You’ve probably seen videos or gazed longingly at brochures where guests on a river cruise relax on a balcony while floating past castles, mountains, and quaint European towns. Is it really as magical as it looks? The answer is a resounding yes! My recent Danube River cruise allowed me to experience Old World Europe in grand style.
River-cruising ships are smaller than the typical ocean ships, so the overall vibe is more intimate and relaxed. Our ship was the AmaViola, which had 78 staterooms, so the number of fellow passengers was 150 or less. Nonetheless, AmaViola had plenty of room for amenities: a large lounge with lovely views on either side, a large dining room, a gym with massage and hair salon treatment offerings, a library, and a top deck with a swimming pool. Here are five reasons to consider taking a European river cruise like I did!
Reason #1: Unpack once but visit multiple cities.
Europe is always a good idea, but the logistics of traveling from town to town — trying to read train schedules in another language, for one thing — can add to the stress factor. A river cruise eliminates that confusion, usually starting in a major city accessible by an airport, such as Amsterdam, Munich, or Paris. Then, the ship sails to smaller (charming) towns such as Strasbourg, Avignon, and Ghent.
Each day, you can enjoy a new destination more efficiently without schlepping your suitcase from one place to the next or renting a car. Most cabin rooms have closets and drawers to unpack and relax; all offer laundry services if you want to pack lightly.
Reason #2: Included excursions make the most of your time.
In each town, guests might have two to three options for exploring a city. There’s usually a two- to three-hour walking tour and sometimes an all-day visit (via motor coach) to a neighboring town, such as the trip to Salzburg to revel in all things “Sound of Music.” The beauty of river cruises — as opposed to ocean vessels — is that the ships tend to dock right next to a town, so people can easily experience the excursions offered or make their own agenda.
We decided to explore the city of Bratislava, Slovakia, so we did a little internet sleuthing about the area, grabbed a paper map, and walked around on our own. It’s as easy as walking out the door and up the plank, then starting your exploration. You’re good as long as you’re back on the ship before it goes to the next port!
Reason #3: Delicious meals tap into local culture.
Get ready to be pampered if you go on a river cruise — all meals are included, and both lunch and dinner include multiple courses. (Complimentary wine is poured freely for lunch and dinner, FYI.) We started every day with two options for breakfast: a sit-down option in the main dining room with make-your-own omelets (and so much more) or a more casual buffet in the lounge. For coffee lovers, a high-end (and easy to work) coffee machine off the lounge offered 24-hour-a-day access to cappuccinos, espressos, hot chocolate, and other delightful beverages.
Lunch was also either in the lounge or dining room, but dinner was more of a nightly occasion. AmaWaterways has a “Sip and Sail” hour (usually 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.) with complimentary specialty cocktails, followed by a four-course meal for dinner.
Chefs are inspired by specialties from wherever the ship is sailing (such as the schnitzel we had in Vienna), but don’t worry — there are standard options, such as steak and salmon, if you’re not feeling adventurous. Every guest can participate in a “Chef’s Special” evening, a seven-course feast in a dedicated room with special wine pairings and notes about each course. It’s also easier to pack for a river cruise since there are no formal nights like one might experience on an ocean cruise.
Reason #4: All ages and activity levels can feel at home.
River cruises are popular with retirees, but you’ll also see 40- and 50-somethings on ships these days, and sometimes they might bring their 20-something grown children with them. (No young children are allowed.) A dedicated wellness director on our ship led multiple exercise classes daily, and a gym was also available. Strenuous hikes and cycling were other options to keep moving.
Reason #5: You won’t get seasick.
Everybody loves being on the water and enjoying a sunset from the top deck, but not everyone can handle the rocking motion of an ocean cruise. Never fear; the gentle currents of a river cruise are kind to any of us who tend to be sensitive to motion sickness.
For more information, visit Amawaterways.com. Happy cruising!
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