Tours of a Lifetime: River Cruising Through Europe
Contributing editor Margaret Loftus will help you decide if a European river cruise is right for you. Check out our May/June 2009 50 Tours of a Lifetime issue for more great tours.
By its nature, riverboat cruising is a far more intimate affair than the behemoths that cruise the open seas. Last year, I spent three days aboard the 118-passenger riverboat Swiss Sapphire as it plied Belgium’s Albert Canal. Soaking up the local scene is all part of the journey, on the boat and off. “You’re not having as big of a footprint, you’re able to get more into a destination, rather than looking at it inside of a bubble,” argues Tom Armstrong, spokesman for Sapphire operator Tauck World Discovery. Underway, I watched joggers and bikers along the canal from my cozy quarters (rooms range from 150 to 300 square feet) and marveled at how the captain carefully negotiated the river’s locks. Onshore excursions typically emphasize local interaction, such as our visit with the chocolatier or lunch at a local’s home. Bicycles are provided for those who’d rather strike out on their own.
Outfitters tout European river cruising as a convenient mode of travel – there’s minimal schlepping and you only unpack once– and a good value. Rates range from $150 to $400 a day and are usually all-inclusive–an
especially decent deal when the euro is stronger than the dollar. These days, several operators are offering added incentives for those who book early. Uniworld, for instance, is knocking $300 off the brochure price per person if you book a 2009 cruise and pay in full before May 30. A plus for solo travelers: Tauck is eliminating single supplements on select river cruises, including its 12-day Budapest to the Black Sea trip.
Traditionally, river cruising has been a hard sell to Americans under 50, but that’s changing. “It’s getting a bit more diverse in terms of ages,” says Armstrong. This summer, the company will test a family river cruise on the Danube. Comparatively, the market is still going strong: Tauck, Uniworld, and Viking will all launch new ships this year.
Itineraries range from nine-day trips on the Danube to Tauck’s 24-day Grand European Cruise from Amsterdam to Bucharest, featured in our 50 Tours of a Lifetime round-up in the May issue of Traveler. Of course, you’re covering a lot of ground so don’t expect to become steeped in a place. Instead, you’ll get a little taste and maybe return once you’re hooked.
Have you been on a river cruise in Europe? Tell us about it.
Photos: courtesy Tauck World Discovery
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