Although it's been around for a number of years, riverboat cruising is a unique way to explore destinations that cannot accommodate large cruise ships. Most riverboats hold from 50-200 passengers with a few exceptions. Because of their size, they can navigate smaller rivers and bodies of water that a large cruise ship would never be able to get through.
Sue and I recently had the pleasure of going on a UniWorld Riverboat cruise on the River Royale on the Rhone river in France. Our Itinerary ran through the heart of Burgundy and Provence visiting Arles, Avignon, Viviers, Tournon, Tain L'Hermitage, Lyon, and Chalon.
I have to say I was a bit skeptical of this cruise. We have been on many different cruise ships from Celebrity to Crystal and everything in between, so my expectations were guarded at best.
I have to say it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable cruises we have taken. For those of you who have difficulty with motion issues, I was amazed at how stable these riverboats are. The flat bottom of the boat gives it great stability. They cruise along from 5-7 mph and you almost have to look ashore to realize you are moving!
As with all cruises, once aboard and unpacked, you are free to enjoy the trip without moving from hotel to hotel, packing and unpacking, and living out of your suitcase. To re-create the cruise itinerary on land, we would have needed to rent a car, do the driving, move from hotel to hotel, and arrange for meals along the way. We've done this before, and although I love to drive and am an auto enthusiast, it's tough to beat the riverboat experience for effortless, comfortable travel, with just about everything handled you can imagine. The effort involved to plan a trip of this type, along with the cost of doing everything ala carte makes riverboat cruising a great value, not to mention the peace of mind not having to worry about all the details that need to be in place, and all the things that can and will conspire to test your patience by trying to do it yourself.
One of the big differences in riverboat cruising is getting up close and personal with the surroundings. You are only a couple of hundred feet from shore, so there is never any travel at sea. The riverboat pulls right up to a mooring spot in the middle of most cities, eliminating the need to wait for a tender boat or cue up to leave. The gangplank goes down and you walk right off. No waiting for hours to get ashore once you've arrived.
On UniWorld, we spent time after breakfast getting briefed by the director about the highlights of the city walking tour that was included that morning. The guides were usually locals living in the area that were knowledgeable of the area, it's history, and local architecture. We wore wireless headsets that worked up to about a hundred feet away from the guide, which made it really comfortable with respect to personal space. Several excursions were available that we could sign up for in the afternoon, or choose to spend it as we wished. We decided to go on an excursion to a private family estate producing olive oil that UniWorld offered. It turned out to be a great choice. It was a small third generation estate that handcrafted their olive oil with a very limited production. It truly gave us the small family owned experience that left a smile on our face.
Another excursion included a trip to a cathedral housing one of the largest pipe organs in France. We were treated to a concert of classical music ending with some of our favorites from Phantom of the Opera. Truly special!
The accommodations are a little tighter compared to a larger ship, and open area space is limited due to the size of the boat. The cabins feel a tad smaller, but are nicely appointed and make a comfortable, cozy home for your trip. The food was quite good and we all agreed the soups offered were really special. You won't find 24 hour room service, but overall food quality was excellent, although choices were limited compared to a large ship experience.
If you are a younger traveler and nightlife, a pool, and many diverse activities are important to you, this may not be the cruise for you.
Riverboat Cruising offers value, convenience, and a style of traveling that is laid back, comfortable, and at a slower pace than what you may be used to on a larger ship. Some may agree that this is a distinct advantage. We agree.
About the Authors
Sue and Charlie Shimkus are owners of Lake Zurich Travel & Cruise established in 1974. Sue has served on the travel advisory board for Alaska, Hawaii, & Ireland and executive board of the local chapter American Society of Travel Agents. Lake Zurich Travel & Cruise is a member of the Signature Travel Network. Visit Lake Zurich Travel for Expert Travel Advice and resources finding the Right Vacation for you!
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