During 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:
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
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 Cruises’ m/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:
Greek Isles, Turkey & Black Sea
Caribbean & Panama Canal
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.