River Cruising Myths Dispelled

by Ming Tappin

On arrival in Cologne Germany, as crew prepare the gangway.

Last season I had the privilege of sailing the Rhine on a Viking river cruise. I had been cruising for 24 years on ocean going vessels carrying 300 to 5,000+ guests, and everything in between. So, as river cruising has exploded onto the scene in the last few years, I was very curious to discover for myself how this very different style of travel would suit me.

I approached the river cruise concept with keen interest but also with some hesitation. Would it be awkward to be in relatively close quarters with travellers much older than me? Would I miss the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan cities? Would I long for the big ship amenities such as a spa, shopping and hot tubs?

Busy traffic along the river ensures nonstop
action and boat watching.

What most impressed me is the lack of formal rigmarole. The check-in staff simply asked for our family name and handed us our stateroom key. Also gone is the mad crush to disembark at a port, waiting for a tender boat, and big lines getting back on the ship, delayed by the ubiquitous x-ray machine and metal detectors. After wandering into town on my own one afternoon, upon my return to the ship as I stopped to dig out my ID at the gangway, the security officer simply waved me on as he recognized me as a guest. That was nice!

True to my expectation, the average age was 60+, but this was not the geriatric wheelchair and walker crowd. Guests were young at heart, well-travelled and ready for soft adventure. I met a man from Winnipeg traveling by himself. He saw my Canada hat and started a conversation. He found the river cruise to be very suitable for single travellers as the onboard atmosphere is so relaxed and fellow travellers very congenial. With a ship this size, you see everyone every day, so it is very conducive to making new friends and building comradery.

Typical quaint village along the Rhine, vineyards warmed by the afternoon sun.

Rivers are the highways of Europe, buzzing with nonstop activity. We passed – and were passed by – a myriad of tankers, freighters, personal and commercial crafts and other river ships. At tight bends of the river where the current is strong, ships align themselves perfectly and coordinate with oncoming vessels. Traffic watching has never been this interesting!

Looking up from the water, vineyards blanketed the hillsides, cows grazed the pastures, train tracks snaked along the banks and castles stood guard over the land. I forgot all about my shopping and the spa.

Ashore, we were treated to landscapes of idyllic windmills, toured gothic cathedrals, sampled delectable wines and walked on cobblestoned streets centuries old. Quaint towns and medieval villages charmed in their special way. This is the Europe you can't see from a mega ship.

Delectable entrees made with fresh
ingredients and beautifully presented.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the food onboard. I expected it to be better than at sea, but I was surprised at how much better it was. Viking has been called an introductory river cruise experience, but the food is anything but entry level. That heightened quality comes from 10 efficient kitchen staff headed by a Head Chef, cooking for less than 200 guests. Every dish is prepared with daily sourced fresh ingredients, cooked a la minute and presented with flair. I felt like I was eating at a delectable bistro every day and a 5 star restaurant every night.

At the end of my 7 days onboard, I went back to my original check list of concerns and I answered NO to every single question. I will still continue to cruise on ocean ships, but there will definitely be many more river cruises on the horizon for me.

Ming Tappin is a cruise veteran with 20 years' experience in the industry and has sailed on 35 cruises and counting. Based in Vancouver, Ming is passionate about cruising and is always looking forward to her next adventure.

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