Well, that depends on how you answer several questions. But first, a disclaimer. This isn’t a review or even a description of a river cruise. I figure you can find all that stuff online. It is simply a series of things to consider – in the context of my singular experience – before you decide on a river cruise.
Next, a little background. I have been on just one river cruise in my life, and that was with my then-79-year-old mother. Very generously, she had taken each of my siblings on a vacation, and a few years ago, it was my turn. (I like to say she saved the best child for last. My mother doesn’t necessarily agree.) There had been talk of bringing all her children and their families together on, say, a tropical island for a week of togetherness, but sanity prevailed and she chose to take us all separately.
The husband, my mom, and I batted around several destination possibilities, but long story short, it was an Ironman Year, so the husband selflessly suggested, “Why don’t the two of you just go?” (For the uninitiated, and Ironman Year is the year before someone does an Ironman Triathlon. This means that for 12 months straight, the only thing that person does is sleep, eat, train, and take ice baths, which can put a serious damper on any vacation.) So, with just a little arm-twisting, mom and I agreed and we settled on a Viking® cruise along the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
I knew from seeing the ads on TV that I was likely to be among the youngest passengers on the boat, and that brings us to our first question:
How old are you?
My understanding is that some of the river cruises in Asia attract a younger crowd, but from everything I saw and heard, the European cruises seemed to be filled with the 60-and-up set, and this was definitely true of our trip. Now, I have no personal objection to being with the Boomer+ folks, but it does have an impact on the overall feel of the vacation. If you’re looking to party ’til dawn, this probably isn’t the trip for you.
How much do you like to plan your vacations?
If you’re like me and think planning the vacation – where to go, what to see, which accommodations to book, how to get from point A to point B – is half the fun, a river cruise isn’t going to scratch that itch. Most river cruise companies do, however, offer extensions on either side of the cruising portion of the vacation. So for my mother and me, we could add an extension in Amsterdam, Basel, or both. We chose the three-day Amsterdam extension, which was a good choice for several reasons. First, though there are a few pre-planned activities, there is a lot of free time you must fill on your own. Enter the Travel Architect! Second, it provides a time buffer should you arrive at your departure city late due to airline delays or other travel fiascos. Third, it allows you to adjust to the new time zone and culture and settle in before you embark on the cruising portion of the trip.
Aside from the extension, however, you are kind of led around by the nose. This is not a criticism – just an observation. This was clearly a good thing for some of the oldest travelers on our cruise ship. Viking® provided preplanned excursions, wheelchairs, buses, guides, and anything else you needed. And any problems that arose were someone else’s to solve.
Do you like to eat – a LOT?
Kudos to the Viking® chefs. Every single lunch and dinner was a stunning, delectable, multi-course feast. Breakfasts were buffet-style, but in no way should that cause you foodies out there – among whom I count myself a member – to roll your eyes. They were beautifully displayed, full of local dishes, and just plain outstanding.
Is vigorous daily exercise important to you?
If so, river cruising will present some challenges. At home, I do some form of cardio and/or weights most days of the week, but even if I didn’t, did you read the previous paragraph?? I had to find a way to counteract that kind of calorie onslaught. Even in normal, day-to-day life, I love eating, so I kinda have to exercise to match. When I travel, I’m usually limited to running. It’s simple in that it can be done anywhere, and the gear doesn’t commandeer too much precious suitcase real estate. So it was that I intended to run most mornings during the cruise. The Viking® website confirmed my hopes that our boat – The Idi – would have a walking track (or as I saw it, a running track), but I had also hoped to disembark for an early run each morning in whatever town we moored at overnight.
Unfortunately, there were logistical problems with this plan on many days of the trip. Either we had to have breakfast and be on the bus to our day’s excursion so early that I couldn’t get in a daylight run and still have time to shower, eat, and dress, or the ship wasn’t docked when we woke up, and by the time it was, there was the same timing problem previously mentioned. Thus, I decided to enact my backup plan – the track. I got up early one morning, before anyone else had stirred, and began to run. (By the way, the track was so small I was going to have to round it dozens of times just to equal a mile.) Two miles in, a crewmember came up and delicately asked me to stop. Apparently the passengers in the uppermost rooms were baffled (and annoyed) by a sleep-disturbing racket occurring sporadically above their heads – something akin to:
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
silence, silence, silence, silence
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!… you get the picture.
That evening at our daily pre-dinner briefing in the lounge, the cruise director announced that it had come to her attention that “some enthusiastic runners” (me) had been running on the walking track and that this was verboten! (that’s German for forbidden – I don’t really know any Dutch). She refrained from pointing me out in the crowd, but everyone sitting near me saw my blushing cheeks and guilty smile and shook their heads disapprovingly at the thoughtless young whippersnapper. She also pointed out that any walking should be done after 8am – double bust! Anyway, suffice it to say that my calorie burn took a real hit and I gained a bunch of weight on that trip.
In conclusion, if you like ease, convenience, and great food in vast quantities, are disinclined to working up a sweat, and are traveling with your septuagenarian mother, a Viking® river cruise might just be the perfect trip for you. But otherwise, you might want to wait until you’re a septuagenarian.