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rivercruisingDuring one of my favorite European cruises I spontaneously popped ashore in Budapest for dinner at the historic, elegant Gundel House, one of Europe’s most renowned restaurants where an I dined in an elegant setting and was serenaded by a violinist.   No, I didn’t jump off a cruise ship and swim ashore but leisurely stepped off a Viking River Cruises boat docked right in the center of town.   This is only one of the joys of exploring the inland waterways on a riverboat most continents of the world.

Each year the number of European riverboats increases as Americans discover the delight of combining sightseeing in cities like Paris, Vienna, Budapest and St. Petersburg with visits to small towns off the beaten path and cruising past scenic countryside.  Since riverboats rarely exceed 200 passengers it is a much more intimate cruise experience and ports are less crowded.

Part of the unique riverboat experience is cruising past castles, vineyards, historic villages and bucolic countryside as you dine in the restaurant or sample fine wine in the lounge with new-found friends is part of the You sail directly to the heart of many destinations then walk right off the ship into the center of town.  Here, one can join a guided walk or shore excursion (included in the fare) or explore on your own.   In large cities, like Paris and St. Petersburg, most riverboats are docked for two or three days allowing plenty of time for sightseeing, shopping and perhaps a bike ride or evening ashore.

Most fellow passengers will be European but according to Phil Nuttall, Director of  The Cruise Village,  “Americans will have absolutely no language problem whatsoever. English is the preferred language with Viking, AMA Awaterways, Tauk, Avalon, Uniworld and more. Plus, each cabin on most river cruise ships has two receivers each with their own set of headphones which tune into the local guides microphone so you can listen to as much or as little as you want when out and about on your tour. One huge advantage of this is that even if you are at the back of the group – you can always hear what is being said in English.”

What To Expect
Like all cruises, you board the riverboat and unpack once.  Staterooms are equipped with all the creature comforts like television and full bathrooms but tend to be smaller and utilitarian.  Unlike cruise ships, river cruise entertainment is typically limited to small groups of local performers, reading and conversation.  Since the distance between ports is short, river cruising is rarely more than half a day with most time spent in port.   And, unlike cruise ships shore excursions are included in the fare.   Dining is a particular joy on a riverboat cruise and a way to meet new friends.   Breakfast and lunch are usually buffets while dinner is a leisurely gourmet experience with single, open seating.   Many riverboat cruise companies include wine with dinner and should you wish to bring your own spirits aboard, are much more relaxed than conventional cruise lines.

Picking A Cruise

European river cruising is seasonal, with departure scheduled during spring, summer and fall months although some companies offer November and December departures for holiday shopping.   The most challenging part of picking a European river cruise is deciding on which itinerary to pick.   DanubeRiver cruises focus on the history and culture of Austria, Hungary and Germany while the Rhine leads to Amsterdam and Cologne.  The Elbe rises in the Czech Republic, flows into Germany and empties into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, near Hamburg.   If you dream of cruising in France, check Rhone and Saone river itineraries for exploring Provence and wine country or the Seine, which flows through Paris into Normandy and empties into the English Channel at Le Havre.

Once you decide on the itinerary, your cruise counselor can help you choose among several top-notch cruise companies.   Be sure to ask about fellow passengers:  some riverboat companies offer cruises that cater to people from English-speaking companies while others attract a very international mix of passengers.   You may also want to check out theme cruises for sailings that focus on wine, gardening, music and other interests.

To find the best itinerary and cruise company, consult a travel agency that specializes in European riverboat cruises like River Cruising. 


Princess Cruises is offering the ultimate cruise deal with the Suite & Balcony Bonus Sale, running July 22 – August 19, on select cruises. During this cruise sale, guests who book a mini-suite or suite will receive up to $400 free onboard spending money per stateroom and guests booking an oceanview stateroom will receive a free balcony upgrade.

Several spring and winter cruises are featured in the summer sale to vacation destinations such as the Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska, Panama Canal, Europe and Transatlantic voyages. Cruises depart between December 2014 and May 2015.

Guests booking a mini-suite or suite will receive an onboard credit of $50 per person for six- to nine-day cruises, $100 per person for 10-11-day cruises or $200 per person for 12 days or longer.

More information about the cruise sale and pricing can be found at princess.com/sale.

