When it comes to traveling Europe, it’s safe to say I’ve done it all. I’ve visited Europe with a large tour group and explored Italy on my own backpacking tour when I was 20. So when my parents suggested getting the family together on a river cruise through Europe I agreed without hesitation. Was I worried I was going to be the only person under 35 on this cruise? Yes, but there was no way I was going to pass up another opportunity to visit Europe.
Before the trip, my family wasn’t sure which cruise company to go with. We had a lot of options and it was overwhelming to decide! There are many different cruise companies that operate in Europe. My dad ended up making the final decision with his eyes closed. He chose a river cruise called Scenic Cruises. I’ve never heard of this cruise line before this trip so I was excited for the new experience.
Traveling across Europe on a river cruise was different in many ways. Everything from the pace of the trip to the people you traveled with varied from my past travel experiences. The luxury river cruise my family chose to go on was everything you’d expect it to be when you first hear the words “luxury river cruise”: lavish suites, five-star guest experience and elegant, world-class excursions. My last Euro trip consisted of cheap eats and a constant go-go-go vibe; this river cruise couldn’t have been more opposite.
The first thing I noticed when I boarded the ship was the size: this was no 1000 plus guests ocean cruiser. With only 85 suites and a maximum head count of 169 guests, the ship I traveled on was designed with comfort and luxury in mind. It was an all-inclusive travel experience which meant I not only had free reign of the mini bar in my cabin but my own personal butler (you have to see it to believe it).
As a (relatively) young woman who’s had to make her own bed since the age of 10, I was thrilled to discover that for one glorious week, I wouldn’t have to worry about fluffing my pillows or finding spare change for laundry. On top of having your own butler, the cruise line offered nightly turndown service, complimentary laundry concierge as well as 24 hour room service. There were numerous restaurants available for dining as well as unlimited access to a gym, wellness centre, pool, panoramic lounge and sun deck (which lead me to put my guard down for one afternoon and go easy on the sunscreen- big mistake. Huge).
Obviously, I was over the moon with these discoveries; as seasoned cruisers, even my hard-to-please parents were impressed by the attention-to-detail. With a 1:3 crew to guest ratio, however, I shouldn’t have expected anything less than first class.
Perhaps the biggest difference I noticed between traveling on your own and via boat cruise is the touring schedule. With a river cruise, your travel itinerary is already organized and laid out for you. The daily routine in place aboard a cruise is that the boat will move at night and dock by breakfast. The daily land excursions alternate between half and full day and allow for little independent sightseeing, which I guess is the point for the majority of travelers aboard the cruise.
There is little time to go off on your own since the ship has a set schedule to dock and depart every night. Knowing what I do now, I can say it’s smart to do your research before choosing a cruise line.
Each cruise line will vary in style, itinerary and destination. The river cruise I experienced had every day of the trip organized and planned for guests- while I’ll admit it took a huge weight off my shoulders in terms of pre-cruise organization, the pre-arranged schedule did limit my ability to explore a city independently without another 15 people tagging along.
The land excursions, I have to say, are in a league of their own. Curated by the cruise line’s very own “journey designers,” I saw a part of Europe I couldn’t have possibly experienced backpacking on my own. While the attractions were similar, it was the extra attention-to-detail that made me become fully immersed in the country’s culture.
As an example, on day four of my cruise, I got to taste my way around a local market in Vienna, Austria but with an added twist- a local private chef was there to accompany fellow guests and teach us about the delicacies known to the region (there is a half finished note on my Iphone dating back to this excursion that reads, “How to make Bratwurst from scratch”). One of the highlights of my cruise though took place In Freudenberg, Germany. I had the most amazing day celebrating Oktoberfest with guests and locals alike-there was food, there was dancing and yup, there was a staggering amount of beer (beer everywhere!).
Celebrating a classic Bavarian tradition with a crowd that traveled from all over the world to experience it firsthand took a seemingly simple excursion to the next level. While we all took part in the excursion for different reasons- I came for the beer, my parents came for the bratwurst and Andrew from Australia simply wanted to get acquainted with his German roots- we all left with the same awesome memory.
After 15 days floating down the Rhine and Danube rivers, I have to say there’s something to putting your feet up and shelling out some extra cash (okay, a lot of cash) for someone else to do the hard work of planning a trip for you. That was my favourite part of taking the scenic route; if you ask my parents, they’ll reference “wine night” in Budapest, Hungary.
I personally think traveling around on a cruise is one of the best ways to go on a multi-country trip. Why? It’s easy, it’s relaxing and they make it oh-so-convenient. I will say that it’s not for everyone: if you’re an independent traveler or a club-goer, a luxury river cruise won’t give you what you’re looking for.
At 33, I was easily one of the youngest people aboard the ship; however, I wouldn’t write off a river cruise for that reason alone. I found the crowd to be interesting, educated and well traveled. Many were entrepreneurs with their own successful businesses (which would explain how they could afford the price tag). Again, this too, will vary from cruise to cruise.
In light of my early travel hesitations, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the river cruise. I am so grateful! I met some amazing people and I got to experience Budapest to Amsterdam all in one shot (thanks mom and dad!)