Cruise Europe Without the Mega-Ship

SS antoinette

A stateroom on Uniworld's S.S. Antoinette (from Uniworld.com)

I’m a fan of cruises, but for me, the standard mega-ship experience lends itself more to relaxing in the sun rather than exploring the cultural riches of Europe. I’ve been tempted by the vast array of Mediterranean itineraries offered by major cruise lines, yet I hesitate to book because deep down I know I could probably soak up more meaningful experiences via a land-based vacation.

However, in my recent travel research I’ve stumbled upon a type of cruise that doesn’t force you to be corralled with the tourist masses: RIVER cruises. I think river cruising could be a great way to see parts of Europe, and there are several advantages over standard cruises:

  1. Small boats (>200 people usually) mean no crazy lines and no hassle when getting on/off the vessel.
  2. Constant scenery! You’re cruising down some of the most famed waterways in Europe, and there’s always something to see.
  3. Every cabin is an outside cabin.
  4. No “sea days,” allowing you to get off the boat and explore every day.
  5. Many river cruise lines are more all-inclusive than ocean-going mega-ships (e.g. local beer & wine is often complimentary).
  6. Free excursions–most  river cruises provide free walking tours.
  7. Because you’re on a river, you dock in the heart of town, whereas ocean cruise ships dock in industrial port areas or tourist-y shopping plazas.
  8. Popular cities sometimes get the overnight treatment so you can check out the nightlife.

The river cruise line I’ve got my eye on is Uniworld, because they offer many upscale touches and their two newest ships (the River Beatrice and S.S. Antoinette) boast a boutique hotel vibe. I think a good place to start would be one of their Rhine or Danube River itineraries.

Keep in mind: If you want the gizmos and doo-dads of a mega-ship (huge buffets, rock-climbing walls, casinos, multiple pools, etc.), you ain’t gonna find ’em on a river-going vessel. That’s the whole point though–you’re there to explore European towns and cities, not lounge around on a floating playground (which I also enjoy doing albeit in locales other than Europe).

Bonus tip(s): Uniworld currently seems to be having a sale on 2011 Europe itineraries. Check out the details here.

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