Cruising has always been a popular vacation option. Today cruising offers more variety than ever. Vacationers can choose from the mega-ships that hold around 5,000 passengers and boast rock-climbing walls, surf pools and massive theatrical productions to chartered yachts for family vacations and everything in between.In recent years riverboat cruising has become increasingly popular. These smaller vessels, with occupancies under 200 passengers can offer a range of options simply not possible with the mega-ships. One major advantage these small ships have over their larger sisters is the ability to maneuver rivers and smaller ports-of-call. Therefore, whether you have your heart set on spending a few days sailing Egypt’s majestic Nile River, a two-week wine country tour on the Rhine or taking a paddleboat down the mighty Mississippi sipping Mint Juleps, riverboats might prove to be the perfect cruising option for you.
And for those who have avoided cruising in the past for fear of seasickness, river cruises eliminate that obstacle. Because the vessel never enters open seas, the visibility of land and low-speed travel, most travelers will find that motion sickness is not a problem.Because rivers have always been an easily accessible means of import and export, many historical cities were built on major waterways. This makes riverboat cruising perfect for navigating between these notable landmarks. Unlike the large ships, these small boats typically dock at the city center, not a seaport far from the major sites. There is no need to tender or take a long bus ride from the port to the heart of the city; all chipping away at time spent experiencing the local culture, customs, and cuisine.
In addition to being able to offer destinations inaccessible to the larger ships, many find the intimacy appealing. A friend who cruises frequently claims that on these small ships friendships are more apt to be forged. She explains that you are likely to run into the same people repeatedly and find common interests. Perhaps, you find yourself attending the same lectures again and again with a core group. Before you know it you are arranging for dinner together. Also, folks who are loyal to a specific cruise line will often cross paths with those they have cruised with in the past.
This level of intimacy makes riverboat cruising inherently good for singles. Often single people are intimidated by the idea of traveling alone. In short order, these singles find themselves among new friends. Some even become traveling companions for future cruises.
Like larger ships, these small boats offer many of the same amenities on a smaller scale; pools, miniature golf, lounges, casinos, spa, theatres, and Internet cafés. Though facility size has been scaled back, make no mistake comfort has not been compromised. In fact, the staterooms are typically more generous than what you get on the larger ships. Cabins often have well-lit, full-size baths and substantial closet and storage space. The deck plan on these vessels is laid out in a way that nearly all staterooms have balconies or at least a shore view.
Riverboat cruises are a bit like having a floating hotel. Travelers get the benefits of visiting multiple destinations without packing and unpacking at each new city and adjusting to different accommodations each night. This makes for a more relaxed vacation experience.And, although today’s Gen Xers are quite active, many welcome the close proximity to all the amenities. At the end of the day, especially a day spent touring or adventuring, they appreciate the ability to sit down to their evening meal without walking the length of several football fields.
Surprisingly, dining options are less limiting on these small ships than what you find on some of the larger cruise liners. Open seating dining is the norm–dine when and with whom they want. And like the mega-ships, there will usually be dining options beyond the main dining room. However, you may never see a reason to dine outside the main dining room as many riverboats boast 5-star dining prepared by European chefs.
At a glance, these cruises may seem expensive but when you consider what is included you will generally find them a good value. The quoted rates are truly all-inclusive, unlike the prices for many larger cruise ships that have loads of added fees. The pricing of these riverboat cruises typically includes airfare, sometimes an overnight stay and transfers, all meals, wine and beverages and usually the shore excursions. However, you may not get the choice of shore activities you might on your larger ships. If the ship’s programs don’t fit your vision of the ideal day ashore, you have the option to go it alone or arrange an excursion independent of the cruise itinerary.
If you are ready to escape the mega-ship cruise scene or a have avoided cruising altogether for fear of seasickness, why not take a look at cruising from another different vantage point – a view from one of the world’s great waterways. It might have you saying bon voyage again and again.
Originally written for Baby Boomer News July 2012. Written by Susan Decoteau-Ferrier
Photo Credits: Henry Goldsmith