River Cruising offers Solo Travelers Ease, Access, and Comraderie in Complex Touring Regions
River Cruising is one of the best ways to explore Europe for anyone interested in culture, history, food, wine and beer, but it is a particularly suitable for solo travelers. All the logistical work is arranged, you have access to sights not easily visited, and the ship’s set-up enables you to choose between solitude and socializing.
I am not a group tour person, and I loved every minute of my August Uniworld eight day Vineyards and Chateaux river cruise of the Bordeaux region. Uniworld made it easy to visit the major wine regions one would really need a car to see, and offered exclusive access usually only available to those in the wine industry. For reluctant drivers, or people who want to enjoy the best the region has to offer without worrying about drinking and driving – the river cruise is the best way to do it.
Floating boutique hotels transport travelers on spectacular voyages via Europe and Asia’s great rivers. Once integral trade and transportation routes, rivers are now gateways to cultural and culinary enlightenment. River cruising is the most seamless way to navigate treasured landmarks and experience authentic life on the riverside.
Recognizing the popularity among solo travelers, most of the river cruise companies actively marketing in the US and Canada offer waived single-supplements on select sailings, or specific cabins for solo travelers on every cruise.
Compared to the typical practice of charging single occupants 200% while they’re not eating and drinking for two, the river cruise industry – with one notable exception – is remarkable in its treatment of solo travelers.
Because of the size of the rivers and their locks system, the river cruise boat width is limited and pretty standard. Most solo travelers will be comfortable in their cabin, and will be thrilled not to have to share the small bathroom and closet. On most ships, the single and lower priced cabins are on the bottom level with smaller windows, but a good agent (like me) can secure the best available cabin for you. So little time is spent in the room, it really doesn’t matter. And, when the ship is moving, the low hum can be heard on the middle deck. I’m hum sensitive and it never bothered me. And, I get seasick easily but never felt any motion on the ship during the trip.
Meals are open seating, with large tables fostering engaging conversation and new friendships. On my August Uniworld trip, the composition of the passengers was primarily solo travelers with couples making up less than half of the guests. Every meal there were two large tables of eight solo travelers – mainly new friends who met on the ship. People would come and go at these tables throughout the extended meal time. There were also smaller tables for more intimate groups and conversation.
Many river cruise ships feature alternative dining options like chef’s tables and deck dining, open to all guests. On my Uniworld cruise, the largest percentage of the alternative dining crowd both times I went was groups of solo travelers with their new friends.
Everything is well organized and arranged for you. Less experienced travelers can relax knowing every detail is well thought out and taken care of from arrival to the time they are transferred to the airport. You will be met at the airport and brought to the ship. Your welcome orientation will explain the daily schedule and the options you will want to book immediately like special excursions and alternative dining. Each night you will be given a description of the next day’s excursions so you can select what sounds best to you. With Uniworld, I could watch this orientation on the TV in my room while getting ready in the evening – and a printed copy with additional port information was waiting when I arrived in my stateroom after dinner.
Depending what cruise brand and ship you select, there could be a pool, jacuzzi, walking track, bicycles, gym, spa and salon. Usually there is a rechargeable headset for each passenger for excursions, allowing you to hear the guide while having freedom to move around. Cruisers on top of the line Scenic receive a GPS loaded with independent walking/cycling tours, port or destination information, and commentary about what the ship is passing on shore.
You will spend your days with a group of worldly, well-traveled, intellectually curious but fun people. With a small group of 80 – 160 passengers, depending on the company and ship, there are no long lines, waits or crowds.
Most of the time, the ship docks in the center of town, enabling you to walk on and off at leisure. Towns that have been there for thousands of years, not industrial cruise piers. Exploring local sights and trying the best local foods, wines, liquors and beers when the ship is in port is easy.
The wide variety of shore excursion options offer something for everyone – at the pace that’s right for you. Instead of arriving en masse, with Uniworld we were broken into smaller groups to facilitate communication with the guide, small group tastings, and people-free photography. Most European river cruise lines offer some variation of these options: bicycle groups, gentle walker groups, and special itineraries even more focused on wine, beer, culinary or art than usual. Many lines include most tours and very few optional tours at extra cost. Some offer a basic daily excursion, and more optional tours at extra cost, so unless you prefer to stay on board, it pays to have the advice of a travel specialist.
For more independent travelers, there is ample free time to explore and focus on your areas of interest. In the evening you can participate in the lounge entertainment, or read on a chaise on the top deck, covered in a cushy blanket while wine or drinks are delivered to your chair by friendly staff members. Or, if you have enough time, you can add some independent exploration of the area prior to or following the cruise.
Unlike ocean cruises, almost everything is included so there are no unexpected charges at the end of the trip. Tipping on and off the boat is usually included. There is no stress over the proper tip, and you’re never digging around for smaller bills for drivers and guides.
Every river cruise includes local beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; some include all drinks in the cost of the trip. Included drinks alleviates the stress over splitting bills with new friends. Yet, when cocktails are not included, you have a great excuse to go ashore with your new friends to check out local spots.
If you’re waiting for the right travel partner to see the world, or are reluctant traveling in foreign countries alone, you now have a perfect solution. A river cruise in European or SouthEast Asia offers you seamless travel arrangements, the safety of traveling with a highly regarded professional company, a large group of interesting like-minded travel companions, and the ability to customize your individual experience.
As a River Cruise Specialist travel agent with Uniworld, Scenic, Amawaterways, Avalon, Emerald Waterways, and Viking – I can advise you on the best river cruise for your travel style, desired itinerary or region, and your budget. There’s still time for great 2016 early booking discounts including free air with some cruise lines, and now is the time to secure last minute 2015 deals on Holiday Market or special New Years sailings. Please contact me by filling out the form here.