After several years of drooling over the advertisements and wondering if a river cruise was worth it, we took the plunge, so to speak, and loved it! Hubby and I are both huge fans of all things Christmas and our families are from Germany, so when the chance to take a Christmas Market Cruise on the Rhine River popped up at a great price, we said, “Yes, please.” Despite the fact they had record-breaking cold that week – of course, since the Floridians were there – we had the best time.
We sailed with Emerald Cruises and they not only met, but exceeded, our expectations in all the best ways. Even though I’m a boat captain, this was our very first cruise. If you’re considering going, do some research and compare the cruise lines based on your preferences. There are many options to choose from, with similar itineraries and accommodations. Here are our favorite things about the trip.
We usually travel by car, stopping for a night here, another night there. It can be exhausting. A cruise ship is essentially a floating hotel and once you unpack, that’s it. Home for the week. We didn’t realize how much more relaxing that made the entire trip.
We splurged on a Panoramic Balcony – a clever wall of glass that opens on top like a balcony – that was worth every extra penny. We could sit inside in comfy chairs and watch the world go by from our room. (Though keep in mind, we mostly sailed overnight.)
Smaller ships mean a more relaxed atmosphere
River cruise ships are not as large as their ocean-going cousins, for obvious reasons. Our ship had a limit of 180 passengers, which is not quite as intimidating as those floating cities. You’ll never get lost on board. We had such fun getting to know people from other states and countries.
Daily tours with local guides
Our cruise included a daily excursion, either a walking tour that left from the ship or buses that took us to the tour’s starting point. The guides were all local and offered so much information we’d never have learned on our own. We really appreciated the individual headsets that made it easy to hear them while we roamed picturesque locations. (Note: there is a fair bit of walking involved with the tours and those cobblestone streets can be tricky, especially when it’s wet.)
Great food and terrific staff
The food aboard ship was fantastic and often included regional dishes. Beer and wine were included with both lunch and dinner. There is only one dining room and dinner is at a set time, but the menu always included several options. We especially enjoyed sampling the chef’s recommendations. We also had fun chatting with guests at nearby tables and getting to know the staff, who came from so many different countries.
Since the ships dock along the river, locations are often shuffled around a bit. But that worked to our advantage when we docked at a different town one day and got to explore the local Christmas market after dark.
Flexibility applies to the guests, too. Excursions are offered, but not obligatory. One day we opted out due to the weather. We ate snacks in the lounge, chatted with fellow travelers and napped in our room instead.
Two optional tours were available for an additional cost, as were drink packages. But beyond that, everything (including gratuities) was included in the price. There were no surprises at the end, which we really appreciated. (Check individual cruise lines for their policies.)
We came home with fabulous photos, lovely new friends and wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. People have asked if we’d do it again. Absolutely – but during warmer weather. Our recommendation: if you get the chance, take the trip. Life is short.
What about you? Have you taken a European River Cruise? Would you do it again? I’d love to hear from you.