Example cruise deals during the Suite & Balcony Bonus Sale include:

  • Caribbean cruise — 7 days: $1,999 suite; $899 mini-suite; $699 balcony
  • Mexico cruise — 7 days: $1,999 suite; $899 mini-suite; $699 balcony
  • Alaska cruise — 7 days: $2,079 suite; $1,349 mini-suite; $1,149 balcony
  • Panama Canal cruise — 11 days: $2,999 suite; $1,699 mini-suite; $1,299 balcony
  • Transatlantic cruise — 14 days: $4,599 suite; $2,399 mini-suite; $1,799 balcony

Information about other cruise deals and promotions can be found at princess.com/topcruisedeals.

All cruise prices are per person, based on double occupancy. The Suite and Balcony Bonus Sale runs from 12:01 a.m. PDT on July 22 through 11:59 p.m. PDT on August 19, 2014 and is available to residents of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Additional information about Princess Cruises is available through a professional travel agent


In response, cruise lines are offering more ports of call in exotic locations, ships that feature an extraordinary range of action activities, and shore excursions that are original, exclusive and often impossible to organize on one’s own.  The following, from Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise association, is a sampling of unconventional experiences that can be found on a cruise:

Alaskan Wilderness Family Expedition
An extreme 5-7 mile glacier hike may not be for every family, but for adventure seekers who want an up-close view of Alaska’s wilderness, waterfalls and wildlife, Carnival Cruise Lines’ Laughton Glacier Hike does just that. Adults and children (ages 9 and up) are led by an expert guide on an Alaskan wilderness trek, complete with a scenic train ride and a traditional Alaskan meal.

Exploring One of the World’s Most Remote and Coldest Islands in the World
Going to another cool destination, Hurtigruten, specialists in Arctic and Antarctic cruises, is the only cruise line that visits Jan Mayen, one of the most isolated islands in the world and home to a large population of polar bears. Excursion activities include learning Arctic winter survival skills or bush craft, including how to make a fire, fish, and throw a lasso in the harsh climate.

Traditional Junk Overnight in Vietnam
AmaWaterways
’ cruise-and-land guests on the “Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong” itinerary spend the night aboard a contemporary junk sailing UNESCO World Heritage Site Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. The most distinctive feature of junks, which were developed during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and used throughout Asia for extensive ocean voyages, is their broad, fully battened sails. Guests enjoy dinner and breakfast onboard taking in the bay’s scenery including dramatic limestone cliffs and rock formations during this exclusive offering.

SCUBA Training and Certification in French Polynesia
For treasures underneath the sea, Paul Gauguin Cruisesm/s Paul Gauguin is the only luxury ship in the French Polynesian islands offering PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification onboard. Programs that are offered include the Discover SCUBA Diving class, or resort certification, and PADI Open-Water Diver certification. Children 10 years and older can apply for Junior Open-Water Diver Certification.

Saving the Coral Reefs of Bonaire
To help save and protect precious coral reefs that delight divers and snorkelers, Cunard has a new volunteer-excursion for 2014-2015 the Coral Restoration Dive Experience. The program (only for PADI certified divers) connects passengers with the Coral Restoration Foundation in Bonaire where they receive hands-on instruction on basic coral reef preservation.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Dracula
Oceania Cruises’ itinerary in the Greek Islands and Eastern Mediterranean includes a stop in Constanta, Romania, featuring a day trip to “Dracula’s Haunts and Best of Bucharest” in Transylvania, with a drive through the bucolic Prahova Valley and then on to Bran Castle, where the legend of Dracula was born.

Russian Cosmonaut Training
Guests looking to set their sights on space can do so sailing on a Crystal Cruises Baltic cruise to St. Petersburg, with a flight to Moscow and an overnight in Star City, the Russian equivalent of NASA headquarters during the 20th century “Space Race” – home to the largest centrifuge in the world. The excursion includes experiencing one of three actual Russian Cosmonaut Training courses on advanced space equipment: the centrifuge, zero-gravity flight, or hydro-space program.


Starting in 2015, all Windstar Cruises’ itineraries will feature a spectacular onshore Private Event, created exclusively for Windstar guests. These complimentary events are crafted to give guests an in depth and authentic local experience that compliments their voyage. Private Events include activities such as an after-hours tour and dinner under the stars in the magnificent Celsus Library of Ephesus or a private ballet performance in the famed Odessa National Opera and Ballet Theatre.

“We curated these Private Events with the local experience in mind. Our product managers toured the regions sampling cuisines, talking to locals, visiting the UNESCO sites to create the best experience possible,” said Hans Birkholz, Windstar Cruises’ chief executive officer. “Our guests gain an even deeper involvement into the local culture.”

