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My husband and I booked a Viking Rhine River Cruise this summer that sailed from Amsterdam to Basel.
As always, the cruise was amazing, the sites were spectacular and because it’s not a mega cruise ship, you get to know many of your fellow passengers. With a boat that only holds 190 passengers at full capacity, that’s not hard to do.
What shocked us more than anything else as return river cruisers were the number of couples and friends who were taking their very first river excursion. As the statistics indicate, river cruisers are typically over the age of 50, have the money to travel, and many are retired. So, how is it that several travelers we met had never taken a river cruise before?
The “why now” of river cruising is a fascinating subject and one that involves several key elements. Not only did we query our fellow passengers but we also reached out to travel advisor, Kristy Mosolino of Wishes Travel in Birmingham, Alabama. Here’s what we found out.
Mosolino said that her agency has seen a 53 percent increase in river cruise bookings within the last year. That she says it has to do with several factors, many that our fellow passengers confirmed to us on our summer cruise.
After the isolation of COVID, many people were anxious to get back to traveling and interacting with friends and family once again. However, a lot changed for return travelers in that they no longer wanted to be with large crowds or to compete with thousands of other passengers waiting in lines to embark or disembark at large cruise ship destinations.
River cruisers also get to know their entire staff and the ship’s staff knows their passengers well — their dietary restrictions, favorite wines and cocktails and food preferences. Not only is the atmosphere much more intimate and relaxing on a river cruise, the staff actually forges relationships with the passengers.
Mosolino added that “in addition, many of my clients had already been cruising to areas like the Caribbean and know they can go back and do that again any time.” “Rather, she says they’re now wanting to visit places they’ve never been before with unique experiences, and river cruising certainly offers that — a way to truly step away and savor the moment.
Though they didn’t jump on it in the past, many passengers we spoke with said that a river cruise had been on their travel bucket wish list for a while. They just hadn’t made the commitment or taken any steps to make it happen. But once COVID dwindled and testing and travel restrictions eased (especially overseas), they were more than ready to make that plan a reality.
The old “someday” adage is long gone, disappearing with the worst strains of COVID.
Travelers know full well the dangers of putting off trips that they can and should take “now.” Health issues or the loss of family members and friends taught us all one thing. If you put it off until tomorrow, that tomorrow might never come.
Other passengers were clear to point out that “we want to enjoy travel when we can. At this stage in our life, we are still healthy, and have fewer commitments meaning we can step away and really savor the experience.” Other couples with mobility issues said that “river cruising is so much easier for us. We pull into small towns so we’re not fighting the madding crowd at ports of call and we can choose smaller-group, more personal excursions that even offer guided tours led at a slower pace.”
Fiftieth anniversaries, girlfriend reunions, second wedding celebrations, retirements, milestone events — these are all some of the reasons river cruises have gained popularity. Again, it’s easier to maneuver and meet up on a smaller ship and the experience is more intimate and laid-back allowing families and friends to spend more quality time together.
In addition, with more river cruise ships being built and more itineraries being added, excursion choices have increased in number to include some incredible destinations around the world.
So, what was the final verdict of the couples we often interacted with on the Rhine River cruise who were cruising for their first time? They all emphatically proclaimed they would do it again. 100 percent. And some even re-booked future excursions while onboard. Some said they’d love to try AMA Waterways or one of the other river cruise lines for comparison. But it wasn’t because they weren’t thrilled with the cruise that they just enjoyed.
The bottom line is once you river cruise, you want to do it again. Floating down the rivers of time past the iconic Eiffel Tower with its nighttime shimmering lights or picturesque riverbanks dotted with ancient castles or the temperate verdant hills of Ireland are unforgettable experiences.
Port visits are cultural immersions in places you could never visit on an ocean cruise. Whether it’s an Oktoberfest, a Christkindlmarkt or an Abbey Winery, it’s a heartwarming exposure to a world previously unexplored.
Whatever the reasons, river cruising is gaining popularity by leaps and bounds, and travelers are loving the ease of sailing on calmer waters, the convivial ambiance, the inclusive pricing and the exceptional constantly-changing landscapes and historical landmarks.
Noreen Kompanik is a San Diego based journalist who is also the co-owner and publisher of Rovology, Travel By Vacation Rental...
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