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River cruises for those who hate tours?


FredT

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We've been on about 20 ocean cruises, have 3 more planned in the next couple years. Having said THAT, both my wife and I are interested in doing a European river cruise.

 

Our particular interests are smaller less traveled cities/towns, and cruises where organized "tours" are not needed/required. (We both love just wandering off on our own rather than being herded around in buses. Any suggestions?

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While most if not all of the river cruise lines offer daily tours, you are not under any obligation to go with them. If you wish to go off on your own, do so. You will have already paid for the tours however, as they are included in the cruise fare, and they typically are only a couple of hours. That usually gives enough time for you to go out on your own afterwards.

 

Cheers,

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In many of the ports, you can just walk off the ship and visit the sights you want to. However, there are two catches:

 

1. Most tours are included, so you have paid for them even if you don't participate. This is different from the Ocean cruises where all excursions are extra.

2. Sometimes, the ship moves while passengers are off doing an included tour. The tour passengers may rejoin the ship 20, or 50 miles away

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OK, good comments. Now let me rephrase a bit.

 

1) Given what you both said, of the four major players, which offers tours that are least "cattle call" and rush, rush, rush tours? (One of my worst memories of a cruise was 2 days in St Petersberg being rushed from palace to palace, from museum to museum... We'd get back to the ship and just die.)

 

2) What cruise stops in smaller towns that are conducive to "just wandering around"? (Eastern Europe, Western, Russia, etc etc?)

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We did a Grand Circle river cruise in Dec. '09. Here is how our tours were organized. There were 4 tour directors on the ship and the total # of passengers were divided into 4 groups and assigned one tour director for the entire cruise. Our group had 40 people in it so a nice small group. I liked this because if you had any problems or questions you always had the same tour director and they got to know each person personally. Any questions can be answered by them.

 

When you book a river cruise, you are offered so many included tours in the price of the cruise. They will also offer optional tours that you can sign up for. E.G. When we went to Nurenberg, we had a group bus tour in the morning of about 2 hours and were shown the sights of Nuremburg, where the trials took place, etc. We were taken back to our ship and had lunch on the ship. We signed up for an optional tour of Nuremberg in the afternoon and we were dropped off at the Museum and could wander about on our own. They will tell you what time you need to be at the designated spot for the bus trip back to the ship. We did a Christmas Markets cruise so the same applied to the markets. We were told what time the last bus pickup would be and where to meet. We were free to wander about on our own. Worked out very nicely.

 

We went to Salzburg on an optional tour also. We were bussed as a group and took a tour of the city w/ the group then were given free time to wander around on our own.

 

River cruises are pretty flexible. I am sure that if you want to go off on our own at a certain port stop, you could do so. Just be aware that sometimes some of the stops are only for 1/2 days or a certain # of hours so you need to be aware of the time the ship will be departing.

 

We loved the flexibility of river cruising. We didn't feel like we were being schlepped around like cattle. You should check the itinerary of the particular cruise to see how long you will be docked and how far away the ship will be docked.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Mary

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By the end of the cruise we finally figured out that we liked going out on our own. We should have done that earlier but thought we might miss something. The boats sometime move during the day so make sure when you leave the ship it will be there when you return. We left the boat in Linz, Austria to take a tour to Cesky Krumlov(Czech Republic)...we joined the boat 9.5 hours later in Passau, Germany. The other tour offered was Salzburg..that tour also ended in Passau.

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In addition to having a group guide/leader, a local guide usually conducts the tours in each town. If you decide part way through the tour that you don't like it, just break off and go your own way. Be sure to let the tour leader know so that they are not looking for you. I have found that most of the local guides add a lot to the tour with their knowledge and sometimes very special personalities. We seldom miss the local tours.

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Yes, they also use local guides. I forgot that we had a local guide when we visited Melk and she was really fabulous. Again, we traveled in our assigned group so we were small in number (some elected not to go) and toured Melk Abbey with her. When she finished the tour, we were free to leave and travel about on our own. Melk was my favorite of all the places we visited! The thing that is nice about river tours is that you are not paying extra for tours which can be expensive w/ having to pay in euros. If you want to do optional tours, that is your choice. These optional tours are usually reasonably priced also.

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Instead of a bus, you are on a ship. My recent AMA cruise had 120 people with one bad tour director who never went on any excursions. They used 3 or 4 local guides in each port. Local guides were good to bad. Since most ports are small, we went on most of the excursions. We also opted to do our own thing when we didn't like the included tour description. I know that the tour was already paid for....but I really prefer doing my own thing. I have been on many group tours...some good, some bad. I prefer small groups. I was not thrilled with being part of a group of 120. Too many. The people on the ship were very nice. The part that was bad was the complete disregard by the tour director for details. She didn't know her stuff...or cared about anything. In fact when we did the Paris extension after the cruise, she got us to the hotel and disappeared for 3 days. Just handed us a one page print out with outdated info. Having been to Paris many times, I didn't care . However, for many people, this was their first time in Paris...and they were very annoyed at the lack of the tour director. If you hate tours, don't take a riverboat cruise. It is not like an ocean cruise where you pick and chose to take an excursion. Ocean cruises have lots of activities and places to relax. Riverboat cruise has a lounge, tiny fitness center, and a sun deck. It is small. Bring your own entertainment. The best part of the riverboat cruise for me was the scenery. It was gorgeous. I may take another riverboat cruise some day....when I just want to sit and look at the scenery. For now, I'm looking for ocean cruises. If you do take a riverboat cruise, bring friends.

