Tempted to take the plunge? Here are 15 things first-time river cruisers need to know:
1. With flights, overseas transfers, all food on-board, daily excursions and tips included in the price on Emerald Waterways’ cruises, not to mention wine, beer or soft drinks with lunch and dinner, you can relax and enjoy your holiday without fear of busting the budget.
2. Don’t leave your wallet at home! Tempting I know with so much included, but you’d miss out on coffee and Sachertorte at Vienna’s Sacher Hotel. Think the Ritz only more refined and so popular there are queues to get in.
3. Pick Emerald Waterways’ Sensations of Southern France cruise on the Rhône and treat yourself to lunch or dinner at one of bouchon restaurants in Lyon. They serve traditional Lyonnaise dishes in informal surrounds at good-value prices.
4. I’m a single traveller most of the time. That’s brave, I’m told. No it isn’t. At least not on a river cruise. An Emerald Waterways Star-Ship holds up to 182 passengers (and some have single cabins). It’s very intimate and so easy to make friends.
5. Social butterflies are welcome! Open-seating dining allows you to dine with different people at mealtimes. With the day’s activities to talk about and unlimited free drinks with lunch and dinner, the conversation is soon flowing.
6. The Rhine is a favourite with first-timers but why not dare to be different? The Danube’s Wachau Valley is prettier than the Rhine Gorge and while it doesn’t have so many castles you also visit Vienna and Budapest, which just happen to be two of my favourite cities.
7. Voyage along the lower Danube from Budapest to Giurgiu in Romania to learn about life behind the Iron Curtain. You’ll visit the ornate palace in Bucharest that communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu built but never lived in as he and his wife were executed on Christmas Day 1989 for crimes against the state.
8. You don’t have to fly. Choose an Emerald Waterways cruise on the Rhine in Holland, Belgium and to Basel in Switzerland, and on the Rhône in France, and you can travel on the Eurostar train from London and enjoy the views as you go.
9. Unlike sea days on the oceans, on a river cruise you always have a view as you sail. It’s time to relax – but not for too long as you won’t want to miss the on-board activities: Wine lectures, cookery demonstrations, and yoga and tile-painting lessons on the Douro in Portugal. All at no charge.
10. Low bridges on the Main, Main-Danube Canal and Rhône in France mean sun decks have to be closed for long periods. You can still enjoy the views from the lounge or your cabin but splash out on a balcony suite and you’ll have a guaranteed window seat to watch the world go by.
11. It’s your holiday so do as you choose. I like to join the included guided tours to learn about the places I’m visiting, but feel free to go off and explore alone. Just make sure you are back by all-aboard time.
12. Be aware that a journey along the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia is rather different to river cruising in Europe. I’ve crawled through tunnels where Viet Cong lived during the Vietnam War, watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat (be warned – you’ll likely share the experience with a couple of hundred other folk!) and chickened out of tasting Cambodian KFC (that’s Khmer Fried Crickets by the way!).
13. Keeping fit is an option! You can hike through the vineyards in Rüdesheim in Germany, go canoeing in Portugal and join guided cycling tours around Vienna and Belgrade. You can even cycle 32km along the Danube between Melk and Durnstein, or borrow a bike and go exploring on your own.
14. River ships can’t get under the bridges if there is too much rain and can’t sail if there is not enough but while it is a nuisance there’s no need to worry, Emerald Waterways’ Cruise Directors are very experienced and tweak the itineraries to make sure you don’t miss a thing. Furthermore, Emerald Waterways offer a comprehensive River Cruise Guarantee in case of itinerary changes caused by unforeseen circumstances.
15. I hate to bring this up (excuse the pun!) but if you’re worried about seasickness, a river cruise definitely has your name on it as the only waves to worry about are gentle ripples created by a passing cargo boat or river ship.