I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got off the train at Basel. Just that morning I had been in London, where things are familiar and comforting like an old knitted jumper. It is a city I know, and I know it well. But cruising? Cruising I had no idea about.
I turned up to the dock with my backpack and youth, and sat in the beating Swiss sun waiting for a certain Englishman to join me from his train from Paris. While I waited I watched the crew loading all sorts onto the boat; food and cases of wine, passenger luggage, linens for cabins and a massage table. English taps me on the shoulder and hands me a bottle of water. This man has known me a long time, and he knows I rarely carry water. We smirk an one another, and he cocks an eyebrow. I assure him I am fine.
I am one month shy of the first anniversary of my mother’s death. This cruise is something I had promised her we would do together. He knows, as one of my best friends of course he knows. I will be a wreck for this entire week, and it won’t be the fault of the beautiful ship, the picturesque towns or the wonderful crew. I won’t be able to help it.
We board, and instantly our bags are taken away with minimal fuss. Our passports are surrendered at the main desk and we are promised they will come back the next day. We are given forms and information sheets, and finally escorted to our cabin. I walk in, and it’s bigger than I thought it would be. We have a huge sliding door opening out to the gorgeous sunshine, and a fairly big bed taking up most of the space. There is room for our bags in the closet, and a wall mounted TV with internet. Internet, which all travel bloggers will understand is a necessity!
I was expecting a more chaotic boarding process, with people everywhere and crew in white shorts shouting directions at passengers. I was not expecting to be handed a glass of champagne and told to relax.
So what can you expect from a river cruise through Europe?
You can expect to wake whenever you like. Early risers will be pleased to know that generally there will be a continental breakfast buffet available from around 5am. I never made it to this, not even once. Real breakfast begins from 7am, and I think I might have made it down for 9am most mornings. The buffet is enormous, and the options are endless. Fill up on smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels and wash it down with free flowing champagne.
After you’ve stuffed yourself full of food and booze, you can line up to get your discharge token. This is how the crew count you to make sure they don’t sail without anyone. It’s important. Don’t lose it like I did.
Mornings are generally spent exploring the town you are in with a guide. There will be several options for excursions to choose from, or you can go it alone. On my Rhine Valley cruise I visited the Speyer Teknik Museum, a real live Royal family, poured chocolate, climbed a cathedral spire, cruised the canals of Amsterdam and heaps more.
Generally you’ll stay in the same port for the afternoon. After tours are finished you can stuff yourself again for lunch, which I enjoyed on the open deck most days because the sun was so lovely. After lunch you might be given free time, or you might be sailing. Either way, you can further explore the town or you can relax with a glass of something on the main deck or on your balcony. Ultimate relaxation, and a possible alcohol addiction are coming for you.
After you’ve come back on board, handed back your token and made yourself presentable for dinner – it’s time for dinner. Now, my gorgeous amaWaterways ship had a degustation restaurant at the rear which I recommend everyone pre-book as soon as you’re on board. Its very popular, and well worth the planning. And it’s free.
Normal dinner is served in the main dining room, and you can expect to share tables with different people throughout your cruise. Lucky for us, we made friends almost immediately with a couple from Brisbane. The four of us had dinner every night together. The crew are very accommodating for this when on board, so don’t think you will miss out. After dinner there is usually live music or something in the bar upstairs. Go have a boogy until the crew throw you out.
The next day you’ll simply repeat all this in a new town or village.
It’s highly relaxing, ridiculously gluttonous and worth every penny.
Have you cruised on Europe’s rivers? Did you enjoy it? What did you enjoy the most? Let me know in the comments below!