River cruises, especially Europe river cruises, continue to build in popularity. Every Europe river cruise line wants to attract younger clientele while still catering to their tried and true seniors. No matter what age group, from invincible 20s to active 80s, there are a few “must-knows” to help ensure a fabulous and memorable Europe river cruise vacation.
Most river boat passengers have already taken an ocean cruise and they are ready to move inland. With an average age of sixty-one and a median income of $80,000/year, these folks have both time and money to view Europe up-close and personal. However, as river cruise lines want to lure a younger demographic, look for shorter seven-night cruises and more active shore excursions. How about a fifteen-mile bike ride? AMAWaterways has a fleet of twenty bikes and a local guide leads the way.
What are the advantages of a European river cruise? While cruise ships only touch the edges of continents, river boats take you to the very heart of magnificent cities and ancient towns.
Quietly glide past hillside vineyards, medieval castles and historic monuments. Disembark and walk right into town for a café lunch. Stroll along the pier or borrow one of the river boat’s bicycles to explore further.
With so much to do and from three to twenty-five days to experience a river cruise, here are my Top Six suggestions for getting the most enjoyment.
1. Pack light. Not just for the airline requirements but for convenience. Without the cruise ship’s formal nights, men need only a collared shirt and sport coat. Women can leave their long dresses and high heels at home. Attire is country club casual even at dinner. Best of all, there are do-it-yourself launderettes on many of the river boats. Complimentary laundry service is included with many suite-level accommodations.
2. Know your limitations. Cobblestone streets, walkways and stairs can be a bit tricky to navigate if you are unsteady on your feet. Europe doesn’t subscribe to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are out of shape or have a heart condition, you might want to reconsider that 200-step climb to the top of the castle. Pace yourself accordingly. Some of the river boats do not have elevators, so make sure the boat you choose has one if you need one. Alternatively, many river cruises lines, including AMAWaterways, offer an easy-paced walking tour option.
3. Wine and dine. Unlike cruise ships, river boats have “open seating.” Stroll into the dining room (7am-9am) for a leisurely buffet breakfast. Lunch is fairly relaxed, too, as it is mainly buffet-style dining. Dinner however, doesn’t operate the same. To facilitate good service and freshly prepared entrees, you are expected to arrive fairly close to when the dining room opens. Dinner times can vary based on the timing of the shore excursions, so check your daily planner.
On some river cruise lines, the complimentary wine with dinner tends to abruptly stop when your entrée plate is removed. So if you like to sip wine after dinner be sure to flag down your waiter for a refill before your place is cleared. This has not been the case on AMAWaterways. I keep reminding myself that wine is from grapes so I’m getting my daily fruit requirement, in liquid form!
4. When in “Rome…” Nothing garners a warm welcome quicker than saying hello in the local language. Learn to say “hello,” “thank you” and “excuse me” in as many of the countries’ languages as possible. Write it on a cheat sheet and put it in your pocket. Chances are that the local shopkeeper, upon hearing your broken German or Romanian will immediately speak to you in English. But you’ve made the effort and it won’t go unrewarded.
5. Cash is king. Make a list of the countries you will visit and find a local bank that sells the currency. Mainly, you’ll need Euros. But if you can get any of the other currencies (and there are quite a few on the lower Danube river ) you can avoid the high commission exchange fees. Of course, the boat’s front desk will also exchange currency, but there are some limitations. Tipping at the end of your cruise is expected to be in Euros.
6. Weather reports. If you travel on the rivers in the spring or fall, there will certainly be a variance in temperatures and precipitation. Bring that nerdy plastic pancho and a folding umbrella. And leave that backpack at home. Nothing says “American Tourist” more than an Eddie Bauer backpack. If you must carry belongings, a tote bag is much more European. Also, when taking a motor coach tour, the bus is locked and you can leave that extra sweater or bag on your seat.
Here you have it, six easy ways to make the most of your European river cruise. Bon Voyage!