With seemingly the entire world in various stages of lockdown, we’re dreaming of returning to Europe. When we do, we want to approach our next European trip in a different way than we have in the past. It’s time to seriously consider a European river cruise.
For many travelers, their first in-depth experience across the pond is on a river cruise in Europe. Options are plentiful; Europe’s traditional waterways offer a variety of cruise itineraries to suit varied interests and time available.
From the famous Blue Danube – which flows from Germany’s Black Forest region through ten countries in Central Europe to an amazing delta on the Black Sea – or the romance of the Rhine – with fairytale castles and storied past dating back to the Holy Roman Empire – to shorter, more focused trips such as those along the Seine in France or the Main in Germany, river cruises are a favorite and fascinating way to see Europe.
European cruises are not only a great way to see famous sites and attractions. If your bucket list includes special experiences, shore excursions or dedicated itineraries can often provide the deep dive into your individual interests to make an outstanding memory.
First-timers will want to consider some of the following aspects of traveling on a European river cruise:
- Does the itinerary fit into the amount of available travel time, including getting to the embarkation point and allowing for return flights?
- Are famous attractions a definite must? How would you feel if you didn’t visit the Louvre in Paris, for example, or can you see yourself getting “castle’d out” after several stops?
- What’s your opinion of guided tours? Are you confident enough to schedule independent time in a city, or do you prefer the logistics be handled for you?
- Do you have any specific interests or passions that you’d like to plan for? Foodie, painting or drawing, bicycle touring, wine or beer tasting, architecture, specific historical periods, music?
Because we’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Europe already and know our individual travel styles, as well as how we mesh as a couple, we’re pondering:
- Whether we should revisit countries we’ve already been to, or should we choose an itinerary of places that are new to us?
- If we choose an intinerary of places we’ve already visited, do we want to repeat experiences from the cruise’s excursion menu?
- Will our fitness level limit the activities we can enjoy? Or are there a variety of options that would match up with our limitations?
- What about privacy vs interacting with other passengers? We like to socialize, but we can be introverted, too.
- Is the atmosphere on board casual or more sophisticated? Would there be times when dressy clothing is expected?
- How about the pace? We like to soak in the atmosphere wherever we are. Are we going to feel rushed?
As well, there are practical considerations that will affect every cruise passenger:
- Are airfares, airport transfers and other non-water transportation included in the cost of my cruise?
- Will I have to plan for additional government fees, taxes, or surcharges for fuel or other expenses?
- Will I need to present proof insurance and good health, e.g. a Covid negative status, etc.?
- Are tips and gratuities expected and/or included?
- Is there a single supplement if I’m not traveling with my spouse or companion?
- How many passengers does the ship accommodate? Would I be happy with the size?
- Do the cabin amenities provide comfort and practicality (internet access, electrical outlets, charging for devices, generous closet and bathroom space, balcony or vista window)?
- Are menus flexible to accommodate food preferences and dietary restrictions?
- Are drinks complimentary with meals?
- Is there a cruise director? Would concierge services handle special requests?
- Are there pre- and post-cruise sightseeing options available?
- Is there flexibility should a need to modify or cancel my reservation arise?
There’s no question that most recently cruise companies have had to completely suspend and adjust their offerings to account for the Covid pandemic and its unique challenges. But even before Covid, responsible cruise companies were addressing social and environmental initiatives with forward policies designed to provide environmental sustainability and cultural respect.
Going forward, changes in protocols for safety and hygeine will contain core elements such as masking, testing, provisions for quarantining in cabins and onshore, and more stringent excursion controls. There will likely be additional adjustments in cruise company business models, and reimagined product offerings to address perceived risks.
Still, there is pent-up enthusiasm for travel and European river cruises are among the most favorite items for travelers. While we would carefully consider all the aspects discussed in this article, we are also definitely pro European river cruising as an excellent way to experience the beauty and culture of one of our favorite continents.