The delights of river cruising
Have you ever contemplated river cruising? The idea of meandering along a river, taking in countryside views under brilliant blue skies, may sound a bit slow to some. To others it’s a great way to escape from the hustle and bustle of life. And you can tick off some of Europe’s most incredible cities, and visit beautiful little towns that are off the radar for many tourists, so you get a real taste for the local culture and history.
Our managing director, Andy Squirrell chats to Adam Coultar, managing editor of Cruise Critic, and Pat Richardson, an award-winning freelance travel writer about the delights of river cruising. Here's what they had to say about why river cruises are such an fantastic way to travel.
Why do you prefer river cruising over other options?
AS: Whether you want to see certain destinations, or just want to go out there and relax for a week or 10 days, there is a river cruise holiday that will match what you're looking for.
It's really great value for money - the meals and quite a few excursions are included. It's also easy to get to - there’s a lot of cruises you can do without the need to fly, and it’s a great way to get a taster of some of Europe's most incredible cities.
PR: It is the most civilised way to see the world. It’s intimate and immersive. You really see and get to know that country. Everywhere you look out of - your cabin window, the dining room, the lounge, up on deck - there’s scenery. You can see children going to school, people walking to shops, where they live and their gardens; and at Christmas, you’re sailing through a Christmas card.
What’s life like on board?
AC: You find that the crew get to know people within a day or two. They know your name, they know what you want. On these big ocean ships, you’re anonymous.
AS: People form friendships that they come away with. You see many customers who have met people on a river cruise and travel as friends on future holidays together.
What’s the food like?
AS: Our ships the MS Serenade I and MS Discovery II are really quite informal, so the dinner will be very, very good quality but we don’t expect black ties and cocktail dresses, it’s not really the style we have at Titan. It’s free seating in the dining area, so you can sit with whoever you’ve met during the day and got chatting to and have dinner together. We certainly find that dinner, for a lot of people, is one of the highlights of the day. It leads into drinks afterwards, or drinks before and it’s a really great environment.
AC: There isn’t some vast buffet where you have to go and fight with other people and fill your tray, its waiter service at your table. You‘ll get lovely local delicacies on board, and that’ll be served with wine from that actual region. You might’ve just gone to a vineyard that day, and they’ll be serving that wine in the evening, which is a really, really nice touch.
PR: On a river cruise the menus will be inspired by where you are. One of the reasons for that is the chef or some of his staff will very often go ashore and buy ingredients in the local market. I have seen kitchen staff go ashore and buy fresh bread so you can have fresh bread at breakfast.
Am I restricted to a set itinerary?
AS: Ultimately what you’re buying is a planned itinerary, but whether you’re a solo traveller, travelling as a couple or with friends, you can actually make it whatever you like. You don’t have to join the included excursion - lots of people actually think: “I would rather have the morning to myself and I’m just going to sit in a coffee shop or sit on deck”. As long as you’re on the ship when it sails, you can do whatever you like.
PR: When you’re on an ocean cruise you sail around the outside of the country and if you stop at ports, they’re big sea ports. On river cruises, you can step ashore and immediately be immersed in the country or the town that you’re in. On a ship that holds 4,000-5,000 passengers, when you dock it takes a long time to unload that many people, you’ve lost two hours you could’ve spent ashore. That doesn’t happen on river ships. Everyone can get on and off in a very short time, and that’s very important.
AC: I went with my 81-year-old mother on a Rhine river cruise. The ship literally stops at the bottom of the town or the village where you are. You step off the ship and you're in the town square. If she was on an ocean ship, she'd have had to go down steps, she'd have had to get on a bus, and there might be a tender if you can't dock somewhere.
The other thing is that river boats tend to stay much later in port [than ocean ships] so you can often go out and explore the night life there. You can go and have a meal out should you wish. It gives you the opportunity to really discover a place.
Is river cruising a good idea for those travelling alone?
AC: I think that river cruising is one of the best forms of holiday for solo travellers, and it goes right back to how sociable it is. In these small dining rooms, people are always welcoming and friendly and they’ll ask you to join them. Shore excursions are a great way to meet people because you go along, you’re with a group of people and you just start chatting to people about the sights.
What should I pack?
AC: Comfortable walking shoes are definitely the number one - for the cobbles but also for some of the hikes. On the recent cruise I did I wished I’d taken my camera. Sometimes the sunlight on the river, just dappling on the water is the most extraordinary thing. It’s difficult to capture with your phone.
AS: A hearty appetite and a sense of adventure. If you bring those things with you, even if you’ve forgotten any of the tangible essentials (you’ll be able to buy them either on board or at one of the ports), I guarantee you’ll have a great time.
Why book a river cruise with Titan?
AS: There are lots of different types of river cruises out there. What we’ve tried to do at Titan, which really reflects our land touring programme, is to position ourselves at a very good 4 star level. Our ships are not brand-new ships but in terms of on board service and personality, we score very, very highly, which tells us that we’re doing something right!
We sell exclusively to the UK market, so all of our customers are from the UK and we can tailor it to that. Touches we’ve found important on MS Serenade 1, for example, are things like having tea and coffee in the cabins, and having the option of a bath or a shower. The food is local but also we take into account the UK tastes. She typically sails with about 100-120 people on board. It’s one of the smaller river ships out there at the moment, and every time I’ve been on, the staff know who you are straight away.
PR: The great advantage of Titan is you know what you’re getting if you’ve had a Titan holiday that wasn’t a river cruise. One of Titan’s great perks is that they pick you up from home and take you to the airport or Eurotunnel terminal, and they collect you when you land back in your own country and drive you home. There’s nothing nicer than to think “all I have to do is sit in the back of this car and in an hour I’ll be home”.
They also offer immersive and informed excursions. They take care of all the arrangements. If you make arrangements on your own, you’re in Rome and you want to see something, you’ve got to work out how to get there and arrange the transport. They have done that for you. Their staff have worked out the best excursions and the best things to do on that excursion.
Ting has a serious case of wanderlust. Having travelled to over 40 countries, it’s her mission in life to make her way through her ever-growing list. Her two young sons have also caught the travel bug, and recent trips have seen them making snow angels in Iceland while watching the Northern Lights, as well as walking alongside elephants in South Africa.
Why choose a Titan Travel tour or cruise?
Our award-winning collection of holidays covers all seven continents, with carefully planned itineraries ranging from rail journeys and river cruises, to small-group adventures and trips exclusively for solo travellers.