Windstar débuted its first exclusive Private Event on its Dreams of Tahiti voyage in May. The event, included on all 2014 sailings through the South Pacific, features an evening of entertainment with music and a dazzling performance by local fire dancers on a secluded island or “motu.” The evening also includes a dinner of local Tahitian cuisine with tender suckling pig slowly steamed in a traditional ”ahima’a” earth oven.

New Private Events featured on 2015 voyages:

Asia

  • Phuket: A Feast for the Senses: Featured on the Singapore & the Malay Peninsula voyage, guests will start the evening with a performance by local dancers and a Long Drum Parade, followed by dinner at the award-winning restaurant, Sala Bua (Pavilion of Lotus), overlooking the Andaman Sea, and a private performance of graceful Thai dance.
  • Hoi An: Dreams of Floating Lanterns: Featured on the Treasures of Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia Unveiled, and Southeast Asia Unveiled & Angkor Wat Cruisetour voyages, guests will start the evening with a private performance of lion dancers, before dining in the beautiful Nam Long restaurant surrounded by lush gardens on the Thu Bon River. Floating lanterns gliding down the river accompanied by traditional music and dancers will add to the enchantment of the evening. Guests will also have the opportunity to take part in interactive workshops of Vietnamese letter drawing, lantern-making, and wood-engraving.

Arabia

  • Luxor: Temples and Tombs on the Nile: Featured on the Wonders of Arabia and Wonders of Civilization Cruisetour voyages, guests will travel to Luxor for a two-day tour of the Luxor Temple that includes an evening showing of the Sound and Light display at Karnak Temple, and a one-night hotel stay in the Hilton Luxor. On the second day of the tour, guests will explore the Valley of the Kings – the most important archaeological site in the world that features the tombs of King Tutankhamun and Ramses IV – followed by lunch aboard a felucca, a traditional sailboat, as they float down the Nile.

Greek Isles, Turkey & Black Sea

  • Rhodes: The Tantalizing Tastes of Greece: Featured on the Greek Isles & Turkish Delights (Athens to Istanbul) voyage, guests will be wined and dined at the award winning Hatzikelis Fish Taverna in Rhodes that will include a sampling of traditional and modern Greek fare and wines from the local Cair Winery, followed by an exhilarating performance by local musicians and dancers.
  • Kusadasi: Evening in Ephesus: Featured on the Greek Isles & Turkish Delights (Istanbul to Athens) and Pride of the Aegean voyages, guests will enjoy an after-hours tour of the magnificent Celsus Library of Ephesus. The evening includes a five-course, white-glove-service dinner in the courtyard of the Library serenaded by a trio from the Aegean Chamber Orchestra.
  • Odessa: Artistry in Architecture and Dance: Featured on the Black Sea Tapestry voyage, guests will enjoy an exclusive ballet performance in the Odessa National Opera and Ballet Theatre – one of the most important landmarks of Eastern Europe designed by Viennese architects F. Felner and H. Helmer. The evening also includes champagne and canapés served during intermission, and a chance sighting of the famed ghost of Pavlova.

Caribbean & Panama Canal

  • Prickly Pear Beach: Island Beach Party: Featured on the Yachtsman’s Caribbean Voyage the event includes a day of relaxation and fun on Prickly Pear Beach, a secluded and uninhabited nature refuge in the British Virgin Islands. Activities include water skiing, kayaking, snorkeling, friendly games of beach volleyball, horseshoes, and bocce ball, and a lunch of freshly grilled local seafood.
  • Mayreau: Private Beach Getaway: Featured on the Jewels of the Windward Islands voyage, this Private Event includes a day in paradise on the small island of Mayreau. Guests will enjoy music and a Mixology Class to learn how to make favorite local drinks, in addition to an amazing lunch of fresh local food.
  • St. Lucia: Getaway in Paradise: Featured on the Classic Caribbean voyage, guests will spend a day of fun and adventure on a secluded beach on Pigeon Island, where the bar is open and the steel drums are playing. Guests can take part in an escorted snorkeling excursion or a number of water sports. After working up an appetite, Windstar chefs will serve a dinner of local fresh fish, lobster, and the uniquely Caribbean specialty, conch.
  • Isla de Coiba: Tropical Beach Delights: Featured on the Passage Through Panama voyage, guests will have opportunity to explore the Isla de Coiba, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, accessed only by special permit. Snorkel or take a guided hiking tour through the island’s untouched natural beauty. The day will be accompanied by live music, cocktails, and a beachside lunch.

