I took my first river cruise in September 2002 through Provence in the south of France. I loved the leisurely pace and the fact that we were docked in the small villages in the evenings and most mornings so that we could stroll through the streets on our own. Since then, I’ve taken groups to river cruises to Germany on the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, Holland and Belgium to see the Tulip Festival, Egypt on the Nile, and Russia where we spent time in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and small villages.
First timers love the casual nature of the river cruises and the intimacy of the small ships. There are no formal nights and everyone can eat with whomever they wish. Most first-time river cruisers had all sailed on the mega ships and were ready for a change.
My favorite ship was Uniworld’s River Tosca in Egypt. It has the largest cabins and bathrooms of any of the ships I have been on. All the bathrooms have a separate shower and bathtub. It also has a swimming pool on the top deck.
The best part of river cruising is the shore excursions. Many of them are walking tours of the small villages which really lets you get a feel for the daily life of the region. My favorite was breakfast with a family in the small village of Uglich in Russia. We visited private homes to see how an average family in Russia lives. No one spoke English, but they were so warm and welcoming and had us dancing to Russian music.
Another favorite “hidden gem” was the village of Cochem, Germany on the Rhine and Moselle River cruise. We stepped off the river boat early in the morning and immediately saw a castle on a hill with a darling, quaint village below it. It looked like something out of a fairy tale.
The most memorable meal was the Egyptian banquet we had on the river cruise on the Nile. We all dressed in Egyptian attire (they sold very inexpensive outfits in the shop onboard) and were served an amazing meal with all the Egyptian delicacies.
The nightlife is quiet compared to the big ships. They often bring on board local singers and dancers to highlight the folk culture of whatever country we are in. They also may have a singer/pianist entertaining before or after dinner.
I highly recommend river cruising for those who want the intimacy of a small ship, the all-inclusive aspect, and the ability to explore destinations that are off the beaten path.