The boats are smaller and more intimate (120-170 passengers) so you can actually get to know your fellow guests and not feel like you are being herded along like cattle…You may eat with whom you choose each evening and have a choice of a few onboard dining venues for variety.
It is as close to hassle-free as you can get. There are no lines to get on or off the boat and, when you arrive at your next stop, you can usually walk right off and be immersed in your destination. Europe grew up along its rivers, so there are some very charming and interesting small towns and big cities to explore. Very few ports require bus transfers, which makes it easy to come and go at your leisure.
The trip can be totally all-inclusive, depending on the cruise line and ship you have chosen.
Being on the river, there are no waves, so seasickness is not an issue. Also, most cruises include transferring through a series of “locks” to accommodate the changes in elevation, which most people find super interesting to watch. You can literally touch the walls of the locks from your balcony as you pass through! Evening entertainment can be a little sparse, but there is always live music in the lounge, lots of movies and entertainment on your in-cabin TVs and most cruise lines bring on local entertainers in some ports, such as an OomPah band in Passau Germany, or Gypsy dancers in Budapest. Plus, there are informative talks on the ports-of-call and cocktails with your newly-made friends from around the world.
The price tag of a River Cruise can cause a little bit of “sticker shock”, but when you figure out everything you are getting for the cost, it becomes much more manageable, and quite a good value. Viking River Cruises is the most well-known of the River Cruise lines because they spend boatloads (literally) of money on television and print advertising, and they have done a lot to introduce travelers to the River Cruise concept. However, there are many other River Cruise lines with higher customer satisfaction rates and more complimentary inclusions just waiting to show you the time of your lives as well.
A travel agent who specializes in European River cruising (like me!) and who has relationships with the sales reps from all the different lines can be incredibly valuable in helping you sort through all of the options and find the perfect fit! River cruising is also a great option for small groups of friends, family or even work colleagues who would like to travel together ….whenever I book a River Cruise, I always ask if there is anyone who might want to join you on the trip….most times at least 1 or 2 additional couples come forward! Who would you like to sip champagne with as you cruise through the incredible Wachau Valley in Austria’s wine country?