Sherry Laskin, travel journalist popularly known as the Cruise Maven, has put together ten solid tips for getting the most from either your first or fifth river cruise vacation. Having cruised for over 50 years, she started very young, Sherry Laskin is also a travel industry professional whose blog and radio appearances offers a wealth of information for all types of travel. She was an early adherent when river cruising began to gain popularity after 2000 and has become a huge fan of AmaWaterways, the premier river cruise line in the travel industry. Last summer she spent two-month on AmaWaterways' AmaLegro cruising the Rhine and Daunbe Rivers and quite simply had a fantastic time.
Laskin is a favorite or radio hosts around the country because of her passion and ability to inform and entertain their listeners. For example, Paul Lasley and Elizabeth Harryman were so impressed by her initial performance she was immediately booked for a follow interview on their syndicated On Travel Radio Show. They loved her and all she brought to the proceedings.
River cruising is hot. From A to Z (Amazon to Zambezi), there's a river cruise for every taste, style and budget. With nearly a dozen new river boats being built by 2012, it's no doubt that river cruising is the latest trend.
So far, I've spent over two months on the great rivers of Europe in the last two years. I've also cruised 2,000 miles on the Amazon River and parts of our own Mississippi. I have to admit, however, I'm in love with cruising on the European waterways. While I'm not a bona fide expert, I do have some advice that I'd like to share. First, though, who goes on river cruises?
Statistics indicate that most river cruise passengers have already taken an ocean cruise and they are ready to move inland. With an average age of sixty-one and a median income of $80,000/year, these folks have both time and money to view Europe up-close and personal. However, as river cruise lines want to lure a younger demographic, look for shorter seven-night cruises and more active shore excursions. How about a fifteen-mile bike ride? AmaWaterways is one of the few river cruise companies that still offer complimentary bicycles and bike tours. Some river cruise lines charge a fee to use their bikes. Others have eliminated all onboard bikes and work with a bike rental company in various cities, for a fee of course.
What are the advantages of a European river cruise? While cruise ships only touch the edges of continents, river boats take you to the very heart of magnificent cities and ancient towns. Quietly glide past hillside vineyards, medieval castles and historic monuments. Disembark and walk right into town for a café lunch. Stroll along the pier or borrow one of the river boat's bicycles to explore further.
With so much to do and from three to twenty-five days to experience a river cruise, here are my Top Ten suggestions for getting the most enjoyment.
1. Pack light Not just for the airline requirements but for convenience. There are no formal nights. Men need only a collared shirt and sport coat. Women can leave their long dresses and high heels at home. Attire is country club casual even at dinner. Best of all, there are do-it-yourself launderettes on many of the river boats. Complimentary laundry service is included with many suite-level accommodations.
2. Acknowledge your physical limitations. Cobblestone streets, walkways and stairs can be a bit tricky to navigate if you are unsteady on your feet. Europe doesn't subscribe to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are out of shape or have a heart condition, you might want to reconsider that 200-step climb to the top of the castle. Pace yourself accordingly. Some of the river boats do not have elevators, so make sure the boat you choose has one if you need one. Alternatively, once ashore, many river cruises lines including AmaWaterways, offer an easy-paced walking tour option.
3. Wine and dine. Unlike cruise ships, river boats have "open seating" Stroll into the dining room (7am-9am) for a leisurely buffet breakfast. Lunch is fairly relaxed, too, as it is mainly buffet-style dining. Dinner however, doesn't operate the same. To facilitate good service and freshly prepared entrees, you are expected to arrive fairly close to when the dining room opens. Dinner times can vary based on the timing of the shore excursions, so check your daily planner.
On some river cruise lines, the complimentary wine with dinner tends to abruptly stop when your entrée plate is removed. So if you like to sip wine after dinner be sure to flag down your waiter for a refill before your plate is cleared.
4. When in "Rome…" Nothing garners a warm welcome quicker than saying hello in the local language. Learn to say "hello," "thank you" and "excuse me" in as many of the countries' languages as possible. Write it on a cheat sheet and put it in your pocket. Chances are that the local shopkeeper, upon hearing your broken German or Romanian will immediately speak to you in English. But you've made the effort and it won't go unrewarded.
5. Cash is king Make a list of the countries you will visit and find a local bank that will order your foreign currency. Mainly, you'll need Euros. But if you can get any of the other currencies (and there are quite a few on the lower Danube river) you can avoid the high commission exchange fees. Of course, the boat's front desk will also exchange currency, but there are some limitations. Tipping at the end of your cruise is expected to be in Euros.
6. Weather reports If you travel on the rivers in the spring or fall, there will certainly be a variance in temperatures and precipitation. Bring that nerdy plastic pancho and a folding umbrella. And leave that backpack at home. Nothing says "American Tourist" more than an Eddie Bauer backpack. If you must carry belongings, a tote bag is much more European. Also, when taking a motor coach tour, the bus is locked and you can leave that extra sweater or bag on your seat.
7. Remember to bring your electric current converter While the front desk on some of the river boats may be able to lend out a few converters, it's always a good decision to bring your own. I always bring two.
8. If you are after the perfect photograph while cruising on a river, remember the Golden Hour Rule and adjust your dining accordingly The Golden Hour is that perfect moment near sunset and sunrise. Since you'll most likely be in the dining room at or near sunset, bring your camera with you to dinner and keep a watchful eye on the passing scenery. When you think the moment is right, quickly walk outside and snap those gorgeous sunset photos. It's not like being on a huge ocean vessel. On a river boat, it's only a two minute walk from the dining room to an outdoor viewing area.
9. Stop and smell the roses At least once on your river cruise, get up and outside just before sunrise. A fog-like mist rises from the river, birds slowly begin to chirp and the river looks like liquid silver. It's a not-to-be-missed experience.
