A guide to river cruising

Ted Blank
Guest Columnist

Have you dreamed of gliding along Germany’s Rhine River, admiring the castles and medieval cities? How about sipping a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir as you follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark on the Columbia River? Or, for the more adventurous, discovering the magic of the Temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia on a Mekong River cruise?

River cruising has become tremendously popular in the past five years. Chances are, you know of a friend or a family member who has enjoyed a river cruise, and you might even be thinking about one yourself. However, you probably have some questions that I’ll answer in this month’s column. I’ve enjoyed five river cruises myself, and recently returned from my sixth – a wine tasting voyage along the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest.

River cruises represent a mix of people, including avid ocean cruisers, land tour takers, and independent travelers who enjoy discovering the world on their own. United by a passion for knowledge, culture, heritage, and culinary delights – food, wine, and beer – river cruisers are seeking a destination-focused vacation full of authentic experiences at a relaxed and civilized pace. Most river cruisers are well traveled people who dislike being rushed or herded while on vacation, but enjoy the time to really immerse themselves in a destination.

Demographically speaking, river cruisers tend to be mature. The average age of passengers on the 20 largest river cruise lines is about 62. Recently, however, some cruise lines have added new programs to encourage younger, more active travelers to cruise. Free bicycles, hiking tours, new and exciting shore excursion programs, beer tasting cruises, and dedicated family cruises are becoming common. In fact, Disney now offers a variety of river cruises throughout Europe specifically for families with young children!

The reasons to experience a river cruise are varied, but most cruisers appreciate the comfortable or luxurious surroundings, the intimate size of the vessels (80 to 150 guests, typically), and the freedom of only having to pack and unpack once. Flexible sightseeing excursions – typically included in the all-inclusive cruise fare – and nonstop scenery are also important benefits to river cruising. Truly, though, it is the magical combination of these factors that makes river cruising so popular. The only danger of river cruising is that you might get hooked. Many river cruise line boast repeat passenger rates of over 90 percent, so first-time river cruisers are highly likely to come back a second, third, or even fourth time to explore a different part of the world.

Each day on a river cruise is unique, but typically combine delicious gourmet meals, scenic cruising, and an opportunity to explore a historic city, cultural attraction, or natural feature on land. On some cruises, truly gourmet meals and fine wines enhance the experience. Cabins are comfortable – typically larger than those on an ocean cruise ship – and most feature private balconies or large windows to enjoy the panoramic views. The small size of the ships allows them to offer a high level of personal service. Entertainment includes presentations, tastings and demonstrations by local experts, or perhaps a local musical performance. Amenities also typically include fitness facilities, a choice of dining options, and sometimes a pool or hot tub.

River cruises on Europe’s main rivers – the Rhine, Danube, Seine, and Rhone – are a great way to discover Europe’s treasures. Closer to home, river cruises operate on the Mississippi, Columbia and Snake system, and the St. John’s River in Florida. Further afield, the Amazon in South America, Mekong and Irawwaddy in Asia, and Nile in Africa are also popular river cruising destinations.
Over 20 companies offer river cruises worldwide, ranging from the luxurious to the budget. On my website, www.ingenioustravels.com, you can read more detailed blog posts about several of the river cruises I’ve personally enjoyed. Happy travels!

Ted Blank is a Forest Lake-based travel agent and owner of Ingenious Travels.