When the River is Your Highway – tips on cruising

Jean and Jim were the first people I met on the ship

The river cruise I took last month was a great surprise.

It was as luxurious as a fine hotel but far more friendly. A hotel has people coming and going all the time. It’s not an environment for meeting people the way a river cruise is. On the River Countess, I met people and could hang out with them or, if I wanted, go my own way.

It was hassle-free. Cruising the Danube river, we arrived in a new location every day without the annoyance of having to pack and unpack.

And the food and wine were exceptional. I was quite content to eat there for every meal as the chef offered a local specialty on the menu each evening. With only 88 passengers, it was truly a fine dining experience.

Finally, as someone who experiences sea sickness easily, I had absolutely no problem with it whatsoever.

7 Tips on Cruising

My conclusion: river cruising is great for solo travelers. Based on my experience I’d like to share a few tips on cruising.

Tip #1 Don’t Pay a Single Supplement

Many river cruises don’t charge a single supplement for solo travelers. If the cruise you’re considering has one, look around to find the cruise that suits your interests and doesn’t have one. You might also want to sign up for the Solo Traveler Newsletter – doing so you’ll also receive the Solo Traveler Advisory which features many single-supplement-free deals on the third Monday of every month. I went with the support of Premier River Cruises, a travel agency that specializes in river cruise vacations for solo travelers, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. They offer many cruises without supplements.

Tip #2 Table-Hop.

There were many interesting people on the cruise and I found them by having dinner with different people every night. I made sure that I arrived after the restaurant had been open for about 20 minutes. When I did arrive, people were already settled at their tables and I had many choices of where to sit and with whom. It was great fun and by the time the third day came around many people were already expecting me to drop by.

Tip #3 Leave a bread crumb trail.

One of the solo traveler’s on the ship went out on their own after the city tour but got lost coming back. To make things worse, she had problems walking and so really stretched her physical capacity when finding her way back. She was over an hour late but, thankfully, the ship is very careful about monitoring who is on board and who isn’t. They were aware that she was not back, alerted the police and had a contingency plan in place had she have not arrived. My tip, be sure you know, and let the ship’s staff know, where you’re going in case this happens to you.

Performance at the Spanish Riding School, Vienna.

Tip #4 Take off when the mood strikes

Despite the cautionary note above, do take off when the mood strikes. On a walking tour in Vienna, we were passing the Spanish Riding School just as the horses were being brought from the stables to the performance hall. I slipped away from the tour and managed to get a last-minute ticket. Other passengers had bought their tickets months in advance for a lot more money. If your instinct says “this is an opportunity not to be missed”, go for it.

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

Tip #5 Find the other solo travelers

There were two other solo travelers on board. We didn’t spend all our time together but we did cross paths a lot. It was great to get to know them and it made us feel part of our own unique group.

Tip #6 Pack layers

There were a few days that were very cold during my cruise. Couples and groups can share extra clothes if necessary but as a solo traveler, this isn’t possible. An extra layer such as a camisole can make a big difference to your comfort so, even if you won’t need it for an outfit, throw this tiny item in your bag for warmth.

Tip #7 Don’t overpack

The room amenities of ocean cruises can be minimal. Don’t assume that your river cruise is the same. The rooms are very well equipped with alarm clocks, blow dryers and quality toiletries – basically everything you’d expect in a fine hotel. Even turn-down service with a chocolate on your pillow. Confirm what your stateroom has before packing such items.

My 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.

  • L. B. W.

    Eating at different tables is a good idea. However, on my river cruise when I tried that the couples would say their table was reserved for others or suggest I go sit with the other 5 solo ladies. It was very disappointing as I liked the other solos, but would have preferred to meet some other people, too. This was a Viking River cruise and fyi, only a few of their boats have single rooms and they charge a supplement (about 40% of what the 2nd person in the room would pay) if you try to reserve a double room on a boat with no single rooms,

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Wow, that sounds fantastic!

    And thanks for the “Wind in the Willows” reference.

    Love it.

  • Scott

    As Water Rat in “Wind in the Willows” reminds us: ” . . . there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

    For the more adventurous may I suggest: renting your own river boat/barge in France and doing it yourself! Some knowledge of boats/boating helps, but, as the maximum speed on French canals is 6 knots, things don’t happen all that quickly :) I was on a 9 meter boat for a month, south of Paris, in the Ille de France region . . . indelible.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Yes, Premier usually has deals as does Cruisenet. Check out my deals page: http://solotravelerblog.com/solo-travel-deals/ You can also sign up for my newsletter to receive the Solo Traveler Advisory every month where companies that don’t have single supplements promote their travel opportunities.

  • Travelbug1

    Been on 3 river cruises with a tour group so was matched with roommate BUT I’d rather have room to myself. Have been seriously debating Premier River Cruise. I do have my own travel agent. Can I get her to deal with Premier?

  • MaggieWats

    Janice, thanks for posting this! I haven’t been on a river cruise on my own
    before, only as a pair, so it’s interesting to get some tips in case I ever
    decide to! I completely agree that a river cruise is like a fine hotel, only
    more luxurious! I don’t know about other companies really, but I always go
    with Viking River Cruises – the staff are always so lovely and helpful, and
    I’ve made some lovely friends (couples, solo travellers, and even a some
    bigger groups!) I’m still in touch with. I love European River Cruises – not
    suprised you had such a wonderful time on the Danube River, it is so
    beautiful! Thanks again for your informative post.

  • heatheronhertravels

    I’ll be off on my first river cruise in May, so great to have your tips, hopefully if I get lost my husband will come and rescue me.

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

    I’m so happy to see Jean and Jim, my adopted river cruise parents.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Hi Margaret,

    Thanks for chiming in. This was my first river cruise and I will do so again. It was great.

    Happy New Year!

  • Margaret Piton

    I agree, river cruises are great for solo travel. I took one on the Dnieper in 2010 and loved it–an easy way to see a lot of Ukraine, a new country for me.

  • PK

    Thanks to reading Solo Traveler, I was confident enough to book a solo cruise through Premier River Cruising for next summer. I am so looking forward to my first European river cruise! Thanks for your advice.

  • Debra

    Thank you so much for your book & blog. It is likely my job will be severed in January & if so, I am going to retire & do the thing I have always dreamed about-travel. A European river cruise is at the top of my list & your information has given me the confidence to strike out on my own. Never again will I feel sorry for myself because none of my friends want to see the places I do. Keep those articles coming.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Now that’s an interesting tip that I hadn’t thought of. Thanks!

  • denise

    I did a river cruise (also with Uniworld) a couple of years ago and would also highly recommend it for solo travel. As for dining, I found sitting at the “captains table “, which is only used by the captain on 1 or 2 evenings, was a great way to meet lots of people. It is the largest table and had an odd number of seats, so I did not throw off the number of couples atthe table.

  • www.joeicarlton.com

    This is a GREAT post and just when I was deciding that my next adventure will be cruising. You seem to be reading my mind……GOOD GOING…..

  • Clark

    Thanks dear for such a very informative article which will helps many guys..

  • Richard Crest

    Thanks for sharing useful tips about cruising, I haven’t done it yet alone but I guess I have to try sometime.