10. Arrive early or stay late. You've come so far for this river cruise, it seems like a waste if you don't spend at least two full days in either your arrival or departure city. Taking a Danube cruise from Vienna to Budapest? You should definitely spend two or three days in both cities! Sometimes the river cruise companies offer a pre or post cruise extension. These are good too as they also include your transportation to/from the ship to the hotel. Investigate your options and try to include a few extra days on land to fully appreciate the cities along the paths of the great rivers of Europe.
Sherry Laskin has been in love with cruising for over four decades. As a very small child, she crossed the Pacific with her parents from Los Angeles to Honolulu aboard the 18,000 ton SS Matsonia. Fast forward one-half century and these days, at least two months every year are spent at sea, reviewing and experiencing many cruise lines and their ships.
As a freelance travel writer, blogger and photographer, Sherry's articles and photos have appeared in many travel industry publications such as Travel Trade, Travel Weekly and Travel and Leisure News and Senior Scene Magazine. Online media include Travel Market Report, Examiner.com, ezine.com, EzineMark.com, eCruiseReviews.com, CruiseReviews.com AOL Style and others.
Considered a cruise and travel expert, Sherry has been quoted in frommers.com, msnbc.today.com, NY Times, Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel. She recently contributed to Frommers Guide to the Greek Islands 2010 and has been a featured guest on Frommers Travel Radio Show and CruiseRadio.net.
With an interest in regional food and wine, she's always sampling the local cuisine and regional wine and beer.
On occasion, she will score an interview and maybe a recipe or two from the Chef. When there is a culinary class en route, you will probably find her there, cooking, tasting and shooting photos and video.
A committed non-flyer since 1994, Sherry has traversed much of the world without setting foot on an airplane. Her "if there's a port I can get there" commitment has taken her to Manaus-Brazil (1,000 miles on the Amazon River), St. Petersburg-Russia, Carthage-Tunisia and most recently nearly 3,000 miles on the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers from Bulgaria to Amsterdam. Getting to Europe simply means the inevitable transatlantic crossing. And exploring the heartland of Europe means traveling the rivers and rails.
Sherry is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association.
AmaWaterways is celebrating its 10th Anniversary by looking back on an award winning 2011 which saw their fleet expanded to 14 of the most luxurious river cruise ships in the industry. In 2012 they will add the AmaCerto, with a host of amazing new design features, and the Zambezi Queen, which will ply the waters of the Chobe River in the Chobe National Park during AmaWaterways African Safaris and Wildlife River Cruises.
While adding new ships every year, AmaWaterways is always retrofitting existing ships with the latest amenities, upgrades and inventions. With a commitment to bring the best in river cruise vacations, AmaWaterways' has always and will always lead the way in unparalleled on-board services that are constantly fine-tuned for the highest customer satisfaction. These factors, combined with a slate of new itineraries and specialty programs such as extremely popular Wine River Cruises, which were launched in 2010, had made AmaWaterways the front runner in this burgeoning new segment of the travel business.
Over the years AmaWaterways garnered a number of Magellan Awards from Travel Weekly, picked up an Award of Excellence form Luxury Travel Advisor, a Cruise Passenger Readers Choice Award in Australia for Best River Ship and was recognized for its Twitter account that put AmaWaterways on the list of "The Top 25 Online Cruise Vacation Influencers" by Influencers in Travel.
Award-winning AmaWaterways provides luxurious, all-inclusive river cruise vacations on the world's great waterways. Founded in 2002 by cruise industry pioneer Rudi Schreiner, cruise line executive Kristin Karst and Jimmy Murphy, founder of Brendan Vacations, AmaWaterways operates its innovative, custom-designed vessels on the Danube, Rhine, Main and Mosel rivers in Europe; the Volga-Baltic Waterway in Russia and the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia.
The AmaWaterways fleet in Europe features amenities such as spacious staterooms with French balconies or revolutionary "Twin Balconies"; plush down bedding, marble-appointed baths; complimentary high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi; first-run hit Hollywood movies; complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with dinner, complimentary bottled water; gourmet dining in multiple venues (AmaBella); nightly entertainment; complimentary small group shore excursions tailored to passengers' desired walking pace; guided bicycle tours and much more.
In 2011 AmaWaterways introduced the new 161-passenger AmaVerde in Europe, the newly-redesigned 212-passenger AmaKatarina on the Volga-Baltic Waterway in Russia and the new 124-passenger AmaLotus on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia, increasing its luxurious fleet of river cruise vessels to 14 after the 2012 addition of the AmaCerto and Zambezi Queen.
AmaWaterways Included Features:
7 Nights Deluxe Cruise Accommodations in an Outside Stateroom; Most staterooms with large French Balconies;Jewish Heritage Tours with specialized guides; Daily Sightseeing Program as outlined in the Itinerary; Infotainment System in all Staterooms with Free Internet, Hollywood Hit Movies, Music Library and English Language TV Stations; Terry Bathrobes and White-on-white plush Bedding in all Staterooms; Superb Dining with all Meals included on board; Free-flowing Red & White Wines from Europe's great Wine Regions, beer and soft drinks with every Dinner on board the Ship; Bottled Water in every stateroom replenished daily; Cocktail Reception, Welcome Dinner & Captain's Gala Dinner; Special Highlights including Folklore, Dances, Lectures, Theme Dinners, onboard Music Performances and afternoon & evening Piano Music; Use of Bicycles to explore on your own; Services of a Professional Cruise Manager; All English Language on board in a non-smoking Environment (smoking permitted only on the Sun Deck); All Transfers included with the Purchase of Cruise, Land & Air package; All local Taxes
For more info about river cruising with AmaWaterways in Europe, Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Africa go to www.AmaWatewaysPR.com
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