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We had a great cruise director but after awhile it was very much like the movie" If it's Tuesday it must be Belgium". We're booked on 3 ocean cruises within the next year. Perhaps in 2013 we'll take another river cruise but we'll take one that is more about the culture than churches and castles.

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The best part of the riverboat cruise for me was the scenery. It was gorgeous. I may take another riverboat cruise some day....when I just want to sit and look at the scenery.

 

Thats what intrigues me. Scenery. Smaller ports. DIFFERENT places. Quaint towns. Friendly people who are NOT out to fleece the tourists from the giant cruise ship in the port. NO crowds onboard or off.

 

So everyone, what would be a better option, Western or eastern Europe? And when in the fall is the best time to go? (I only have two years to plan, but what the hell!)

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My pick would be France in the off season....at least that's what I plan to do next time. A friend of mine suggested to visit Provence when the lavender is blooming. There are huge crowds off the river cruises...5 or 6 river boats maybe visiting the same little enchanting town at the same time. We were parked 4 abreast in many of the towns..my view was inside the boat tied to ours. The pick pockets are out in full force. My biggest disappointment on my recent Budapest to Amsterdam was the crowds. I'll be choosing April/May or Sept/Oct next time.

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We are the same way and my advice is to pick your itinerary very carefully. Make sure you are spending a good amount of time in port and not cruising during the day. Look for overnights in port and late stays.

 

On days with more than one port we generally made our own way to the second stop so we could maximize our time in the places we visited.

 

Our least favorite part of river cruising is day time hours spent on the boat.

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We are the same way and my advice is to pick your itinerary very carefully. Make sure you are spending a good amount of time in port and not cruising during the day. Look for overnights in port and late stays.

 

On days with more than one port we generally made our own way to the second stop so we could maximize our time in the places we visited.

 

Our least favorite part of river cruising is day time hours spent on the boat.

 

Now THATS the best advice so far. (Not that it's all not good, but....:p )

 

Now is spring or fall better "water" wise, AND crowd wise?

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Thats what intrigues me. Scenery. Smaller ports. DIFFERENT places. Quaint towns. Friendly people who are NOT out to fleece the tourists from the giant cruise ship in the port. NO crowds onboard or off.

 

So everyone, what would be a better option, Western or eastern Europe? And when in the fall is the best time to go? (I only have two years to plan, but what the hell!)

 

We have been on two river cruises with Vantage and have our third booked for September. I would suggest Amsterdam to Budapest or some variation in Western Europe as your first cruise. Vantage has outstanding program managers who take care of every detail. They have a nice mix of guided tours and free time. We never felt rushed or herded around as we have felt on ocean cruises and usually had quite a bit of free time to explore after the guided tour. We have done Holland and Belgium at tulip time and are doing Eastern Europe for our next cruise. There are not nearly as many places to go on your own on an Eastern Europe itinerary. The season to travel is a matter of preference but river levels can run high on the Rhine and Danube in the spring forcing boats to stop because they can't get under low bridges. We prefer September and early October but for tulips spring is obviously a must. Check the Vantage World Travel site to get an idea of the pacing of their tours.

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We have been on two river cruises with Vantage and have our third booked for September. I would suggest Amsterdam to Budapest or some variation in Western Europe as your first cruise. Vantage has outstanding program managers who take care of every detail. They have a nice mix of guided tours and free time. We never felt rushed or herded around as we have felt on ocean cruises and usually had quite a bit of free time to explore after the guided tour. We have done Holland and Belgium at tulip time and are doing Eastern Europe for our next cruise. There are not nearly as many places to go on your own on an Eastern Europe itinerary. The season to travel is a matter of preference but river levels can run high on the Rhine and Danube in the spring forcing boats to stop because they can't get under low bridges. We prefer September and early October but for tulips spring is obviously a must. Check the Vantage World Travel site to get an idea of the pacing of their tours.

 

I forgot to add that Vantage has some really great cultural connections. There are concerts, home hosted meals, lectures, demonstrations, local performers, meals in local restaurants and a host of other activities.

 

Choose the itinerary that best fits your interests.

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"Choose the itinerary that best fits your interests."

 

That to me is the starting point. You need to figure out what you want to do and/or see.

 

Caviargal loves to spend extra time in port - so prefers to cruise at night. She looks for the itinerary that gives her that.

 

DH and I actually enjoy some cruising during the day. We enjoy spending time on the Sun Deck and watching the world go by - so look for a pkg that will give us this (if possible...). We really enjoyed our Tulip Time cruise this spring, but it was very port intensive. I would have enjoyed some travel during the day to see the countryside. It didn't matter as much on our Christmas market cruise - as the days were short anyway.

