Taste the Difference: Belgian Waffles or Dutch Pancakes?
Perfectly golden brown on top and light and fluffy inside, smothered in white and dark chocolate chips and fresh strawberries and served with a dainty cup of freshly whipped cream. They were quite simply the best pancakes I’ve ever had. Where was I? Amsterdam, of course - home to traditional Dutch pancakes. And I ate the whole thing.
If you’re a fan of breakfast fare, you’ll fall for the traditional European foods that, while served mainly in the morning, are great any time of day. My particular favorite: Belgian waffles and those delicious Dutch pancakes. While you’re on your northern Europe river cruise, sample as many as you can, from Brussels to Amsterdam. Here’s all you need to know about these decadent delicacies.
Belgian Waffles, the Backstory
Waffles are Belgium, and Belgium is waffles. While there are plenty of other wonderful tastes for foodies here - the cheeses! the chocolates! the fries! the beer! - it is the waffles that steal my heart. Topped with whatever suits your taste, they can be enjoyed any time of day - and they’re easy to find throughout the country.
The Dutch waffle was first referenced in the 13th century, and yet didn’t make it to the United States until the World’s Fair in the 1960s. These beloved treats have been a mainstay of Belgian diets for centuries, with dozens of variations. An “actual” Belgian waffle is known by its lighter batter, larger squares and deeper waffle pockets made from 1-1/2-inch depth waffle irons. You can find them on the streets - they’re easy to carry around - and dine on them in traditional tea rooms known as gauferies.
Dutch Pancakes - or Pannenkoeken
Believe it or not, Dutch pancakes did not originate in the Netherlands, but instead in China and Nepal. The original buckwheat recipe dates back to the 12th century. When buckwheat started being cultivated in Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Belgium, a buckwheat pancake recipe was formulated. Originally, the recipe called for buckwheat, water, milk and melted butter, but the Dutch added flour, milk and eggs. Today’s Dutch pancakes differ from the traditional American pancake in that they are larger and thinner than the thick, fluffy version you’re used to. They can be served with sweet or savory toppings and fillings.
Prefer sweet? Try whipped cream and strawberries, or nutella and bananas. Prefer savory? Try bacon and cheese, salmon or creme fraiche and chives. The best part is that the Dutch truly enjoy their pannenkoeken anytime of day - brinner, anyone?
Hungry? Let’s chat about culinary-focused river cruises in northern Europe and you’ll be able to determine for yourself whether you prefer Belgian waffles or Dutch pancakes!
Cruising the Danube? Stay in Budapest an extra few days before or after your sailing - two or three on either end should do the trick. Most of the city has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so wherever you wander, you’re guaranteed an incredible introduction to the city’s art, culture, architecture and history. Actually composed of three unified cities (Buda and Obuda on the Danube River’s west bank and Pest on the east bank), Budapest is a heady blend of contemporary and historic styles, with a range of activities for every interest, from thermal spas to world-class museums. To whet your appetite for exploration, here’s the very best of Budapest!
To be fair, the best view you will get of the Hungarian Parliament Building is from the deck of your river-cruising vessel, but if you have time, take the opportunity to get an interior tour, too. Built in the Gothic Revival style and one of Hungary’s largest buildings, the impressive structure contains countless parliamentary offices, some of which you can see on the guided tour (available in different languages).
Gellert Bath and Spa Centre
Budapest is known for its thermal spas (particularly delightful in the colder months). Don’t miss this famous one, an Art Nouveau-style complex originally built between 1912 and 1918. After sustaining World War II damage, the entire spa was carefully renovated to be returned to its former glory. Today, you can visit any day of the week to enjoy the bubbling pools, open-air pool/wave pool, Finnish sauna and plunge pools.
At the end of Andrassy Avenue, Heroes’ Square represents the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, said to have led the Hungarians from central Asia to the Carpathian Basin. Look closely at the top of the central pillar, where you’ll see the monument of Archangel Gabriel, holding the Hungarian crown. If you have time, pop into the art galleries that sit on either side of the square.
