Welcome Back to our Friday Blog Series: Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s, where our favorite Travel Planning Aficionado shares her wealth of knowledge and experiences about traveling the world! After every trip to a new destination, Jamie gives us her perspective as both a traveler, and a travel advisor, through a quick but comprehensive list of what to do or not do at each vacation location!
As many of you who follow along know, Jamie just went on an absolutely incredible River Cruise Adventure with a fellow Love of the Magic Vacations Team Member. River Cruise popularity is growing at an exponential rate as people realize that River Cruises offer boutique and immersive experiences right into the heart of different countries and cultures. Jamie and Kristin chose a journey on the Danube that was equal parts fascinating, delicious, enchanting and adventurous! Based on their experience, River Cruising absolutely deserves a place on everyone’s Travel Bucket List!
So Let’s Go on a River Cruise! But First…
Table of Contents
Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s for River Cruising
Top Favorites and Jamie’s “Must-Do” Experiences
1. DO Choose an Itinerary and Cruise Line that Suits Your Interests and Preferences
River cruises have become increasingly popular over the last decade, so naturally, the number of River Cruise Lines, and the number of itineraries offered, have also grown to meet the demand. This is a huge plus for travelers, since there are now so many options that everyone is sure to find both a River Cruise Line and an itinerary that matches their preferences, and also likely exceeds their expectations.
From family friendly, to chic and modern, to gilded and glitzy, to everything in between, there is a River Cruise Line with whatever vibe and style you’re looking for. And, although many people think River Cruise is synonymous with “European River Cruise,” it’s most definitely not anymore, even if it once was, because River Cruises offer sailings everywhere from Africa and Egypt, to Vietnam and Cambodia, to South America and, of course, all over Europe, too.
2. DO Try New Things, from Food to Excursions and Experiences
As always with traveling, no matter where you go, the whole point is to TRY NEW THINGS because generally most of us are not choosing to fly across the world, and handle multiple layovers and modes of transportation with grace, just to get somewhere that feels the same as sitting on our own couch in our living room, right? So while you’re out there in that great big, wide world, be sure to take it all in, in as many ways as you can! Try that food you can’t even pronounce, and take that bicycle ride even if you’ve haven’t been on a two-wheeler since high school (that saying about riding a bike exists for a reason, doesn’t it?)!
One of the best things about River Cruises is that they bring you right into the heart of a country and city. Life and civilization grew around rivers because of the need for water, and also for trade access, so the ports that River Cruises can access often offer incredibly immersive experiences that give you a true picture of life in each destination. Taking advantage of these unique windows of opportunity by trying as many local things as possible is highly recommended!
3. DO Book Tours with Local Guides in Pre- and Post-Cruise Cities
While River Cruises offer exceptional excursions once you get cruising at each port along the river, many don’t plan time in the cities where you begin and end the cruise. However, taking the time to explore the cities where you embark and disembark from your cruise is absolutely worth the extra time! In fact, most River Cruise Lines do offer Pre- and Post-Cruise extensions, which have the same high-quality touring options that are offered in ports along the river. Or, if you’d rather opt for something else, you can always book your own private tour with a local guide from the city (your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor will be able to help you with whatever option you choose, as always).
Top Tips that Jamie Learned Along the Way
1. Arrive to Your Port City a Few Days Early
As just mentioned, planning a few days to explore the city where your River Cruise begins is always worth it, but having some extra time before embarkation has other benefits as well. The last thing you want when you’re about to go on any cruise that you’ve waited (and saved) months, or even years, for is to literally miss the boat. Although some of us (like Jamie) are lucky enough to live within driving distance of major cruise ports, most of us have to fly to the destination where our cruise starts, especially if it’s a River Cruise. Adding a few days in the city where you embark is not just a fun way to extend your vacation, it’s also a smart choice to make sure you get to your ship on time! These days, with flights being as unpredictable as they are, having at least a day or two of cushion time is a key element to ensuring your vacation goes as smoothly as possible, even if it gets off to a bumpy start with flights.
2. Be Open to Unfamiliar Destinations
While some River Cruises list destinations throughout some of the world’s most visited countries, such as France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal, there are many River Cruises that include countries you might not have had on your radar before, without having ancestral ties to them, or being a history buff in certain eras and areas. Sometimes, though, we wind up having the most extraordinary experiences in places we never expected to be.
About two decades ago, I found myself on the Northern Coast of Whales on a cold and rainy November day learning how to surf, of all things; I never thought that would be a sentence I could say from experience, but it’s definitely high on the list of the coolest (and maybe coldest) things I’ve ever done! As is always the case with travel, the more you are able to keep an open mind, the more you will be rewarded with experiences that broaden your horizons further than you ever thought possible. So don’t pass over a River Cruise Itinerary that includes places you never thought you’d go, instead, allow yourself to indulge in the possibility of what could be!
3. Let Your Cruise Line Know About Dietary Restrictions
River Cruises have long been known for their high-end and artful cuisine, and enjoying the food on your River Cruise is definitely supposed to be a key part of the experience. Because of that, most River Cruise Lines go above and beyond normal expectations to meet the dietary needs of every traveler onboard (to the point of using a completely sterilized and separate set of cookware to avoid contamination). Whether you are Gluten-Free or a Vegetarian, or allergic to shellfish, or anything else, be sure to let the Cruise Line know (or let your Love of the Magic Travel Advisor know, so they can alert the Cruise Line), preferably at the time of booking.