Italy

  • Messina: Taste of Sicily: Featured on the Classic Italy & Dalmatian Coast voyage, the event begins with a wine tasting and tour of Vinicola Benanti, a family-run winery, followed by lunch featuring traditional Sicilian food paired with a selection of the family’s wines.
  • Monte Carlo: Glitter & Games: Featured on the Yachting the Riviera, Rivera Enchantment, and Glitter & Glam of the Riveras voyages, guests will enjoy red carpet treatment during an on deck cocktail party set against the glittering backdrop of Monte Carlo. After dinner and cocktails on board, guests will enjoy a champagne and dessert reception in the legendary Grand Casino, followed by an evening of gaming in the city.
  • Agrigento: Beauty Among the Ruins: Featured on the Sicilian Splendors voyage, guests will enjoy an exclusive tour through the Valley of Temples – one of the most important archaeological sites in the world that features ancient temples and edifices built between 510 and 430 B.C. The day will include lunch at the five-star Hotel Villa Athena.

Mediterranean

  • Giardini Naxos: Taste of Sicily: Featured on the Enchanting Greece & the Amalfi Coast voyage, the event begins with a wine tasting and tour of Vinicola Benanti, a family-run winery, followed by lunch featuring traditional Sicilian food paired with a selection of the family’s wines.
  • Mallorca: Bolero, Fandango, and Other Works of Art: Featured on the Islands of the West Med and Spanish Serenade voyages, this event features a private guided tour through the March Palace, which features a renowned works of art collection. At the end of the tour, guests will enjoy tapas on the terrace and a performance by 30 local artists featuring Mallorcan folk dances such as the bolero, the jack, the fandango, and the copeo.
  • Cádiz: Best of Breed – Andalusian Horses and Sherry: Featured on the Splendors of Southern Spain voyage, this event starts with a tour and sherry tasting at the internationally recognized González Byass Bodega. The day also includes a spectacular equestrian ballet performed at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art Foundation, followed by tapas and a sherry tasting.
  • Marrakech: Textures and Treasures: Featured on the Casablanca & the Canary Islands voyage, this event starts with a tour of the famed Majorelle Gardens, followed by a private lunch served in the heart of the exclusive Palm Groves neighborhood of Marrakech. Guests will go on to visit the holy site of Ben Youssef Madrasa – a stunning example of 16th century Moorish architecture – followed by treasure hunting in Souk Smarine. Guests will end the day in Djemaa el Fna square, where fireeaters, mime artists, snake charmers, and street musicians perform.
  • Butrint: Bronze Age to Venetians: Featured on the Venetian Passageways voyage guests will enjoy a day of exploration in Butrint, which features some of the world’s most significant and beautiful Roman ruins. The day will also include a presentation by the former director and founder of Butrint National Park, Auron Tare, followed by a cocktail reception.

Northern Europe

  • St. Petersburg: Private Reception at the Catherine Palace: Featured on the Baltic Delights voyage, this event includes an exclusive tour through the Palace led by guides and followed by a champagne reception in the Throne Room, accompanied by “Catherine the Great” herself who will take part in a Farewell Dance in the Courtyard before departing in her royal carriage.
  • Bordeaux: A Perfect Blend: Featured on the Culinary & Wine Delights of Spain & France voyage guests will enjoy a wine tasting and estate tour of the Chateau Giscours. The tour includes a French cooking class at the Halle Suzanne followed by dinner accompanied by a quartet of classical musicians.
  • Porto: Songs and Spirits of Portugal: Featured on the Gems of France & Iberia and Best of Europe’s West Coast voyages this event includes a guided tour through the historic center of Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Ferreira Cellars, where guests will enjoy a glass of port accompanied by a fado performance by the national known singer, Joana Costa.
  • Nærøyfjord: Dramatic Passage: Featured in the Lands of the Midnight Sun voyage, this event includes a sailing tour of the cascading waterfalls and stunning beauty of Nærøyfjord – a UNESCO World Heritage Site rated by the National Geographic Society as the world’s number one natural heritage site in 2006. The tour will include a picnic of regional delicacies as guests enjoy the vivid scenery.
  • Ijmuiden: Swords and Dungeons: Featured on the Northern Europe Wonderlands voyage, this event includes a guided tour through Forteiland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one-of-a-kind fortress built half underground near Amsterdam. Following the day of exploration, guests will also enjoy a candlelit tapas dinner in the Koepelzaal (Dome Hall).
  • Copenhagen: An Evening with Princes and the Gods: Featured on the Spectacular Scandinavia and Scandinavian Tapestry voyages, this event includes a canal cruise through Copenhagen and a tour through The National Museum, closed to the public for Windstar’s exclusive use. The tour will also feature a classic Danish smorgasbord paired with local beverages.
  • SAIL Amsterdam: Parade Of Tall Ships: Featured on the Windmills & Tall Sails voyage, guests will have deck-side seats to one of the world’s largest sailing parades on board Wind Surf. Enjoy a lunch and cocktails as the yacht sails with hundreds of sailing heritage craft, modern and naval ships, and historical replicas during SAIL Amsterdam.
  • Culloden: Fields of the Bonnie Prince: Featured on the Gaelic Explorers voyage, guests will enjoy canapés and champagne at Fort George, during an exclusive after-hours tour with expert guides who will take guests through the history of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Highlanders loss to the Duke of Cumberland during the Battle On The Moor. The event will include the traditional military and musical performance, Beating Retreat, complete with pipes, drums, and marches.

