Patricia Rice, of Morgantown, has traveled the dramatic gorges and lush vineyards of the Duoro Valley, explored the ancient cities of Lamego and Salamanca, and dined at an 11th Century Benedictine monastery in Portugal.
She has traced the footsteps of the militaristic Cossacks from the 15th through 18th centuries as they journeyed from Kiev to Odessa, and she has visited the Palace of the Khan in Sevastopol.
She has ventured down the Amazon River, into the jungles of Borneo and deep into the Mekong.
Rice has traveled the waterways of Slovenia and Croatia, Corsica and Sardinia, Belgium and Switzerland, France and Germany.
She has seen the tulips bloom in northern Holland. And while she is an anthropologist, all of these adventures have taken place on vacation river cruises.
Whatever your personal sensibilities may be, river cruises offer a near boundless range of possibilities; with themes such as “Mysteries of Myanmar,” “Port Wine and Flamenco” and “Steamboat Historic Civil War Journey,” river cruises have boomed from a burgeoning niche market into the hippest travel trend of 2014 by offering deeply intimate, personalized cruise experiences to every imaginable tourist palate.
With more than two dozen new vessels launched in 2014 alone, river cruising promises to be a growing market through 2015, with operators opening into new rivers each season.
So, if the amazing itineraries alone don’t intrigue you, why else should you consider a river cruise over a traditional oceanic cruise?
Here are ten reasons to rethink riverfaring:
1. Rivers, in many cases quite tangibly, are the lifeblood of human civilization. From prehistoric sites, to ancient cities and ruins, to modern settlements that range from the most spectacular cities to the smallest villages, our history and culture lies in river valleys spanning the globe. River cruises often offer a unique chance to view the ancient alongside the modern and give a picture of regional culture not captured in city-by-city land tours.
2. Unlike their oceanic cousins, river cruises inherently move at a more leisurely pace. Boats will dock at many ports to allow passengers to explore, but even travelers relaxing on deck will catch vistas that could include castles, farms, villages, temples, fishermen, wildlife or foliage, depending on the river.
3. The ships themselves are small, and carry fewer than 200 passengers. River cruises offer a unique opportunity to meet and interact with fellow passengers, who likely share one’s interests. River cruises don’t offer the raucous nightclub scene and beach party atmosphere that is presented by many oceanic cruises, and the result is a more serene, leisurely experience for discerning travelers.
4. River cruises draw travelers with the promise of at least a port a day; there are no “days at sea,” and every day of the trip will offer the chance to explore local culture. With an advantage over land travel, many river cruisers enjoy the ability to see multiple cities in one tour without ever having to change hotels or repack their luggage.
5. Having marketed largely to a luxury-class, river cruises have exploded with gorgeous cabin accommodations with furnishings as beautiful as the finest boutique hotels, balconies offering sweeping panoramas of the river banks and personalized touches.
6. With their smaller size, river ships have maximized interior space by multi-purposing rooms. Al fresco dining is common and offers a breezier, more casual alternative to stuffy sit-down dinners on oceanic cruises. River ships will more commonly boast an opulent library than an onboard casino, and open deck plans encourage travelers to get out and experience the landscape around them.
7. River cruises often offer an immersive cultural experience, presenting local cuisine as the ship navigates through a region. With plenty of opportunity to get out and explore cities, towns and villages, some cruises even offer the chance to go to the local markets with the ship’s chef. Frequent interaction with local culture is key to the river cruise experience, and passengers are sure to leave with a rich appreciation of the regional culture of their tour.
8. River cruising, much like traditional oceanic cruises, tends to be all-inclusive. For many travelers, the ease of knowing one’s meals and drinks are included takes the guesswork out of visiting various cities in one trip. River cruises will also let passengers know in advance what tipping expectations are, which helps to avoid unpleasant financial surprises that may come in self-led land-based itineraries.
9. The dress is always casual in river cruising. There are no formal nights and no need to pack that tuxedo.
10. These itineraries are designed for and marketed to a well-traveled, 55-and-older demographic. They don’t draw the rowdy 20-something “spring break” crowd that flock to lower-priced cruises to Jamaica, and children are a rarity.
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River cruises will continue to rise in popularity over the next year, with new rivers, ships and itineraries to choose from.
Their higher price point comes with an immeasurably greater value over ocean cruises, delivering unique, tailored, world-class adventures that lend themselves to lifelong memory.
Contact your travel agent to determine what river cruise may be right for you, and to explore the countless options offered.
Ted Lawson in the president and CEO of Charleston-based National Travel and a member of the WV Travel Team who contributes regularly to the Life & Style travel page.
Follow National Travel on Twitter at @NatlTravel and on Facebook. For questions or comments on this article, contact Ariadne Moore, executive assistant at National Travel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.