The Reluctant River Cruiser
I’m a bit of a snob.
A reverse snob by most standards but a snob nonetheless.
I generally like to travel on the cheap – low to the ground so that I connect with locals and other travelers. I find expensive hotels to be impersonal; guests don’t mingle and locals are a rarity. While I enjoy luxury when traveling for work, I have generally preferred to stay in B&Bs, hostels and budget hotels when going for pleasure.
I just experienced my first river cruise and my thinking has changed.
Luxurious and social.
When Premier River Cruises (a travel agency that specializes in river cruise vacations for solo travelers) invited me to go on a cruise this year I admit that I was a bit reluctant. I didn’t think it fit with how I like to experience the world. However, they have been a great supporter of Solo Traveler for ten months now and I was keen to return their support by trying it out and letting you know what I think.
I confess I’m a convert. This will not be my exclusive mode of travel but it is certainly an option I can support. I will take another river cruise.
I boarded the ship at noon on the Sunday and was greeted by a friendly crew. The rooms were not scheduled to be ready until 2pm but lunch was being served so I had my first taste of the food which is prepared fresh on board. Lunch and breakfast are buffets with hot and cold offerings. Dinner is from a menu. Wine and beer are included at both lunch and dinner.
Ocean cruises have hundreds to thousands of passengers which affects the quality of food they can offer. With only 88 passengers on this sailing (and about 120 capacity) the kitchen on Uniworld’s River Countess produces quality equal to that of a fine restaurant. Fresh ingredients are picked up along the way and there is usually an aspect of the menu that reflects the local cuisine.
After lunch I checked in and found my stateroom where my bags had magically appeared. The bed was comfortable, the closets ample and the bathroom beautiful. Having spent the previous week in hostels in London and Nuremberg, I admit that I was actually giddy. The luxury was welcome!
One of the best things about river cruising is the people you meet. From the first afternoon, I met many people from many countries. And because I intentionally sat with different people for dinner every night, I got to hear their stories. Seven days with 88 people results in an intimate atmosphere. I’ll be writing more soon about the people I met.
No packing. No pressure.
In addition to the quality that Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (a sister company is Red Carnation Hotels which I have also had the pleasure to enjoy) delivers, river cruising, by its nature, has many benefits.
Once you’re settled on board you stay put while the ship takes you to new destinations daily. There’s no need to pack and unpack which makes for a very relaxing experience.Sometimes they sail at night but when passing a beautiful part of the river, the sailing is done during the day.
At each destination, the tours take place in the morning giving you the afternoon to explore on your own. One of my concerns about packaged holidays is that can be over-programmed so free afternoons were important to me. Most tours are included in the price as is almost everything other than the bar. This means that you’re never double-thinking whether you should do something and you don’t leave with a painful bill at the end. I’m not a big drinker and I didn’t take any of the three optional tours that had a price (30 – 80 Euros) attached so my bill when I disembarked was about 35 Euros.
I’m no longer reluctant!
Low-to-the-ground travel can be hard work. Figuring out logistics, booking your accommodation, finding a good place to eat, packing and unpacking… it’s fun and rewarding but also challenging and tiring. River cruising is definitely an option for solo travelers. For those new to solo travel like Amber (see the photo of the two of us) or for people like me who want a holiday on occasion, leaving the work of travel to someone else is appealing.
Yes, I’ve decided that river cruising does fit with how I like to experience the world.