If you’re considering a river cruise but you can’t decide between operators or destinations, we’ve had a word with the man who’s created a whole website that can help you. Ralph Grizzle is a world authority on cruising. His website, River Cruise Advisor, shares his personal experiences of travelling on over a hundred vessels.
I spoke to Ralph while he was cruising along the Danube in Germany and asked him what advantages river cruising had over ocean cruising? “Accessibility,” he replied. “I’m in Regensburg right now and I simply walk down a gateway that’s about six feet long and I’m in town. On an ocean cruise ship you may have to tender ashore, through a terminal and security.”
You’re less likely to pay for extras too. “Shore excursions are included on most river cruises,” said Ralph. “On ocean cruises they are often extras and the costs can add up at the end of the week.”
“So are there fewer things to do on a river cruise, because you’re able to step ashore for entertainment?” I asked.
“A lot of river cruise ships just have the one restaurant,” said Ralph. “There is usually evening entertainment laid on though – whether it is bands, vocalists or guest lecturers who are invited on board.”
“So are river vessels more likely to stay in port later into the evening, because you don’t have to spend longer periods travelling, as you would on an ocean cruise?”
“It does vary,” said Ralph. “Ocean going cruises are trying to stay longer in ports, even overnight. It’s the same for river cruises. In nine days of this cruise, the boat has stayed overnight at a port once. On some days you might visit two ports in one day.” So it seems that river trips can sometimes try and cram in the destinations.
I asked Ralph about seasickness on a river cruise. “You’d have to work hard to suffer from motion sickness on a river,” Ralph laughed. “You don’t feel any motion at all.”
The ocean-going cruises offer different experiences for different types of passenger. Some target a younger crowd with ships offering non-stop partying. There are also cruise lines aimed at older clientele. I asked Ralph whether he has noticed the same market segmentation with river cruises?
“Not so much. It’s more down to how they approach being all-inclusive. The vessel I am on now includes beer and wine with lunch and dinner but at no other times of the day. You can have champagne with breakfast, if you want. Some river cruises offer drink, at no extra charge, all day long.”
But there’s one extra that Ralph thinks could prove uncomfortable for some British travellers. “Some cruise lines expect guests to place tips in an envelope for the crew. All-inclusive lines might not request that,” he adds.
I asked Ralph which route he would recommend for a first time river cruiser? “The Danube,” he responds instantly. “You have world-class cities like Budapest and Vienna and incredible sites like Melk Abbey in Austria. There’s the opportunity to bicycle through the Wacau Valley, which is a wine producing area. It’s an 18-mile cycle ride from Melk to Durnstein. There are plenty of chances to be active when you are on land – you can go hiking.”
Ralph also recommends trips along the Rhine. “Amsterdam to Basel is a popular route and it takes in UNESCO World Heritage sites like Cologne Cathedral and wine-producing villages such as Rudesheim.” Ralph’s final suggestion is to take a trip up the Douro River in Portugal. “It’s stunning and you meet wonderful people. If you enjoy wine that could be a great idea,” he says.
You can find more tips and advice on Ralph’s website at rivercruiseadvisor.com.