Stroll along the majestic river you are about to sail (or have just sailed). The Danube promenade stretches from the Elizabeth Bridge to the Chain Bridge. On the Buda side of the river, you’ll glimpse Buda Castle, the Liberty Statue and the Fisherman’s Bastion. Along the promenade side, pop into various restaurants and cafes, visit Szechenyi Istvan Square and take a few Insta-worthy snapshots of the Little Princess sculpture.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Get a bird’s-eye view of the city from the base of the St. Stephen’s Basilica Dome. Not a fan of heights? Tour the main level of this important religious building, where it is said you can see the right hand of Stephen, the first king of Hungary, in the reliquary. During the summer months, classical music and organ concerts are often held inside and on the square outside.
Hungarian State Opera House
If you’re an opera fan, splurge on a ticket to a show at this impressive, 1,200-seat auditorium. Commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph in Neo-Renaissance style, the 1884 building is considered to be one of the best spaces in the world for operatic performances. No time for a show? Take a short, guided tour during the day. Notice the statues of composers Ferenc Erkel and Franz Liszt outside.
Don’t miss the chance to really experience Budapest before or after your Danube River cruise. Let’s chat about where to stay and what to do.
So your Danube river cruise takes you to Salzburg? Lucky you! Storybook Salzburg is a pure delight. While it’s surely worth more than a day of your vacation, if that’s the time provided as part of your Europe river cruise, there are plenty of options for enjoying the city’s myriad attractions. Your excursion choices may differ depending on which cruise line you sail, but here are some of the most popular.
The Sound of Music Tour
Certainly one of Salzburg’s most recognizable claims to fame, the classic film The Sound of Music was filmed in various spots around town. The hills will indeed come alive as you tour the Salzburg countryside to visit various locations used in the making of the movie. Stops typically include Leopoldskron Palace, the front of which was used as the Trapp family home; the Gazebo at Hellbrunn Palace, where Leiszl experienced her first kiss; Mirabell Garden, where Maria and the children danced and sang “Do-Re-Mi”; Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria was tardy to Mass; St. Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang; and the wedding church, Mondsee, a 12th-century former Benedictine abbey.
Classic Salzburg Sights
To get the most out of your day in this picturesque alpine city, take a guided walking tour. Explore the Italianate Old Town, enjoying the Baroque architecture. Take in the view from the medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress, presiding over town from a rocky cliff. Continue to the Domplatz, where you’ll find the 249-foot, 17th-century Dom and St. Peter’s Abbey, site of Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor premiere in 1783. Music aficionados will also want to visit Mozart’s birthplace in the Altstadt. There’s also a museum nearby, Wohnhaus in Makartplatz, that was once his adult home and today unveils everything you’ve always wanted to know about this famous composer. Later, stop by the Salzburg Cathedral, also in the Old Town - it was founded on Roman ruins in 744, rebuilt in the 12th century, then rebuilt again in its current Baroque style in the 17th century.
Before or after venturing to Salzburg from your river-cruise ship, explore the old city center of Linz and the Mozart House, or take a bike ride along the city’s famed Cultural Mile and the Danube. Also closeby: the charming Czech mountain town of Český Krumlov, definitely worth a visit if time allows. Consider a bike ride along the Salzach River to the Hellbrunn palace or a bus tour into the surrounding lake district or Bavarian mountains. Finally, ask about a Salzburg salt mines tour, where you can visit the mines and take a boat ride on a subterranean lake.
Is your heart singing for Salzburg? Let’s chat.
If you have a green thumb or are simply a garden lover, tulip time in the Netherlands is likely to be atop your travel bucket list. There’s no better way to experience this colorful, glorious time of year than aboard a river cruise.
What’s the Deal with Tulip Time?
