Know anyone that loves river cruising? Probably so as river cruising continues to increase in popularity. It’s easy to say it’s the smaller ships driving this increase. Yes, that’s part of it. But for those that enjoy culture, including history, food, wine, architecture, and more, these journeys put all these aspects of a destination front and center. So if exploring the culture of a destination ranks as a primary driver for your motivation to travel, river cruising might just offer a different style of travel to satisfy that yearning.
Regionally Focused Itineraries
Rivers naturally allow for more focused itineraries. You won’t see a river cruise ship traveling anywhere near the speed of a cruise ship. Also, these smaller ships need only limited docking facilities, unlike their oceangoing counterparts.
Slower going and more available docking facilities mean these cruises travel shorter distances over the length of the cruise and between ports, concentrating the focus generally on smaller regional areas. For example, in France you find cruises focused on Provence or Bordeaux. Cruises of 7 days usually only cover a couple of hundred miles even when passing thru several countries and the cultures of those countries meld from one into the other.
Step Right Into the Culture
All ashore means something totally different on a river cruise. First, when departing the ship, you step directly into a town or city rather than on the outskirts, so right from the start, you can enjoy the feeling of the destination immediately. This access allows passengers to take full advantage of what each stop has to offer – have lunch or dinner in a local restaurant; enjoy a coffee at a café where you can see the ship; watch the locals play an unknown card game outside a restaurant in the afternoon; walk thru a local market and take your purchase of a fragile item back to the ship before a bike ride.
Want something more in-depth or experiential? River cruises offer numerous excursions at each stop, many included in the price of your cruise. Wine tours, culinary tours, and history tours as well as tours of famous monuments, landmarks, and castles. For those more active, guided bike tours in cities and towns, along river banks and thru forests provide calorie-burning opportunities. Hiking tours to panoramic vistas, historical landmarks, and areas of natural beauty entice many. There are even yoga tours!
Cultural Exploration Doesn’t Only Happen Onshore
River cruisers enjoy culture all around them on board the ship as well as onshore. With frequent stops in areas known for their agricultural products, chefs procure high-quality local ingredients to create exquisite meals. These meals also frequently incorporate local dishes as well, like Hungarian goulash, Bavarian bratwurst, flaky strudels from Austria, and lusciously rich cheeses from France to enjoy at the end of your meal.
Agriculture includes grapes and from those grapes come many of the wines and spirits served on board. Rieslings from Germany and rosés from Provence accompany your meal and you can enjoy Calvados from France, Genever from Holland, and local beers over conversation with friends and other passengers in the evening.
A slow pace and easy access to the ship allows cruise ships the opportunity to engage with people of the area to bring their local culture onboard.
Musicians, dancers, storytellers delight passengers with their onboard performances. After a busy morning onshore, passengers can opt to enjoy a craft session or lecture onboard in the afternoon to gain additional insights into local life.
And don’t forget the other passengers joining you on your cruise. Most river cruise passengers have traveled extensively and maintain a wide range of experiences and interests. With the small intimate nature of the ships, interesting conversations occur naturally among passengers from the United State and countries around the world. Cross-cultural interaction comes not only from the destination but with the passengers and the crew as well.
The World Awaits
When thinking river cruises, most think of Europe and particularly cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Rhone, Saone and Seine, the Yangtze in China, and the Nile in Egypt. Yet with civilization developing around rivers all over the world, river cruising will continue to expand. Now you can find cruises on the Dordogne and Garonne in France, the Po in Italy, the Duoro in Portugal, the Volga in Russia, the Amazon in Peru, and the Mekong in Southeast Asia. There’s even a river cruise on the Zambezi in Africa!
River cruising is becoming increasingly popular on the Mississippi, Colombia, and Snake Rivers in the US as well. They’re still a significant number of rivers around the world capable of supporting river cruise ships, so that means there will be a lot of cultures left to explore going forward.
With so much to see, so much to do, and so much to enjoy, river cruising is a perfect fit for travelers who are “culture vultures”. Ready to explore a destination differently? Call me to float some ideas!