 

We did the Seine with Uniworld for our 1st River Cruise - and it was a great choice. We felt 7 days was long enough the 1st time - just in case we didn't like it. The boat was docked not too far from the Eiffel Tower - so was central (and close to the Metro) for independent sight seeing. Also, Paris is always a great place to spend extra time either before or after (or, before AND after.... :D) On the cruise - lots of WWII history, and art history with the visit to Giverny.

 

If you are looking for food or wine, some companies have themed cruises. There is lots of WWII history if interested, and I believe one company (? AMA - but not sure) has one built around Jewish history.

 

I agree with cruisingmimi about Melk - it was a great little town. But, there are lot of other great places on the Danube.

 

Time of year? I love September. We did one early October - and although it started out great weather wise (shorts and T-shirt weather) we hit snow in Prague before we came home. The change in temperature was dramatic. I could be convinced to travel in late May/early June as well.

 

Have fun planning!!

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Now THATS the best advice so far. (Not that it's all not good, but....:p )

 

Now is spring or fall better "water" wise, AND crowd wise?

 

We avoid Europe in high season (crowds and cost) so our cruises have been in November and December. We love the Christmas markets and last year did a Frankfurt to Vienna market cruise. It was too long for us (11 nights ) as there was nothing to do when we were sailing (day or night) and had too much sailing time. But we did enjoy the ports.

 

Since we cruise in off season there is no sitting up on deck and watching the scenery as the weather generally is not conducive to this.

 

AMA offers bicycles to their guests and has movies and internet in the cabins, both of which would have enhanced our experience from the last 2 cruises. They also have tables for 2 which we prefer and walking groups by capability, a plus when traveling with others who are not as mobile. So lots to consider when choosing a line.

 

This year we are doing a wine theme cruise on AMA in mid November as we love and collect wines and this particular cruise was a great price and has many added amenities at no charge (tastings, winery visits, wine dinners featuring showcased wines, and the vinter from St. Francis on board). We will spend a week in Europe on our own (a few days before and after).

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We've been on about 20 ocean cruises, have 3 more planned in the next couple years. Having said THAT, both my wife and I are interested in doing a European river cruise.

 

Our particular interests are smaller less traveled cities/towns, and cruises where organized "tours" are not needed/required. (We both love just wandering off on our own rather than being herded around in buses. Any suggestions?

Just a thought if you like independence, take a barge down the Rhone or one of the smaller rivers in the south of France. Small groups, sail it yourself or hire the captain. Just a thought. Barb:D

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In addition to having a group guide/leader, a local guide usually conducts the tours in each town. If you decide part way through the tour that you don't like it, just break off and go your own way. Be sure to let the tour leader know so that they are not looking for you. I have found that most of the local guides add a lot to the tour with their knowledge and sometimes very special personalities. We seldom miss the local tours.

I agree, We did the Viking Amsterdam to Basel in April of this year, It was great, we spend a few days in Amsterdam before the cruise ( on our own) which I highly recommend arriving early, to get rid of the jet lag before the cruise starts. I liek Spring travel, as I love blossoms & flowers. We took all the offered tours, they started every morning about 9am, & normally it was a guided walk to a local Cathedral or other point of interest, & frequently the guides left us in the city & we walked back to the ship on our own. This gave us plenty of time to explore & see things on our own. The only tour I did not care for, was the trip to the cuckoo clock shop, we were stranded there for almost 2 hours. It was a pretty drive, but the destination was pointless ( to us), as we did not wish to buy a clock. There was only one day when folk were bussed to a different port than htey had left from, & that was the Marksberg castle tour. IN Heidelberg, we had a tour of the castle & part of the old town, & then we had several hours after that to get lunch & roam around, before getting back to the bus pick up point. If you are not enjoying any of the guided tours, you can slip away. I enjoy them, as I like to know what I am looking at :)

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Fred if you do not like the tours you would be better off with GCT than Vantage because Vantage cruises usually cost more than GCT but includes more tours wheras Gct has more optional tours. My wife & I have been on 3 Vantage & 3 GCT. On 10-23-11 we will be with Vantage on Black Sea cruise Bucharest to Budapest.The lowest cost river cruises with few tours would be Gate 1.

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  • 2 weeks later...
We've been on about 20 ocean cruises, have 3 more planned in the next couple years. Having said THAT, both my wife and I are interested in doing a European river cruise.

 

Our particular interests are smaller less traveled cities/towns, and cruises where organized "tours" are not needed/required. (We both love just wandering off on our own rather than being herded around in buses. Any suggestions?

 

Agree with all the posts. Also remember you can leave the tour anytime & explore on your own. Just be sure to know the location & departure time of the boat at each location. Sometimes you will be docked 2-3 times in the same day.

 

Most guides were very good about allowing enough time for shopping, coffee, beer, or wine, & a dessert in town. ( Always try for a little local flavor at each stop. We used AMA Budapest-Amsterdam 2008. Great fellow passingers, food, & local guides. John

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