Everyone loves a jewel-toned tulip, it seems. The fascination dates back to the 1600s when Carolus Clusius, a Flemish botanist, introduced the tulip to the Dutch. The flower is indigenous to the countries of the former Ottoman Empire and until Clusius’ time, had not been seen in Western Europe. Upon its - ahem - blooming, the bulb was quickly considered en vogue, selling for an extravagant sum of money.
This so-called Tulip Mania took place during the Golden Age of the Dutch, around 1637. Recognizing that citizens were craving a symbol of brightness and good cheer as the Thirty Years War raged on, Amsterdam merchants were able to charge enough to make profits of up to 400 percent. The status symbol flower showed off one’s good fortune through grand garden displays. Some of the names that remain today for different varieties - General such and such, or Admiral so and so - date back to these exalted individuals who gave their fancy prefixes over to the tulip.
All Good Things …
You know the rest. The bubble burst on Tulip Mania as bankruptcy and misfortune swept through the county. The bulbs became nearly worthless, after experiencing their heyday. In fact, the term “Tulip Mania” is bandied about today as describing an economic bubble that may not last.
And Yet …
We still love a tulip. The Netherlands have long continued to celebrate the flower as part of its culture and they still lead the worldwide tulip industry. More than 4 billion bulbs are produced there each year - some of which you’ll see blooming at Amsterdam’s Tulip Museum, Keukenhof Gardens or even private homes and gardens on exclusive river-cruise shore excursions.
Should I Visit Keukenhof?
Yes. If you love tulips, that’s a definite yes. For a few short weeks from mid-March to mid-May, you can see more than 7 million planted bulbs on 80 acres of land. You won’t be alone - more than a million visitors descend on Keukenhof during this time. You can walk and bike myriad pathways, or take a boat ride through the winding waterways. There is artwork and sculpture on display, and typically mosaics crafted from flowers, representing a certain theme, such as Van Gogh and the Golden Age.
How Do I Go?
My favorite way to experience tulip time in the Netherlands is with AmaWaterways River Cruise Line. Their springtime voyages sail roundtrip from Amsterdam, taking in Keukenhof Gardens (“The Garden of Europe”) and Floralia, an annual spring flower show. Thoughtful shore events include a tour of a family-run tulip farm, a bike ride by the Kinderdijk windmills and a trip back in time to the harbor town of Hoorn, with its 16th-century Hoofdtoren tower. Your cruise showcases, too, the area’s colorful canals and the medieval architectural treasures of Bruges, Middelburg and Ghent. You’ll tiptoe through the tulips and indulge in Belgian chocolate, warm waffles and creamy cheeses - a delightful Dutch vacation, indeed.
Ready to go? Let’s chat.
Imagine for a moment what it might be like to wander through an artistic muse - that space in the world that so inspired someone’s creativity. When you visit Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, your eyes will open to the vibrant world he witnessed, internalized and then shared with the world through his revolutionary and visionary masterpieces.
The Father of Impressionism first came upon pastoral Giverny in 1883 when the population was a scant 301 people. Having been born and raised in bustling Paris, Giverny offered Monet the quiet interlude he sought. He moved his family there and set about painting, meticulously designing his home and gardens and, likely without realizing it, securing his place among the world’s master Impressionists, joining such greats as Edouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas.
Giverny is on most river cruise itineraries on the Seine in France, offering art lovers the opportunity to wander amidst the iconic water lilies, weeping willows, purple wisteria and green bamboo captured by Monet. You’ll have the opportunity to tour Monet’s pink stucco house, where he lived with his family, including eight children. Wander through the drawing room, pantry, bedroom, study, dining room, kitchen and the artist’s studio. Notice how each room of the home has a distinct color scheme, thoughtfully chosen by Monet.
Outside, stroll around Clos Normand and its extensive floral displays, flower-bedecked metal arches, Japanese cherry trees and beds of tulips, roses and nasturtiums. See Monet’s Water Lilies series come to life in front of you when you visit the water garden and the Japanese bridge.
