Ocean cruises are great for a quick, relaxing getaway, but they’re by no means perfect. The ships can be big and overwhelming, the ports can be overrun with tourists, and the experience can feel a bit impersonal. If you want to avoid tourist traps and completely immerse yourself in local food, entertainment, and culture, there’s a better option: a river cruise.
1. Have local entertainment come onboard for a private show
Local dancers entertain the passengers of Avalon Luminary.- Photo by Avalon Waterways
Because port stops on river cruises are less touristy than their Caribbean counterparts, you can usually expect to find more authentic culture and entertainment. Better yet, often times that entertainment will come directly to you, with local dancers and musicians boarding the ship to put on a private show for the passengers. Ocean cruisers may be able to see Broadway productions and big name music acts, but river cruisers have the chance to see unique, intimate performances they’d never be able to see back home.
2. Quickly Embark and Disembark
River ships dock directly in the middle of port. - Photo by Cruise Fever
Sailing on a floating resort with 5,000 other passengers might sound like a fun idea, until you realize that all of those passengers are trying to get on and off the ship at the same time. On a river cruise, you’re sailing with less than 200 passengers, so that means easy boarding. You don’t start or end your vacation waiting in line for hours, and getting off the ship in port never has to be a production. Simply walk off the ramp and you’re in the center of town.
3. Forge a personal connection with the crew.
It's a lot easier to make special requests when you know the chef. - - Photo by Avalon Waterways
The quality of service on a cruise ship is above and beyond what most people are used to experiencing with hotels, and we’re amazed that even on ships with thousands of crew, we still have members raving about a waiter or room steward who made their vacation truly spectacular. On river cruises, you’re likely to have an even better experience. The small size of the crew means that they’ll know your name within the first day, and they'll be like an old friend by the end of the voyage.
4. Cruise With Other Adults
The demographics of a river cruise skew towards the 40 and up crowd. - Photo by Viking River Cruises
No matter how much you love kids, sometimes you want to be able to relax around other adults without having to deal with screaming children monopolizing the hot tubs. While you may see an occasional child onboard, there likely won’t be even a handful, and they’re usually well behaved.
5. Be guided by a Cruise Director who actually directs your cruise
Caterina, the Program Director aboard Viking Jarl. - Photo by Simon Duvall
On most ocean cruises, the Cruise Director is the face of the ship and responsible for scheduling entertainment and activities. But typically, that’s where their duties end, with shore excursions, itineraries and other matters left to other officers.
On a river cruise, your Cruise Director (they also can be known as a Program Director, Cruise Manager or a similar title) has a much bigger hand in your cruise, responsible for everything related to your itinerary, activities, excursions, entertainment and more. They’re typically from the region you’re cruising through and have intimate knowledge of the local ports. They’ll often go out of their way to share a sample of local cuisine while your group’s on an excursion, assist you in planning your time ashore if you want to go independently, and personally take responsibility to ensure you have an engaging cruise.
6. Enjoy locally-sourced food and beverages
Erhard Mörwald, Viking River Cruises’ house vinter, can personally give you a tour of his winery on select Danube sailings. - Photo by Simon Duvall
So locally sourced, in fact, that part of your evening meal may have been grown on the ship. The Viking River Cruises Longships in Europe have an herb garden on the top deck, and in the afternoon, you might find your chef topside picking the seasoning for the evening meal. Everything you eat onboard comes from local suppliers, and you might even have the opportunity to visit their operations. Some Viking River cruises along the Danube offer an optional tasting excursion to tour the award-winning Mörwald Winery and meet Erhard Mörwald, vinter of Viking’s house wine.