suggest you wait until you're on board as you will get a better idea of the tour and its duration. We booked ahead of time in Prague for a trip on our last day and then decided not to take it when we learned it involved a three bus trip there and back. We were enjoying Prague so much that we didn't want to waste six hours on a bus when we could be wandering on our own. So we chose to forfeit the cost.

River ships are typically about 300' - 400' in length and 35' - 40' in width. They have three or four decks for accommodation, lounges, bars, restaurants, and other public areas. The ships are well appointed and comfortable with the exception of the Russian ships which are older and of a lower quality than the European ships.

Don't select cabins on the bottom deck.  Unlike a regular full sized ocean liner, where even the lowest cabins are still quite a way up from the waterline, your eye level view will be close to the waterline of the ship, limiting your views.  
 I definitely recommend upgrading your cabin to ensure you have a French balcony that you will be able to open and watch the towns go by. 

Always check on the deck plan  to see what is above, below, and alongside your cabin.  Avoid cabins below lounges, dance floors, etc, and avoid cabins next to bulkhead doors and with public spaces on the other side. We learned this the hard way when our cabin was located on the same floor as the dining room and the hordes would line up down the hall waiting for the dining room to open. However this was on the MS Sound of Music which had a large group of passengers who were like the hungry masses who had never eaten. I have not seen this on any other cruise ship.

Also the other ships have had their dining rooms and bars located at one end of the ship on top of each other.

MS Avalon Creativity Paris to Normandy August 2012

Our cabin aboard the MS Amadeus Princess October 2012

The ships usually have between 60 and 85 cabins, making total passenger capacity somewhere between 120 and 175.

This is an ideal size as the ship itself is large enough to be interesting and not to feel confining. Forgot something? It's not a big deal to go back to your cabin to get it.

River cruising is the best way to travel. Your ship is small enough (usually about 140 passengers) to dock right in town so you can either walk and visit on your own or else take an optional tour. The food is great with breakfast and lunch typically buffets and then sit down dinners.

Depending on the cruise itinerary you can often board your ship as scheduled and then use it as a hotel  as the ship stays moored for two or three days in places like Amsterdam, Paris, Budapest, Moscow or St. Petersburg. This means you can go off on your own to sightsee or eat in those cities or else do the optional tours offered and eat your meals on board.

Since we like to eat local food if the schedule allows it we will go off on our own and have a meal in a local restaurant. We had a great time sampling the white sausages in Regensburg Germany.

You move at slow speeds and typically sail at night while you are dining or sleeping. It is fun to awake in the morning and be in a new town or city.
Cruises will include some cruising during the day, both to meet the need to be certain places at certain times, and also to allow you to enjoy some daytime sightseeing. They are also dependent on the timing for locks. One of the best daytime sails we did was along the Rhine even if it was raining!

You sail at typically 12 - 15 mph cruising speed which provides a feeling of relaxed travel.
Europe is very compact - you only have short distances to travel between towns (and even between countries). 

Passengers are older usually 50+ who love to travel. There is a large mixture of couples, singles, women travelling together. Due to the small number of passengers it is easy
 easy to get to know other passengers if you wish. We still stay in contact with people we have met.

A good way to determine if a river cruise is too expensive is to consider what you would pay traveling around Europe on your own or on a bus tour (which as I mentioned I would never do).
Hotels are very expensive in Europe, even using $125 (sharing) for a night, meals at $50 assuming breakfast is included in the hotel rate, tours are at least $75 and then transportation on top of that makes river cruising a great choice.
On top of that you only have to unpack once and check in once!!! We all know what it is like packing and unpacking while touring around.
And then there's the quality of the food. If you are paying for each meal on your own you don't get the opportunity to try different things or you end up skimping to save some money. You are not likely to eat five or seven course meals on your own and stay within a reasonable budget. Most river cruises even include your beer and wine with meals.

On top of that you get your free entertainment in the evening. Now this is not top class entertainment but it can keep you busy as you sail at night. There is usually a crew talent show which can be amusing. 

You see much more from a river cruise boat than you do from a bus, train, or car, and you can be either enjoying the sights more comfortably, either in your cabin, in a lounge, in a dining room, or up on one of the open decks.
I certainly have no intentions of ever taking a bus tour where you have to be up at 7AM with your luggage to board yet another bus to another town.

Aboard the MS Avalon Creativity August 2012 along the Seine

While you sail during the day time the crew always provides some type of activities, generally involving food for your entertainment.

Afternoon tea aboard the MS Russ on the Volga May 2011

Plus, when you arrive at the various places you stop and visit, when you get off the boat, you're able to sightsee exactly the same as any other way of traveling. Well - not quite so exactly - you don't have to bother about packing your bags, checking out of the hotel, carrying your bags to your form of transport, traveling to the next place, getting to your hotel, checking in, carrying your own bags upstairs, and unpacking them again in your room!

As cruise passengers you get early quick entrance into attractions. This was a great bonus in France in August 2012 when everything was crowded such as Versailles in Paris or Giverny to visit Monet's Gardens.

You can do as much or as little as you feel like. Some people enjoy just staying on board.


  1. Wow. Thanks for sharing. Looks like an amazing way to travel- haven't been out of the states for a few years and your giving me the travel bug!

  2. I've been wanting to go on one of these river cruises on the Danube. Thank you for the report and pictures. I had no idea what it would be like taking one of these more intimate cruises over the mega-sized cruise ships.

  3. A river cruise is a holiday experience worth trying. Thank you for inspiring readers to indulge in this kind of getaway through citing what you have encountered:)

  4. Thank you Jackie. Have often lusted after a river cruise and seeing this post just increased those thoughts... going out to buy our lottery ticket!! Cheerio :D) (p.s. love the desert table - hubby and I both!)


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