No visit is complete without a stop at the Giverny Museum of Impressionism to learn more about Monet and the Impressionism movement. A permanent exhibition, “Monet Around,” unveils the influence of Monet’s art, as well as that of his contemporaries and the ensuing generations. Believe it or not, “impressionism” was originally considered an insult by art critics, belittled for its short, quick brushstrokes that were intended to illustrate movement and light. Monet did much of his painting outdoors as opposed to indoors, as was preferred by other artists of the time. Painting, in general, was more traditional, with seamless colors and shadows. And yet, this avant-garde form of expression took root, thanks to Monet and others, and has left the art world with an incredible treasure.
Monet’s signature pieces are the ones that will be top of mind as you visit Giverny and his gardens. Forever memorialized, these iconic garden masterpieces include Monet’s famous water lilies, a painting that could sell for as much as 80 million dollars today. Thankfully, you can enjoy the ambience of the priceless art by strolling through Monet’s muse, soaking up the vibrant flowers and unique plants he chose and tended to himself. Consider stopping by L’église Ste-Radegonde, the 11th- to 12th-century church that is the final resting place of Claude Monet, to pay your respects.
Ready to be immersed in the gardens of Monet? Let’s chat!
Where Can I River Cruise?
You’ve settled on a river cruise - you’re drawn to the small ships, the off-the-beaten-path destinations, the service and the cuisine, all of which are wonderful reasons to cruise our world’s most beautiful rivers. But now comes the biggest decision of all - where to cruise? From the romantic Rhine to the mighty Mississippi to the western US waterways such as the Columbia and Snake Rivers, your cruise showcases the lifeblood of these regions and brings you right into the heart of your destination.
Take a look at the world’s major river-cruising destinations, then be in touch so we can find the right one for you.
The Danube River offers river cruisers access to ten countries, centuries of old-world history, art and architecture and strikingly green countryside. For history buffs who want to see where it all went down over the decades in Europe, this is where to cruise.
Another legendary European waterway, the scenic Rhine passes fairytale landscapes and storybook castles as it winds its way through six countries. Relive medieval history as you disembark in charming villages and vibrant cities.
For a more niche European river-cruise experience, choose the historic Elbe, which passes through Saxony, German cultural centers and Prague.
Another quieter river-cruise option, the Main is a Rhine tributary that offers ornate palace, historic towns and expansive vineyards. From Miltenberg’s half-timbered houses to Nuremberg’s Market Square, feel the rich culture of the region.
For romantics and wine lovers, there’s no better choice than the Douro River, which passes ancient wine estates between Porto and Lisbon. Don’t worry - there will be plenty of chances to disembark for wine tastings at delightful quintas in the Douro Valley.
Art aficionados adore the Seine for its pastoral landscapes and bucolic villages that served as the muse for so many renowned Impressionists. World War II buffs will enjoy the chance to explore Normandy - and, of course, there’s perennially popular Paris on the itinerary.
Experience France, Luxembourg and Germany in one cruise, focusing on pretty wine-growing regions (including those that deliver the world’s best Rieslings), medieval Trier, millennium-old Reichsburg Castle and quaint Koblenz’s Old Town at the juncture of the Moselle and the Rhine.
Tell your own tales on the fabled Rhone River, as you sail through Provence, past Roman-era historic sites and into vineyard and farm land. Food and wine enthusiasts particularly relish the opportunity to visit Lyon for its fabulous culinary scene.
Stretching from Minnesota’s Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi’s 2,350 miles reveal American history in a way no textbook ever could. Transform your appreciation for the various landscapes and cultures woven into the tapestry of our country. The Lower Mississippi is deeply rooted in southern US history and is where you’ll find Civil War history, antebellum mansions, Cajun and Creole cuisine and plenty of jazz and blues music. For mainstream Americana, lots of wildlife (from egrets and bald eagles to turtles and otters) and to pass through a series of more than 20 locks, choose the Upper Mississippi between St. Louis and St. Paul.
Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland
Cruise through America’s heartland on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, the same waterways that opened the west to early pioneers. Pass rolling farmland, towering bluffs, historic railroad bridges and more. Experience the cultural centers of Nashville, Cincinnati, Memphis and more as you learn about life along the river.
Columbia and Snake
Follow in the footsteps of early pioneers and explorers such as Lewis and Clark as you cruise along the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest. Spend peaceful moments gazing at the quiet land, rocky cliffs and wine country that line these mighty waterways. Cruise past historic sites, locks and dams, gaze upon wondrous waterfalls and glimpse sea lions sunbathing on the rocks. Wine lovers, rejoice - there are cruises dedicated to the vintages of the PNW, where boutique wineries show off the fruits of their varied microclimates.
Craving a destination even farther afield? Consider cruising the Nile, birthplace of one of history’s greatest civilizations. Depending on the line you choose to travel with, you may be accompanied by an expert Egyptologist who can help unveil the region’s secrets, from the pyramids of Cairo to the temples of Luxor.
Your choices are as numerous as the river is wide. Together, we can narrow the options to find the perfect river cruise for your travel style and interests. Let’s chat.
Extraordinary Experiences on River Cruises
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Now, instead of “life,” imagine she said “travel.” Therein lies the ultimate goal of most savvy travelers - to richly and authentically experience the destination they are visiting.
Perhaps nowhere is this easier than on a river cruise - you’re effortlessly delivered to a new destination practically daily, with myriad opportunities for onshore activities and excursions. It’s easy to pick your own pace, whether you’re feeling active or prefer to sleep in and greet the new day slowly. Let’s peek at what you might expect to find for activity options on a river cruise in Europe.
What Types of Shore Excursions Are Offered on a River Cruise?
Let’s start with what type of traveler you are. Are you ready with a list in hand of all the experiences you want to have on your Europe river cruise, from day-long sightseeing to miles of cycling? Or, are you a late riser who wants to maximize your rest time and still have plenty of daylight left to enjoy your surroundings? The good news is that most luxury river-cruise operators cater to all travel styles. There are typically choices of gentle-, regular- and active-paced tours.
Active Tours: Biking and Hiking
These typically fall under the category of biking and hiking. Cycling is a wonderful way to get outside the city or village center and explore the enchanting countryside. Your cruise line will likely offer exclusive, guided tours on two wheels, perhaps pedaling along the Danube between Durnstein and Melk in Austria’s Wachau Valley or winding through the medieval street of Rouen in France’s Normandy region near the Seine. From Cologne’s Old Town and Cathedral along the Rhine, to the wooded hills and shoreline poplar trees of Passau, Germany, the cycling opportunities are endless in these regions of Europe.
If you prefer your active sightseeing on two feet instead of two wheels, opt for a guided hike that gets you a touch of fresh air and leads you to vantage points you wouldn’t have discovered on your own. Trek all the way up to the Veste Oberhaus in Germany for views over Old Passau. Stroll up the Philosopher’s Path for a panoramic view of Heidelberg, along the Neckar River. Take an easy walk from the ship to Strasbourg, France’s charming Old Town. Or, venture to Richard the Lionheart’s former site of captivity, Durnstein Fortress. Go beyond the typical European landmarks and architectural masterpieces - when you hike, or simply meander, out in nature, you’ll be treated to rewarding views off the beaten path.
If you’re river cruising with friends, or have met guests onboard who have similar interests - or, if you’re simply hoping to meet like-minded folks - opt for a special-interest tour. Love to cook? Learn to knot a “bretzel” in Wertheim, Germany. Love a good pub? Try the bratwurst and local brews at the oldest brewery in Nuremberg. Go on a food tour in Antwerp, tasting authentic Belgian waffles and chocolates. Visit a museum or famous landmark after hours when the crowds have dissipated. Zip through the streets of Bordeaux in a vintage sidecar. These carefully curated experiences put an extra-special touch on your vacation.