Top “Must-Don’t”s, or Things Jamie Would Do Differently
1. DON’T Assume All River Cruises are the Same
Although you may have started reading this “Do”s and “Don’t”s list with a picture of the quintessential “European River Cruise,” in your mind, hopefully by now you’ve gotten the sense that there’s so much more to River Cruising than you might have thought. First, there is an incredible amount of options when it comes to destination: Did you know you can take a River Cruise on the Nile? Or that you can take that Bucket List African Safari Trip as a River Cruise? Or that you can explore some of Asia’s Ancient Dynasties by cruising on the Mekong River? And this is just a tiny sampling of places you might not have thought you could experience by taking a River Cruise.
Not only that, but even the quintessential “European River Cruise” has an almost unbelievable amount of diversity from cruise to cruise. A River Cruise through the hillside vineyards and fairytale castles of France is going to be vastly different from a River Cruise featuring the brilliant tulips and historic windmills of The Netherlands.
Furthermore, there are also Themed River Cruises, each of which offers a totally unique experience! Some of the most popular Themed River Cruises are those centered around Wine Tasting and specialized Cuisine, Seasonal Landscapes such as “Tulip Time” and “Colors of Provence,” and of course, Christmas Markets (click here for a full Inspiring Itinerary on Christmas Markets), just to name a few. Clearly, River Cruises are as diverse as the lands that all the rivers wind through!
2. DON’T Be Shy!
One of the best parts of a River Cruise is how personalized and intimate the experience can be, since the River Cruise Ships only hold around 100-200 people. Whereas a typical Ocean Liner Cruise Ship can hold thousands of people, most of whom you never interact with, the small boutique atmosphere of a River Cruise Ship is much more conducive to mingling with other guests. You wind up seeing the same faces throughout the ship, possibly even going on excursions with the same people day after day, and before you know it, you’ve made some wonderful new friends!
Interestingly, some people have very strong reactions at the prospect of “making new friends” and “mingling” or “making small talk” with other travelers on their vacations, whether it’s on River Cruise or in a Group Tour situation. Some people only want to be around the party they’re traveling with, and that’s totally fine, too. River Cruises offer just as much privacy as any other cruise or vacation, with your stateroom to retreat to, and places throughout the ship to relax by yourself. However, in my experience, many of these travelers who “don’t want to meet anyone new” on vacation are actually the people who wind up chatting and socializing the most! In fact, a self-proclaimed “loner” traveler just came back from a River Cruise with plans to go on another one with their new friends that they met on the cruise! So, as with everything Travel, try to keep an open mind, and try your best not to be too shy!
3. DON’T Skip the Tours!
If you’ve been reading Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s for a while now, you know that after each trip, Jamie comes back shouting from the rooftops about the Tours! Always take the Tours! Make sure you don’t skip the Tours! And with good reason: the Tours, especially when you have a local or expert guide, are what make the destinations come to life. It’s one thing to pass a castle along the riverbank and snap some pictures from your ship, but it’s a completely different experience entirely to be able to walk through those castle walls, hear tales of the battles fought there and imagine what it would have been like to be stationed in that stone fortress fighting for a cause close to your heart.
The Tours, and the guides who give them, are a huge part of what makes Traveling such a special experience, and the stories you hear on the Tours are what allows us to build connections across differences, and they help us remember that we are all just doing our best to navigate this incredible human experience we call life, no matter where on the planet we call home.
4. DON’T Believe Outdated Stereotypes
The same way that Tours were once thought of as “boring old history lessons,” but are now some of the most fascinating parts of traveling, River Cruises have also grown out of their “old” stereotypes, too, literally. It’s true that River Cruises were once marketed toward an “older” clientele, who may not have enjoyed the hustle and bustle of a large Ocean Liner Cruise; HOWEVER, all of that has completely changed now.
The River Cruises of today are akin to the distinctive boutique hotels and highly-individualized experiences that discerning travelers of ANY age look to find on their vacations. River Cruises offer immersive cultural experiences with options for every age group, from children to grandparents and millennials to parents, making them a great option for multi-generational vacations, or milestone celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations.
And…that’s a wrap of Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s for River Cruising!
Ready to Plan?
Now that you have all of Jamie’s best advice for getting the most from your River Cruise Journey, are you ready to plan your next River Cruise Vacation? Contact your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor or email hello@LOTMV.com to start planning today!
Just like last year, in 2023, a new Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s list will come out the Friday after Jamie returns from her latest trip! And you can find links to all of Jamie’s 2022 Travel Tips at this Blog: Jamie’s 2022 Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s: A Recap.
Looking for more of Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s?
So far this year, we have:
And don’t forget to check out our Inspiring Itineraries as well, featuring a Perfect Plan for your next vacation, and highlighting a new destination each month! You can find links to all of 2022’s Inspiring Itineraries in this Blog: A Year of Inspired Travel: 2022’s Inspiring Itineraries, Month by Month.