Recently someone about to embark on a cruise said she’d read that in order to avoid catching a contagious bug she should avoid the lido buffet because food handlers had dirty hands.    Wrong!  Since there seems to be plenty of media coverage about hundreds of passengers getting sick during their cruise, it’s time to re-run an article telling you how to avoid catching a bug that could ruin your cruise.  In all likelihood, when a bug shows up on a cruise ship a passenger walked aboard with it.

I asked Brian Rosenthal, MD, MPH (Master of Public Health), who teaches at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York.  He’s also an avid cruiser who has sailed the world aboard all types of cruise ships.

As a public health physician who has sailed aboard dozens of cruise ship,  Dr. Rosenthal’s advice is timely.

AC:  Who is responsible when passengers get sick aboard ship?

DR: There are times when an infectious agent has been isolated on a ship and the cruise line is responsible.  An example is Legionnaires Disease, which is rare.

And, there is always the potential for bacterial food contamination such as e-coli but due to the CDC’s stringent inspections, it hasn’t been reported in many years.  Cruise Lines have become very vigilant about waterborne and shipborne diseases so the reported incidences is rare.   People used to get sick on ships all the time but we just didn’t know what the organisms were.  Now that we know, the media has a heyday with it.

But in the instance of Norovirus, passengers bear the brunt of passing the disease along.

AC: Why Do Outbreaks of Norovirus Happen Aboard Ship So Often?

DR. I don’t think this is a new illness but that we’re hearing about it more often.  I’m sure the outbreaks aboard ship aren’t any higher than they are on land.   There just hasn’t been much coverage of the disease on land.

The thing about ships is that because you’re in a confined space the rate of exposure is statistically greater.  Contrast Disney World.  People aren’t staying in the same hotels or eating in the same restaurants as they are aboard a cruise ship.

AC:  How Can We Avoid Getting a shipborne illness?

DR: There are certain universal precautions that are even more important when you’re aboard a ship.  As important as washing your hands, you have to learn to KEEP YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM YOUR EYES, NOSE AND MOUTH. This is a normal human condition.  If you sit at a restaurant and watch people eat for five minutes you’ll see what I mean.  Most viruses are not spread by hand to hand contact alone.  They are spread by hand  to hand to mouth (or eyes or nose).  If you had it just on your hands, you wouldn’t get sick.

Shaking hands with the Captain or anyone else won’t get you sick assuming you have no cuts on your hands.  Of course one must be careful about where one puts one’s hands.   If you’re able-bodied, don’t use the banisters or railings if you don’t need to.   This is true in any public space, not just ships …. Train stations, malls. 

If you have children it’s an entirely different matter.  All kids put their hands in their mouth — that’s what children do.  And when they play in groups beit a nursely school or a ship, it’s problemmatic.  If your child does become sick, take a lot of precautions that he or she is the only patient in the family.

And, it is as important that you wash BEFORE you eat as it is after you go to the bathroom which is why the hand sanitizers in food lines are a great idea.

AC: Does the Fear of a Shipborne Illness stop you from Cruising?

DR: Absolutely not!  Everytime out go outside your home is a rish.  You must weigh this against the benefits of having a wonderful time and sharing experiences with family and friends.



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