Who Will I Be With During My Shore Excursions?
For the most part, upscale river-cruising companies will place their guests in small groups. You’ll move onshore with a group of like-minded guests, interested in the same experiences and sightseeing you are. Plus, with a smaller group, you’re better able to maneuver at top landmarks and sights and pop into more intimate settings, perhaps a behind-the-scenes vineyard tour or lunch at a tiny, family-run eatery in a riverside village. This way, too, you can get to know your fellow passengers - travel experiences are even richer when shared. Along the way, you’ll be guided by an expert, English-speaking guide - most likely a local who is knowledgeable about the history and culture of your destination.
Does this all sound enticing? Don’t settle for simply passing through your destination - experience it with all your senses by picking and choosing the excursions that speak both to your personal interests and your particular travel style. I can help you decide which outings those are - let’s chat.
During my recent Rhine River cruise, I had the good fortune of visiting Cologne (the Dom!), Heidelberg (the castle!) and Strasbourg (the storybook old town!). As utterly delightful as these destinations were, I knew they’d be even more magical at the holidays, when the traditional Christmas markets spring to life. For those among you who have your heart set on a bucket-list Christmas market cruise through Europe, I can assure you, these cities will not disappoint. Here we’ll take a look at the spectacular Christmas festivities in Cologne, Heidelberg and Strasbourg - knowing that beyond these, there are countless holiday market destinations where you can sip spicy glühwein, munch on delicious gingerbread and shop for hand-carved ornaments to your heart’s content.
Home to not just one, but seven atmospheric Christmas markets, Cologne is a veritable winter wonderland. For the most iconic experience, head straight to the Cathedral location - extra credit for climbing to the top of the Dom to look down on the sparkling lights and red tents of the picturesque market square. This is the largest of all the markets in the city, with more than 130 festively decorated stands, a brilliantly lit fir tree, more than 100 free stage events and an array of delicious local delicacies.
In Cologne’s Old Town, you’ll find another delightful Christmas market, between the Heumarkt and the Alter Markt. Learn the story of why the market is called the “Home of the Heinzelmännchen” - legendary little creatures who were believed to do all the necessary house chores until they were turned off by a curious housewife. One of the best parts of this particular market is the open-air skating rink - whether you’re lacing up skates or simply watching others glide by. You can even watch a curling match, while enjoying a pint from the Allgäuer Büble Alpe.
The Village of Saint Nicholas market is a perennial favorite, held in Rudolfplatz in the shadow of the centuries-old Hahnentoburg gate. The historic half-timbered houses, including one set up to be a children’s toy workshop, along Nicholas Street, Village Street and Market Street, are lovingly decorated and illuminated, making for a magical setting.
Five festive markets light up the streets and neighborhoods of Heidbelberg: Kornmarkt, Marktplatz, Universitätsplatz, Anatomiegarten and Bismarckplatz. Below the city’s 17th-century castle, cobblestone streets are lined with wooden stalls selling traditional, handcrafted toys and ornaments, while an ice-skating rink in the city square attracts young and old. Wander any of the markets to pick up steaming mulled wine, local sweets, unique trinkets, glass-blown gifts and more.
Bismarckplatz is at the entrance to Old Town, getting visitors in the mood for a romantic stroll through the historic center of the city. At the Anatomiegarten, a small Christmas booth town pops up in the Advent season. Universitätsplatz lights up as the largest square of the whole Heidelberg Christmas Market - pick up mulled wine and bratwurst while the grandkids ride the carousel. Over at Marktplatz, the highlight is the giant Heidelberg wooden barrel with a capacity of 120,000 liters, and at Kornmarkt, you’ll see illuminated fir trees and tents set up to create a festive holiday ambience.
It’s all about the light of Christmas in Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace region and home to one of the oldest, most revered Christmas markets in the world. Traditional half-timbered homes are decked out in twinkling lights, cozy huts are lined up in the squares along the La Grand Ile and the Great Christmas Tree in the Place Kleber beckons all to its brilliantly lit boughs.
