For most of us, cruising means flying down south to Florida and catching a week long cruise that navigates around the Caribbean Sea and hops between a few countries. This is great for those wanting to catch some sun and spend time in the tropics without sacrificing the comforts of a 168,000 tonne ship but what other options are there?
Where things get interesting is when start looking at the Europe River Cruise options because that's when you start introducing spectacular scenery with history, art and culture. These voyages allow you to explore a large number of European cities as the ship meanders down waterways that span thousands of years of history. The beauty of it all is that each itinerary is masterfully crafted to give you an unforgettable experience.
What You Should Know
Unlike cruises in the Caribbean, you're going to be pretty busy on a European river cruise. There concept of having an “at sea” day is almost non existent and as you go from port to port, you'll be busy following your itinerary that will include visits to fairy-tale castles, charming small villages nobody has ever heard of, and bucket-list checking cities.
A typical cruise is a week long and is usually the perfect amount of time because this gives you some time to tack on your own adventures pre-cruise or post-cruise.
While you may be experiencing some FOMO (fear of missing out) when considering a river cruise because there'll be so many other cities you want to go to, what may put your mind at ease is the fact that most European cities were born out of being in close proximity to the water that acted as natural trade routes.
Now what about the ships themselves? If you're looking for glitz and glamour, this may not be for you as the ships on the river have to be a lot smaller on purpose and entertainment is going to be lacking in comparison to the big cruise lines. That being said, a lot of river cruise ships are being upgraded as we speak.
Picking a River Cruise
Finding the right cruise for you ultimately depends on where you want to go. The river networks in Europe are so expansive that you'd be surprised where it can take you.Let's go through a few of the popular routes and why you might be interested.
Rhine and the Danube
These are the two most popular rivers for cruising and where it all began when the industry boomed in the 90's. The Rhine flows from Switzerland to Amsterdam in the North, passing through numerous towns and cities in France and Germany. The Danube flows from the Black Sea in Romania to the Black Forest in Germany and what makes this river different is that passes through mostly Eastern European countries like Austria, Croatia and Slovakia. Both rivers provide dramatic scenery along the way and is steeped in history whether it's the romantic era or the time of the Iron Curtain.
The Seine and The Rhone
If you're up for exploring France, both the Seine and the Rhone provide amazing opportunities to cruise through Normandy or down south and the Provencal region.
Other rivers to consider is the Moselle that runs through a bit of France, Belgium and France. Russia is another country that has river cruising opportunities with the Svir and Volga which has voyages that sail between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Best Time To Go
The river cruising season typically runs between April to October when the weather is good. I would recommend avoid going in April though just because spring flooding can make certain areas impassable. By the same token, rainy season is also bad so late Fall may also not be optimal depending on where you want to go. Ironically drought and low water can also be an issue since the boats depend on having enough water to pass through. If for any reason extreme weather occurs during the cruise, operators are well equipped to handle these situations and will put passengers on busses if necessary.
Booking a River Cruise
Once you've decided on going on a river cruise, where you want to go, when you want to go, and with what company the next step is to make a booking. In cruising, honestly the best way is to book directly with the cruise line that you're interested in. I've always found that they have the best prices and there's less hassle if you need to make changes or something else comes up.
Featured image via Flickr michaelleggero