We went to the Cruise Show in Manchester a few weeks ago and sat through a presentation from Viking River cruises; we also had a good chat with people on the Avalon River Cruises stand – here’s a link to a post about the day. Quite a lot about what we heard and were told attracts us to this style of cruising, but other things push us away and we’re quite uncertain about this. Given the price, we don’t know whether to explore this sort of cruise further or not.
The key attraction for us would be the destinations, the itinerary. Pretty much by definition these are places that we haven’t visited on an ocean cruise (although there are exceptions; Amsterdam, for example), and as I’ve said in numerous previous posts, we cruise principally for the destinations. We do like the look of some of the shorter river cruises along the Rhine or the Rhone, and I know we would enjoy visiting all those towns and places that we haven’t visited before. A certain amount of brochure-scouring and initial planning duly followed.
Then we found that there was a new book about river cruising: ‘River Cruising in Europe‘, a new Berlitz guide, and written (or at least supervised) by Douglas Ward, whose annual ocean cruise guide (“Cruising and Cruise Ships”) hits its 30th anniversary for the 2015 edition. So we bought this guide, read it, and promptly had some doubts. One of the things that quite attracted us to river cruising is the ‘all-inclusive’ aspect: drinks are included (at least at dinner) and soft drinks all the time. Then we read the guide. We’re wine drinkers, and this is what the guide says about the included wine: “if you enjoy good vintage wines, expect to be disappointed…. In most cases the wines are very, very young table wines, on a par with the least expensive supermarket wines”. Now, while we’re certainly not drinking 1ère cru claret, we reckon we know something about wine; for example, we understand the advantages to be had, in terms of quality, in paying £10 a bottle from the supermarket instead of £5 – the value of the actual wine in the more expensive bottle is four or five times that of the cheaper. This is why we have enjoyed the Glass House so much on recent cruises – it presents the opportunity to get wines of quite good quality wines by the glass. Yet according to this guide it looks as if we would be in for disappointment. The guide also mentions the problem of mosquitos – I hadn’t thought of them at all – and another problem that we had heard about, low water on the rivers preventing navigation.
All that said, Mr Ward does praise some companies for not cutting costs as much as others, and specifically singles out Ama Waterways as being exemplary in this. But all in all, reading the book has served to reinforce our doubts. There is the old argument that goes “if you want to visit [somewhere], then do a land holiday in a central location and you’ve got choices”, and we wonder if in the case of river cruising, that’s the best answer. Especially if the cost is going to be around £5,000 for both of us, for a week – you could fly there and back, stay in a good hotel, eat well, and visit a number of places for that much money. There again, the downside of doing a land-based holiday in that manner is that you’ve got to plan and execute it all by yourselves – doing a river cruise does take away most of the effort.
Choices, choices…. I’d welcome some opinions, experiences and comments from readers, please.