A vacation can take many forms, and while we all have our unique preferences and comfort zones for the trips we take, it’s a fact that taking some kind of an extended break from work at least annually is an all-around good idea. Choosing how to vacation is usually the hard part, but it doesn’t have to be.
Until I went on my first river cruise, the idea of a “cruise” had always evoked images of droves of velour-track-suit-clad retirees, sunburnt bachelorette parties, and badly behaved children. I had formed this (admittedly uncharitable) opinion by clicking through acquaintances’ Facebook albums, which displayed grisly scenes from the decks of enormous cruise liners. I felt I’d seen enough. When I was offered the opportunity to take a wine-themed river cruise through Europe, as luxurious as it sounded on paper, those same images flashed through my mind. I would not be tricked into entrapment on an ocean liner with thousands of unruly vacationers.
When I eventually did some actual research about the company, AmaWaterways, and the itineraries they offered—which are, in fact, luxurious—I realized how different river cruises and ocean cruises really are. The generally more affordable (and therefore popular for large groups like the sloppy ones I’d seen on Facebook) option, ocean cruising boasts large ships with very small rooms and overall passenger loads that can exceed 4,000, not including crew. We’ve all seen sunny, idealized commercials for these massive vessels that boast amenities like on-board pools, putting greens, saunas, themed restaurants, and bars. Ocean cruise ships are essentially floating resorts with tighter quarters.
Smaller ships = better service.
River cruising, by comparison, can seem at first glance like a scaled-back version of ocean cruising, and in some ways it is. First, the ships are significantly smaller (they have to be; the bodies of water they occupy are themselves much smaller,) and they carry fewer passengers and crew accordingly (there were 110 passengers and about 30 total crew members on the river cruise I took). This offers nothing but upsides: individualized attention from the crew; speedy service; less competition for amenities like the pool, bar, special restaurants, fitness center, and masseuse; larger staterooms; and fantastic meals made from fresh ingredients local to that day’s port location. There’s also the added bonus of no motion sickness—you barely feel the river cruise ships moving. The lone downside: It’s harder to dodge that weird couple from South Dakota you really don’t want to share another meal with.
No need to stress yourself out planning to relax.
The point of a vacation is to take a break from your everyday life, usually to relax and unwind. Paradoxically, many vacations require us to spend countless hours researching and booking an elaborate itinerary in a foreign place, only to arrive and stress even more about our intricate set of plans working out. River cruising, by comparison, is totally turnkey. All that most companies (I can confirm this is true of AmaWaterways, at least) require of you is to pick an itinerary, pay, and show up. Once you’ve arrived and settled in, you’re able to choose from myriad preorganized excursions and programs for the duration of your trip, including guided walking and bike tours, gondola rides (subject to availability of rivers with gondolas), winery visits, hikes, and more. They travel to these locations on a weekly basis, so you know these companies have considered everything and are offering you the best of the best. The tour guides are all local to that area and vetted, many with longstanding relationships with the cruise company. They also offer the excursions at varying activity/exertion levels, giving you the flexibility to experience each tour at the pace you find most comfortable that day.
A truly all-inclusive experience
When I hear “all-inclusive,” I think “resort.” But in reality, most all-inclusive resorts don’t offer much value at all (see: watered-down/sugared-up drinks, generally horrible food, and no excursions included), and therefore really shouldn’t be the standard bearer for this term. You pay a bit more for a river cruise, but you get a lot more in return: All excursions are included in the price of the trip, as is, unlimitedly, the truly delicious food, plus wine and beer at all meals.
The child-free vacation you deserve
Lastly, and for some most important, river cruise passengers don’t tend to bring children with them. It’s not guaranteed (because children aren’t technically forbidden), but you’re virtually assured a vacation free of interruptions from other people’s offspring. And with fewer distractions, you can get to know your fellow passengers better—if you want to….
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