Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Several years ago, I embarked on my first European river cruise. Never having been a huge fan of mass-market ocean cruising, I was very pleasantly surprised by my AmaWaterways river cruise from Basel, Switzerland, up the Rhine, with stops in France, Germany, and ending in Amsterdam, aboard the AmaPrima. And I traveled alone, without knowing anyone else on board.
What was appealing?
The ease of travel
I was whisked by a private transfer from the small airport in Basel to the ship. From then on, I was in the company of the crew and a fantastic cruise director who kept us quite entertained. Everything felt easy and relaxed and my cabin had all the amenities of a luxury hotel room. The biggest decisions were making choices on which excursions to pick for the next day and what menu option to choose for dinner.
The intimacy of the cruise vessel
River cruise vessels have to stay within a certain size to fit through the river locks and docking facilities. The number of guests onboard varies but is never more than about 180 or so. (The Ama Magna is a new ship that sails the Danube and although is twice the width of other ships, maxes out at 196 passengers, making for even more space in the staterooms, deck, and public spaces.)
Although the ship follows a set itinerary, there is a lot of flexibility built in and choices of excursions and activities each day. I also liked that walking excursions offered varied speeds which set us up for smaller walking groups of like-minded travelers, and kept groups within their own chosen walking pace. For those that are looking for more exercise, hiking and biking excursions are included in the options. Wellness options onboard are available as well and have been expanded to now include a variety of training classes, yoga, pilates, and more, designed for various levels of fitness. Ama Waterways will also customize excursions or activities for groups that travel together (Tip: Only five staterooms and 10 guests make a group).
Exquisite! I particularly loved the preparation of fresh local foods from the various port calls we made.
Stability of the Ship
For those who start to feel queasy just talking about being on a ship, the good news is a river cruise ship is more akin to a barge. It's very stable and there is no wake. Seasickness is not an issue.
I opted for the least expensive cabin since it was just me. Although I had a high window and I couldn’t see out too easily, the stateroom was cozy and well equipped. I enjoyed downtime in my stateroom but often took my book or laptop to sit in a quiet corner of the ship's public areas as well. The 24/7 coffee/tea/hot cocoa station was always nearby. Even with an upgraded cabin, it’s good to know there will be times the river cruise ships are docked next to each other, so for a while, you’re view is likely to be another ship. Going through the locks can be a little noisy in a lower cabin especially and there was some vibration at times from the motors as we maneuvered through the rivers but I’m a light sleeper and I was not kept awake by it.
Entertainment and Information
Nightly entertainment and talks were available. There were opportunities to learn about the excursion choices and what we’d be passing the next day. There were also some local musicians that visited the ship for evening entertainment and we even had a Halloween party one night. If you’re someone who needs a nightclub or casino atmosphere, river cruises may feel a bit sedate to you, although some cruise lines and itineraries allow for onshore nightlife as well as the ship's offerings.
The cruise itself was full of wonderful stops and activities, with unique opportunities to learn and experience the local culture first-hand. And everything was included in the cost, which makes for a hassle-free way to travel. Stops included a visit to the storybook village of Riquewihr in the Alsace region of France, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Rudesheim, and its famous coffee, bike riding through the Rhine Valley, Cologne, the Rhine Gorge vistas of 40 castles enjoyed from the deck of the ship, and Amsterdam.
Time of year
My cruise was in late October and it was a bit chilly on certain days so it was good to have a few layers to adjust to the weather. This time of year was still quite pretty with the fall colors. Another bonus for traveling in early spring and late fall is that cruises and airfare are often discounted a bit in those periods. As an added bonus, towns and cities aren’t crowded with tourists, allowing for a more intimate visit to many sites.
Traveling as a single
As a solo traveler on this journey, I enjoyed a sense of freedom that surprised me a bit. Although I missed having family and friends with me, I met so many friendly fellow travelers and it was nice just doing what I wanted when I wanted. The crew was wonderful about seating me with different folks at mealtime and everyone was very welcoming. (River cruise lines even waive or discount the single supplement on select sailings and a few have lower-priced single staterooms). And for those traveling with a group, having your own private single cabin might be just the respite you’re looking for.
Want to learn more about traveling on a river cruise alone or with a group of friends and family! Book a chat with me today with no obligation.