By Peter Lynch
I’m often asked why I river cruise. Today, the answer is more obvious than ever: it’s safe, it’s convenient and I get to travel with a small crowd of like-minded, intelligent travellers from all over the world.
They are fully vaccinated, the ship is never further than a few metres from the shore… and any medical facilities that may be needed. And the cruise line is right there to deal with the library-like paperwork you need to travel between countries, and sort out any “irregularities”.
The chatter over a drink before dinner is always a pleasure. Once the day’s shore excursions have been put to bed, we talk about our own stories. There might be a musician or a dance troupe – but no big shows to interrupt proceedings.
And if you feel adventurous, you can pop ashore and talk to the locals.
But perhaps more importantly, each of my adventures on the rivers of the world has been a unique cultural experience that genuinely made me feel we had been to a different place and touched its soul.
Something it’s hard to repeat on a great ocean liner.
My last cruise was in the South of France aboard the Viking Delling. It was just eight days, but we still managed to experience more in that time than on many ocean cruises twice as long.
I learned how to bake the local bread, visited my all-time favourite winery Châteauneuf-du-Pape, saw artworks by Monet and Van Gogh in the villages where they actually painted them, and foraged for truffles with dogs in a forest.
When I felt like it, I hopped aboard my trusty Lime electric rental scooter and popped into town for a croissant or coffee.
Every day, there was another nugget of French history and a tour. And every night a new wine and dish to discovered in the ship’s restaurant, although the really fun evenings were finding your own piece of French gastronomie ashore.
It was relaxing, non-intrusive and delightfully in touch with the French culture all around us. I can still taste the pastries we ate every afternoon sitting at some roadside café, and I can’t wait to go back.
But I’ve cruised through Myanmar on the decks of a the beautiful Belmond Mandalay, and up into Northern Indian river MV Mahabaahu on the Brahmaputra River in search of tiger. Every one of these journeys was unique, exciting and allowed us to meet the locals and understand their culture.
Like so much of our world, the pandemic left river cruising riding at anchor.
Thankfully, many lines are sailing today and the Christmas markets have reopened. More lines have meant it’s possible to get incredibly good value for a European holiday that visits up to five different countries with no fuss and no unpacking.
More importantly, many of the stuffy, old-world ideas about river cruising have at last been tossed overboard.
Lines like Uniworld, with its millennial branding, and Avalon and Scenic are now offering kayaking, hiking, cycling, wellness coaches and food experiences.
And they are carving out new places, from Asia to Africa. America, too, is this season seeing a new fleet of ships from Viking, as well as new local vessels.
So welcome back to river cruising. It’s going to be an exciting ride. And sign up for our newsletter at rivercruisepassenger.com.au.