Trains are great in Europe. They are quick and efficient. They get you from point A to B in a blur. Which sometimes that is what you want. But sometimes you may want a more relaxed and slower pace. And a slow relaxed pace is definitely what river cruising can offer.
Imagine being able to check-in to your floating hotel for at least 7-nights knowing that you will get to visit many places and see beautiful scenery without having the hassle of packing your bags every few days. Your stateroom, which is larger in size compared to mainstream ocean cruise cabins, has a more hotel-feel instead of feeling like you are on a ship. The size of the ship is limited to four decks so you don’t have to walk for miles to get anywhere and it isn’t very wide as it has to be skinny enough to fit through locks on the river. This all gives the ships a more intimate feel and experience. You’ll meet other like-minded guests from around the world and make friendships that can last for years.
You could easily spend the entire time eating – meals (which are included in the cruise cost) include made-to-order egg station or a breakfast buffet with complimentary sparking wine, daily lunch buffet with pasta and carving stations as well as a grilled lunch outside (weather permitting) or a lighter lunch served in the Bistro, and dinner is a four-course a la carte mouth-watering experience. Regional wine, beer and soft drinks are served with all lunches and dinners (also included in cost). Vegetarian options are offered and other special dietary needs can be arranged. The meals are made with local produce that the chefs shop for while you are out sightseeing. In between the set meal times there is a premium coffee station with cookies and fruit, as well as daily afternoon tea and late night dining. Phew. That’s a lot of food.
Now for the experience. I am concentrating on France for this article and there are three main areas where you can river cruise – along the Seine between Paris & Normandy, in southern France in Burgundy & Provence, and in the Bordeaux area on the western side. Each itinerary has its own individual experiences which I will abbreviate below.
Paris and Normandy – This river cruise combines the City of Love with the history of Normandy. The ship will sail roundtrip from Paris and include Giverny (Monet’s home) or Bizy Castle, the landing beaches in Normandy, a visit to Rouen to see the cathedral and the Astronomical Clock, and Conflans with a choice of excursions to visit Auvers-sur-Oise or Napoleon and Josephine’s Château de Malmaison
Burgundy and Provence – Visit charming villages and medieval towns. Go wine tasting and see a Roman Amphitheater. Enjoy a cheese tasting and visit the beautiful Palace of the Popes. Some cruise lines only focus on Provence and some combine both. The Avalon Waterways itinerary (that has a 40% off promotion on certain dates for a limited time) runs between St Jean De Losne (Burgundy) and Arles (Provence). You can easily add-on a pre/post cruise stay in Paris or on the French Riviera. Great for wine lovers, foodies, history and art enthusiasts and those who want to experience the culture of southern France.
Bordeaux – Sailings are roundtrip Bordeaux and are very much geared towards the wine lover. There are cute towns and natural sights to behold as well but most of the activities involve some type of wine tasting or vineyard visit (and nothing wrong with that!) Not all river cruise companies are in this area yet.
There are also special interest cruises on these itineraries including those with a special interest in the culinary aspects, the wine, the art, or the WWII history. These sailings all have extra inclusions depending on the theme.
Interested in a river cruise but not keen on France? River cruises are all over Europe including Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Austria, The Netherlands, Hungary and Italy. Worldwide they can be found on the Amazon River in South America, China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Africa (river cruise + safari!)