The Reluctant River Cruiser

It was raining in Nuremberg so I was ready to cruise to better weather.

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.

Until now.

I just experienced my first river cruise and my thinking has changed.

My stateroom on the River Countess.

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.

There were free tours every day. On the left the remains of a Roman tower part of a fortress in Regensburg.

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.

Amber, another solo traveler, and I before a horse drawn tour of the Bavarian forest.

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.

We returned from our tour of the forest to tea and fresh baked bread from a traditional outdoor oven.

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.

Through the beautiful Waccau Valley

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.

Entering into the famous Melk Abbey

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.

Performance at the Spanish Riding School, Vienna.

Thanks to Premier River Cruises, a travel agency that specializes in river cruise vacations for solo travelers, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises for making this trip possible.

 

 

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Hi,

    Many of the river cruises attract North Americans but, as I experienced, there were people from other countries as well. It’s worth noting that Grand Circle announce that it will be converting 1,160 cabins on 14 river itineraries
    for single guests and that these cabins are not going to have the single supplement. Things appear to be moving in the right direction.

    Cheers!
    Janice

  • Redbird

    I have traveled for about ten river cruises with Grand Circle have paid single supplement, sometimes there are other singles but most travel with a friend to share costs. I have enjoyed every trip. Get to know lots of people with open seating. Have not met people from other countries, all American, would enjoy meeting people from other countries. I am interested in finding out about other options.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    The food was great on my cruise. Have fun!
    j

  • arleeda

    I too love river cruises–I’ve taken river cruises in France and Russia, and will cruise down the Danube from Budapest to the Black Sea in the fall. Much better and less formal than a huge ocean liner. Food is better, too.

  • Patricia Chester, Stamford, CT

    Janice, reading your blog over the past year inspired me to take my first solo river cruise. Based on your recommendations, I contacted Premier River Cruises, which found me a single-supplement waived river cruise on Avalon, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I flew into Paris two days early, stayed in a little boutique hotel one block from the Arc d’Triomphe and walked and walked for miles to see the sights on my own before the ship excursion. I loved traveling on my own, at my own pace and, once on board, truly enjoyed meeting the other passengers, most from all over the US, but many from Australia, England and Scotland. I would do it again with no hesitation. The safety and confidence of traveling with others on the ship and offshore was greatly appreciated.

  • Amanda Zimba

    Hey Amber, do you have any suggestions for solo travel? i have never traveled solo and i am searching for ideas….

  • solotraveler

    yes, river cruises are not cheap but they do tend to be all-inclusive. Unlike ocean cruises where you can get hit for a lot, the shore tours are all included.

    As for classes, we had one history lecturer on the cruise I was on which was interesting but it doesn’t amount to a class. If you take a river cruise through National Geographic or Smithsonian, then you get classes but they are much more expensive again.

  • solotraveler

    Hi Julie,

    I’m thinking back and I’d say that they were probably 60% American, 10% British. But there were also people from South Africa, Jamaica, Australia, Canada (more than just me) and Turkey. Those are the nationalities that I can remember at the moment.

    I know what you’re saying. I travel to meet people as well. When I was there, I sat at a different table every night so that I made it around to almost everyone and because of some diversity in nationalities and diversity in age and experience, I found many interesting people.

    I hope that helps,

    j

  • Julie

    Janice, I wonder if you can comment on the countries of origin of the river travelers on your cruise? I generally stay away from homegrown package tours because when I travel I want to broaden my experience, see new lands and meet people of various backgrounds, not just fellow Americans. Were your 87 water-bound compatriots primarily Americans?

  • leelaurino

    thank you Janice, i have wanted to know more about your river cruise. i take the transatlantic crossing to or from Italy whenever i can and just saw 7 countries by sea but have wanted to add river cruising for the past year

    but even with no solo supplement, river cruises are still priced often at 300 or more per day……i shall keep looking for a route.

    wonder fi there are any companies that offer ‘classes’ while on a river cruise? history, or music, or food…….

  • http://solofriendly.com Gray

    Thank you, Amber! That’s funny, I often get “adopted” by older couples as well. One of the perks of being a solo female traveler, I guess. :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ajsafir Amber Safir

    I was concerned about the pace of the trip knowing that there were so many retired folks as I was one of 4 in their 20’s. But the structure of the tours was great. There was usually a “slow walking” group so any one who wasn’t in the best of physical condition didn’t really hinder others. Also many of the people were in their 40’s and 50’s so there is a failry wide age range. I also found it a benefit to be with older people as they tend to look out for the younger and less experienced travelers. I was “adopted” by an Australian couple the first night.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ajsafir Amber Safir

    Usually there is a “single supplement fee” however, I was lucky enuf to get it waived.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ajsafir Amber Safir

    Hey, it’s me , Amber. I had so much fun on that cruise and met some awesome people. Janice was so inspiring to me. I plan on doing more solo international travel in the near future.

  • Katie

    Uniworld and Premier do not travel to Japan. Do you have any recommendations for that country or another warm winter tour?

  • http://solofriendly.com Gray

    Thank you!

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Hi Paul, It was a castle. The Waccau valley is a beautiful part of the Danube.

    I also get seasick on boats large and small. However, the river cruise was totally stable. I didn’t endure a moment of nausea. There was one other person who gets very sick and she had one evening when she didn’t feel great but was totally fine the rest of the time. I was impressed!

  • http://paulkrol.net/ Paul Krol

    That picture with the big house that looks like a castle is awesome! Talk about a terrific view from the boat! Unfortunately my wife gets nauseous on boats so it might be hard to do a trip like that. But it certainly looks like you had a great time.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Hi Gray, Yes, most of the people on the ship were retired. I’d say the majority were in their 60s. Of the 88 people, I’d guess around 45 of them. Then maybe about 15 in their 50s, 10 in their 40s, 10 in their 70s and a few younger and a couple older. It’s approximate but that’s about how it was. I spoke to a couple from Australia in their 30s on the last night and asked how they felt about the age difference. They were very positive. Like any group, I found some people more interesting than others but age was not the predictor. The tours were not what I’d call challenging (which probably is a function of the demographic) but they were optional and even if you took them all (which I did) there was plenty of free time to explore your own way. I have a post planned on some of the people I met but it will take a few weeks to get it live. :)

  • http://solofriendly.com Gray

    I’ve been curious to hear about your experience, Janice, because I’ve been weighing river cruises in Europe myself recently. My reluctance comes from what I perceive as an older (retirement age) customer base for river cruises. I’m afraid I’d feel out of place. Can you comment on that at all?

  • janross53

    We went on a river cruise with AMAWaterways last year and became instant converts. There is nothing like being able to dock right in the heart of a city and disembark with no problem at all – just walk off the ship! The food was absolutely wonderful and we really enjoyed the fact that there was not a huge number of people onboard – for the first time on a cruise, we actually got to know some people!

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Hi Deborah, I thought it was clear that the trip had been comped but on another reading I realized that it was not. I have now rectified that. Thank you.

    Also, yes, I checked with Amber and she didn’t pay a single supplement.

    Premier River Cruises always has trips without single supplement which is why I work with them.

    Best,
    Janice

  • Deborah

    Two questions: first, did the company comp you the cost of the cruise? Second, and what I’m truly surprised you did not mention, is whether both of the solo travelers had to pay a single supplement and, if so, how much was it? And if there was no single supplement charge, was there a trick, how many single rooms exist, etc.