Believe it or not, Strasbourg has been home to Christmas markets since 1570, so they know how to impress. Browse more than 300 stalls in more than 10 different markets for handmade gifts, freshly baked treats and ornaments and crafts that are made in workshops before your very eyes. There’s a changing “guest country” market each year, so you can learn and buy from the traditions of a different destination.
With so many market options, where does one begin? The biggest and most popular are:
Smaller markets include Place du Marché aux Poisson, Place du Temple Neuf, Place Saint Thomas, Place des Meuniers, Place Benjamin-Zix and Place Grimmeissen.
Ready to go? Let’s chat - these Christmas markets are sure to make for an especially memorable holiday season for you and yours.
The Main Differences Between Ocean and River Cruising
You love to cruise and you’re ready for something different. And while you’re interested in a river cruise, you’re likely wondering, “How is it really different from an ocean cruise?” Let’s look at what you can expect, particularly if you have been on an ocean mega-ship in the past, from the size of your stateroom to the experiences you’ll have onshore.
River Cruises Provide a More Intimate Onboard Setting
With just 200 or fewer passengers, riverships offer a convivial, friendly and intimate setting. Given the niche destinations (The Rhine, The Elbe) and sometimes themed voyages (wine, cuisine), you’ll likely sail with member like-minded passengers, guests who become fast friends as you share the experiences of the day over cocktails or dinner. While it means you won’t be battling crowds to get a good spot by the pool, it does mean you won’t have as many amenities as a resort-style ocean ship - instead, you’ll have smaller restaurants, a tiny spa, small fitness center and perhaps a computer center. (This does mean your river cabin may be smaller than what you would experience on an ocean ship, but you’ll likely be spending so much time exploring the area, you won’t even notice. Plus, what most cabins lack in size they make up for with creative design and the addition of balconies.)
River Ships Offer Creative Dining Options
Aboard an ocean cruise ship, you can expect enough dining venues that you could eat at a different one each night. On a river ship, prior to COVID, you could expect buffet-style breakfast and lunch in the main restaurant, with maybe a few items available a la carte, with a served evening meal. On many vessels that has now changed and a la carte will be the main option with full service provided. This doesn’t mean less food and only that the style of service has changed. More and more river ships are also offering a second dining venue, with a more specialized menu, and/or private dining options. You may find breakfast and lunch options in the lounge or out on the deck, in addition to the main dining room, to change things up a bit. No matter where you eat, rest assured the smaller passenger count means that the cuisine is heavily regionally inspired and fresh ingredients from onshore are incorporated as much as possible.
River Cruises Offer Lower-Key Entertainment
The entertainment on a river cruise isn’t in the flashy style of ocean cruises. That means no Broadway-style shows or karaoke. Instead, you may be treated to locally inspired folk dance performances or choir concerts for a quick after-dinner show. There may be one-off cooking demonstrations or wine tastings, or perhaps an educational talk by a wildlife naturalist or a local historian.
River Cruises Offer Access to More Ports
Let’s face it: size matters. When it comes to cruise ships, the modern river vessels can reach places the ocean mega-ships simply can’t. Their smaller, more nimble size means more off-the-beaten-path destinations for you and more authentic shoreside excursions. It also means you won’t be moored out in an industrial port - you’ll likely dock right in town, just a short walk or bus ride away from the center of town.
River Cruises Offer More Destination-Driven Itineraries
While ocean-going mega ships can serve as a vacation destination unto themselves (the pools and waterslides! the shows! the limitless dining!), river cruises tend to focus less on the ship and more on the ports visited. You’ll visit a destination each day, sometimes even two ports in one day, and cover several countries within a week’s time. That’s a lot of vacation packed into one incredible week off! Plan on a lot of walking as you learn each new city’s history and culture, check out the local cafes and shops or take a motor coach tour to a nearby castle. Many river cruise lines also offer more active options, including cycling, golf, music recitals and cooking classes onshore.
