River cruises have become a popular travel option as they offer authentic experiences. Not only can travellers enjoy beautiful landscapes, they can also expect personalised tours and concierge services on the leisurely trips.
Travellers can choose how they want to spend their days - they can disembark to join a walking tour of the town or spend the day on board to enjoy the ship's amenities.
The well-balanced mix of onshore excursions and on-board sightseeing as the ship moves from one city to another is a perk of going on a river cruise.
Also, river cruises take place in shallow waters, and you can barely tell if the ship is sailing, making them suitable for people who suffer from seasickness.
"I am a river cruise convert," said Ms Beatrice Liu, who recently returned from a Danube Christmas Markets cruise with Uniworld, where she visited four countries: Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany.
She also celebrated her birthday during the trip.
An independent traveller who likes free-and-easy holidays, Ms Liu cited "top-notch service and knowledgeable guides in every town" as reasons why she became a fan of river cruises.
The 33-year-old wellness entrepreneur said other plus points included "not having to pack and unpack in every new city, and you can sleep and wake up in a new town".
Here are some ways a river cruise is different from being on an ocean-bound mega ship.
Ship size and number of passengers
Typically, river cruises ships have a capacity of 120 to 200 passengers, whereas mega ships can host more than 3,000 passengers. So river cruises are more intimate.
River cruise ships usually have one to two restaurants on board with lighter meals served in a lounge or on the sun deck.
There may be speciality dining experiences offered - many cruises will ensure that guests have a gastronomic experience by having each meal embody the unique character of the surrounding region. This way, guests are provided with a flavourful cultural journey.
For instance, passengers on the Uniworld Castles Along The Rhine itinerary can learn about unique wine vinegar aperitifs at the Doktorenhof vinegar estate in Germany.
Other highlights of the journey include a trip to the Black Forest, where guests can indulge in the region's famous Black Forest cake.
Unlike ocean cruises, where travellers have to pay for onshore excursions on top of the base price, most river cruise companies offer a fare inclusive of onshore excursions, such as visits to vineyards for wine tasting.Sometimes, even port charges and gratuities are included so that guests will not have to tip the local guides or bus drivers.
Complimentary Wi-Fi access is available on board river cruises. For some, the luxury experience includes 24-hour room service. These services make the ships much like boutique hotels.
Flexible sightseeing options
Passengers have the flexibility of personalising their onshore excursions - they can join the included city sightseeing tours, get active and go on guided hikes, or loan bicycles and protective gear from the ship to go on biking excursions.
Uniworld has an active itinerary for its eight-day Burgundy and Provence departures. It offers guests cycling excursions to Avignon, Arles and Lyon in France, with an occasional foray into the vineyard-covered hills.
On-board entertainment and cultural experiences
Local musicians or artisans are invited on board the ships, allowing the passengers to understand more about the origins and influences of their performances or creative works.
Last year, Elisabeth von Trapp, granddaughter of Maria and Baron von Trapp from The Trapp Family Singers - made famous by the movie Sound Of Music - led a singalong for Uniworld guests at the Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria.
On the recent Christmas cruise, Ms Liu and her companions took part in a themed fashion show on their last night in Passau town in Bavaria, Germany, and tried on traditional Bavarian outfits.
This article was first published on Jan 17, 2017.
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