I think we’re riverholics. We want to float down another lazy river on another lovely rivership – and fall in love with another place we’ve never been.
As you know from our recent post on the world’s best river cruises, we’re looking into another river cruise. Maybe in the Amazon, or Vietnam, or possibly India. (Who knew you could go river cruising in India!)
Oh, and if you twist our arms, we’d be willing to sail the Douro in Portugal, look at the wine grapes growing on its steep terraced riverbanks, do a little wine tasting…
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People love river cruising
Actually, we’re not that different from many other people. River cruising is quite the rage these days!
Here are five reasons why people love river cruising (and why we do too):
1. River ships are small
An Alaska cruise on a sizeable Holland America cruise ship (1,500+ passengers) was perfect for our family’s reunion celebration a few years ago. There were enough pools, hot tubs, wine tasting events, cooking shows and various other activities to keep everyone, from grandparents to teens, happy and entertained.
But, personally, for just the two of us, we like smaller cruise ships. No breathless long sprints back to the cabin to retrieve that forgotten camera or hat! Getting on or off is a breeze too (no waits).
Well, river ships are small. They typically carry fewer than 200 passengers. The Zambezi Queen, which pampered us on an African river safari (worthy of its own National Geographic documentary) only has a total of 14 staterooms.
The small size of a river ship encourages easy mixing among guests.
River cruises attract mostly fit, well-traveled mature couples (often retired), but we’ve also enjoyed the company of younger travelers. On some ships, dining rooms have tables for dining à deux, but we’ve joined other guests too at larger tables – and our meal conversations with outgoing Aussies and cultured Germans, fellow Canadians and friendly Americans, have always been lively!
Cruising alone? As travel writer Irene Levine notes, smaller and more intimate river cruises are ideal for solo travelers (especially boomers), who can easily meet and find companions onboard.
2. River ships get you right up close to the action
River ships – maybe they should be called riverboats? – often tie up right in the heart of the city or village you’re visiting. Talk about convenience! You can literally walk to the main sights.
Take Les Andelys – the quintessential Normandy village. It was a stop on my Uniworld Seine River cruise, which I enjoyed with my mother (the River Countess in the top photo is a Uniworld one).
We docked by a neatly manicured stretch of lawn, shaded by weeping willows, where a pair of young lovers smooched on a park bench.
Lace curtains framed the windows of old stone and brick houses; fat cows roamed the emerald hills above.
For our guided excursion, we simply walked off the ship and followed a path that meandered alongside the river, then scrambled up some rocks to see the impressive ruins of the 12th-century Chateau Gaillard built by Richard the Lionheart.
Sometimes a bit of a drive is needed to get you from your ship to the key attractions.
In Egypt, for example, you have to drive to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, with its more than 60 excavated tombs (including King Tut’s). However, cruise on the Oberoi Zahra as we did, and you’ll be transported in comfort in black, air-conditioned Mercedes vans. Guests are divided into groups of six, each touring with its own van (which shadows the ship onshore), driver and Egyptologist guide. Not exactly a hardship, right?
3. You get to see and do a lot! (As much as you want, anyway)
River cruises maximize your sightseeing time. Except for really scenic stretches, river ships typically travel to their next destination at night while you’re asleep. On our Seine River cruise, we were off the ship every day, both morning and afternoon (typically returning just for lunch). We saw and did much more in a concentrated week than if we’d taken the train, rented a car or booked a bus tour.
On a river cruise, you waste no time shifting hotels or packing and unpacking all the time.
There are times, of course, when we want to spend a few days just staying put in one city or place. (The best Russian river cruises spend two or three days in St. Petersburg). To satisfy that yen off the rivership, we try to book-end a river cruise with extended land time before and after.
And sometimes a river cruise is the only or best way to see a country.
In Myanmar, poor roads and infrastructure, at least between Yangon and Bagan, mean you’d want to travel by river (you could fly, but you’d miss the exotic sites on this stretch of river).
And if we hadn’t cruised the Nile in Egypt, would we have seen the biblical scenes of village women washing clothes by the riverbank, fishermen casting nets from small wooden boats and farmers on donkeys carrying sugar cane?
4. River cruising is relaxing
Even though you can see and do a lot on river cruises, you don’t always have to. You can skip out on excursions if you want, put your feet up and just soak in your surroundings.
On some cruises, downtime is built in, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything.
My first Nile River cruise with my mom (a true explorer – she’s even hiked to Mt. Everest base camp in Nepal!) piqued my interest in Egypt’s ancient history.
That’s why I returned to Egypt with George for a longer, more leisurely river cruise on the Oberoi Zahra. Because this ship offers seven-night itineraries, rather than the usual three- or four- night ones offered by most other river cruise companies, we had oodles of time to explore all the amazing tombs and temples around Luxor and also visit Cleopatra’s beloved Temple of Hathor in Denderah.
And we had time too for swimming in the largest ship pool on the Nile, spa treatments and lingering over lunch on deck while being sprayed by a cool mist from above.
On our most recent Myanmar cruise, the lovely Belmond Orcaella spent the first few days languidly navigating the shifting sands of the Irrawaddy riverbed (punctuated by only one excursion). How nice to have this gift of time to doze on deck, read, and listen to fascinating lectures on Buddhism and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader!
5. River cruises are all-inclusive
Have you ever taken an ocean cruise thinking you’ve pretty well paid for your holiday – only to rudely discover you have to pay extra for cappuccinos or bottled drinking water in your cabin? And those shore excursions do put a dent in the wallet, don’t they? The extras can sometimes double the cost of your ocean cruise.
Not so with river cruises – one of the big reasons people love river cruising.
Fares on premium river cruises typically include all your shore excursions (except for, say, hot-air ballooning).
Free WiFi and a good selection of wines at lunch and dinner (perhaps even cocktails too) are also included.
And speaking of shore excursions, don’t think just walking (or bus or van) tours.
On the Zambezi Queen, we zipped along the Chobe River in a small aluminum boat to see colorful kingfishers, Nile crocodiles and herds of elephants on the riverbanks. And in Chobe National Park, we bounced along in an open Land-Cruiser (giraffes, impala, buffalo, warthogs, baboons – here we come!).
In Myanmar, on our Belmond Orcaella river cruise, we visited villages, monasteries, forts and temples by ox cart, horse cart and trishaw.
How’s that for fun!