Going into my first river cruising experience, I was warned, “It’s a nursing home on water…” Anyone I mentioned my plans to told me, “You’ll be the youngest one on the boat! You’ll have nothing to do!”
When packing, I brought a bunch of movies with me on my laptop, loaded 10 books onto my iPad, and decided that if all else fails, I could drink my boredom away with a bottle of wine from a local grocery store…
Honestly, I am not always looking for a fast-paced travel experience. When my mom told me that I was going to be helping her lead a group of clients on a trip along the Danube river, I was beyond excited. I had always dreamed of seeing Vienna and Budapest, just a few of the ports included in the Select Explorer’s itinerary.
At every port, a sign is posted on the door announcing the ship’s docking time and departure time, along with the time all passengers must be on board. I had, on average, 8 hours in each city. So to say that this trip wasn’t fast-paced would be inaccurate.
Since I was with a group, my schedule was based around our guided tours. However, we were also allotted free time, allowing me to explore the cities on my own, in whatever way I chose to.
While at a port of call, you can choose to take a guided tour, an excursion through the boat, or just explore on your own. This means that the way you see each city is up to you! Want to go fast and see everything in a few hours? Go for it. Want to take it slow, find a park, and enjoy the day? Also an option! What you do and how you do it is up to you!
If I were to take this trip again, without a group to lead, I can assure you I would see a totally different side of the ports. But I am a bit crazy and like to see as much as possible while on my own.
Ports of Call
Every river cruising company schedules a different itinerary for their voyages.
The group I was leading started our trip in Prague, two days prior to our river cruise. We spent a day exploring Karlovy Vary and Prague, and left the next day for Cesky Krumlov on the way to Passau.
Our ports of call on the Select Explorer included Passau, Melk, Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava, Durnstein. We then returned back to Passau. Our ship docked overnight in both Vienna and Budapest. Had I not been with my mom and younger brother, I probably would have gone out and explored the nightlife in both of these cities!
After departing from the ship, we explored Passau for an hour. We then headed to Salzburg for the day, before spending the night near Vienna airport and flying out to the States the next morning.
The hospitality aboard this ship is what really made my experience unforgettable. There were approximately 140 passengers aboard the Select Explorer during my voyage. The majority of the crew knew every single passenger by name… The crew goes out of their way to say hello and chat with you. Every single staff member wants to ensure you are having an amazing experience.
The rooms are cleaned quickly in the morning. While everyone is at dinner, housekeeping provides turn down service, pulling the beds out of the wall and placing an itinerary for the next day in the rooms.
Now here is the real kicker: housekeeping cleans the rooms prior to anyone being let off the ship on the last day. Why? In case anyone forgets something! How do I know? Someone in our group left a SMARTPHONE in their room…
Now I don’t know about you, but the foodies I know are not 80 year old grandmas. Foodies are young people who relish in different flavors and cuisines, raving about them on their social media channels…
The food on the Select Explorer did not disappoint. Different delicacies based on the port of call, and catered to an individual’s dietary needs, are available at every meal.
And if an excursion does not allow you to return to the ship for lunch, a bag lunch is provided for you. This bag lunch includes two sandwiches, a fruit, a yogurt, and a beverage.
But if you are anything like me, you’ll want to try the local food! And don’t forget to stop in to the local supermarket and see how the locals live. My mom and I bought an assortment of cheeses, salami, and bread to enjoy with wine.
Insider tip: BUY WINE! It is only 5 euro a bottle and worth every penny.
River cruising may be one of the most convenient ways to see a large portion of Europe at once.
Just imagine this… You a traveling to 6 different cities in 7 days. In each city, you are staying overnight in a hotel. At each hotel, you have to pack and unpack your suitcase every single night. Torture, right?
None of that is necessary on a river cruise. You unpack on your first day, and pack up on your last. Easy, peasy, done.
Ships come with European and (get this!) American power outlets. TV Channels may be limited, but the ship has a HUGE library with books and board games. There is always something to do.
Insider tip: Buy water bottles before boarding the ship and bring them on board. Water bottles are expensive on board and not easily found in some of the ports.
River Cruising Around the World
The Danube River is NOT the only place where river cruising exists. My mom’s agency also leads guided tour groups along the Rhine River. River cruising along the Amazon, the Nile, the Yangtze, the Makong, and the Irrawaddy in Burma is also an option – with voyages available on many river cruising companies!