The fares for ocean cruises often come with some nickel and diming for all the extras by which you’ll be tempted. Alternatively, most river-cruise fares include just about everything - while this may make it seem more expensive, it’s a lot less to balk at at the beginning, knowing what’s to be included, instead of being faced with an unpleasantly large bill at the end of your vacation. You can expect fares to include wine, beer, soft drinks, dinners in specialty restaurants, Wi-Fi and standard tour options in each port.
Ready for your river cruise? Let’s chat.
River-Cruise Dining: What to Expect
Are My Meals Included on a River Cruise?
In general, you can expect that all meals onboard will be included. In addition, if you are on a shore excursion that takes place during a regular mealtime, i.e. lunch, that meal is typically included, as well.
What About Drinks?
Most upscale river cruise lines will serve unlimited, complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner. There are certain operators, including Uniworld, that offer an all-inclusive open bar (premium-brand spirits and Champagne may incur an additional fee). Typically, you can expect coffee and tea stations available throughout the ship around the clock. Breakfast usually means unlimited sparkling wine and fresh juice. Many European ships will include tea time and perhaps a daily cocktail hour with complimentary wine, beer and spirits. Some cruise lines will offer beverage packages that include alcoholic and soft drinks - the value of such packages really depends on how much you care to indulge.
What Kind of Cuisine Can I Expect?
Upscale European river-cruising fleets, especially, pride themselves on serving traditional and regionally inspired cuisine that showcases your destination. Expert chefs prepare locally sourced meals with the freshest ingredients. Expect expansive breakfast buffets with hot and cold, as well as made-to-order, items. Lunch is usually a three-course affair, and dinner four courses. If there’s a captain’s dinner or some other specialty meal, you can expect up to six courses.
Some fleets, including AmaWaterways in Europe, take the culinary experience up a notch - each of their Europe ships is a member of La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs – a prestigious international culinary society. If you’re sailing with AmaWaterways and consider yourself a foodie, don’t miss the exclusive Chef’s Table specialty restaurant (included in your fare), where you can witness the chef preparing your exquisite multi-course meal.
What Are the Dining Options and Are There Multiple Seatings?
Unlike the mega, ocean-going ships, on a European river-cruise vessel, most meals are one seating, due to the smaller number of passengers and a smaller chef team creating multiple courses in a tight galley.
There is typically one main restaurant onboard, where breakfast and lunch are served (most likely buffet-style), as well as a wait-staffed dinner. If you prefer a light option for lunch or dinner, some ships offer a lounge setting with a smaller menu.
Take your time in the morning if you wish - breakfast is typically available starting as early as 6 am with light early-bird offerings until the main dining room opens. Once open, breakfast is served for about two hours. Sometimes the breakfast and lunch time frames are shifted earlier to accommodate shore excursion departures. Expect lunch from noon to 2 pm and dinner from about 7 pm to 9 pm. It is appreciated if you arrive on time and plan to place your full order for all courses at the start of the meal.
Where Do I Sit When Dining on a River Cruise?
River-cruise dining rooms offer free seating, so you’re not hemmed in by table assignments. Dine with new friends and old, as you wish. Tables for two are a bit harder to come by, so you can expect to be seated with four, six or eight other diners. Of course, as the Covid-19 pandemic progresses, all lines will have their own physical-distancing protocols in place, so this may affect with whom and where you sit. When the weather is pleasant, some vessels offer alfresco dining areas on the open decks.
What If I Have Dietary Restrictions?
Speak up! Mention your dietary requirements at the time you reserve your river cruise and we’ll ensure that it is noted. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes on the menus and at the buffets and most menus are marked to show which dishes contain allergens such as gluten, nuts and dairy. If you are vegan, no-salt, fat-free, low-carb, just let me know.
Hungry yet? Rest assured, you will dine amply and well on a European river cruise. Let’s chat.