Many people watch with their hearts full of wanderlust as commercials of luxury river cruises through beautiful European cities sail across their television screens. I used to be one of them. And after recently experiencing a river cruise with Uniworld Boutique Cruises, I walked away feeling excited about this cruising style and motivated to go on another.
My cruise: the Brilliant Bordeaux, a new itinerary for this cruise line, as the Bordeaux port first opened to ships in early 2014. Bordeaux is a short 2-hour train ride (and a little over a 1-hour plane ride) from Paris. The port is only minutes away from the train station, and a short drive from the airport. It was a great place from which to start my adventure.
Before my river cruise, I only had cruised on larger ships. During those experiences, the weather dictated everything—on nice days the sailing was wonderful and comfortable, but on days when the weather wasn’t great, conditions were a little tough for those with a sensitivity to seasickness.
With the river cruise, however, I was pleased to discover how smooth the sailing experience really was. There are no large crashing waves or harsh movements while on a river. This meant seasickness wasn’t an issue at all.
Also, because these are silent cruises—meaning there are no loud-speaker announcements blaring through the lobby or into state rooms—I easily slept through docking and departures.
Viewfinder tip: Most river cruises usually offer post-cruise excursions to extend your trip for an additional fee. If you are interested in this option, inquire.
Bring your appetite
Though the focus of the Bordeaux cruise was wine, because wine pairs well with food, local cuisine was a big part of the experience, too.
Whether in Saint Emilion, Bergerac, Blaye, or any of the other port cities along the Gironde River in the Aquitaine Region of France, there were plenty of opportunities for us passengers to taste some local treats. My favorites were the canelles from Bordeaux, the oysters from Arcachon, and the foie gras from Alsace.
Many of these local flavors were available on board the ship. Dinners were elaborate and generous, and very French. From traditional rabbit preparations to the homemade cream pastries, I got my fill of French food during my eight days of cruising.
Oysters from Arcachon
Connecting with locals
My absolute favorite thing about river cruising was the proximity and access to the cities and towns. Because river cruises can dock at smaller ports, ships have the ability to provide guests with easier access to town. Most of this access is walk-on/walk-off. Such was the case for Bordeaux. During my cruise, on those occasions when it was necessary for passengers to travel longer distances from the port to the city center, the cruise provided guests with buses to main attractions. These buses were free.
This set-up worked great because it allowed for flexibility. While some people chose to go on excursions, others could simply walk on and off the boat and take in cities as they pleased. I took the opportunity to meet locals and enjoy nearby restaurants and shops at my own pace.
Intimate and friendly experience
I always have been the kind of traveler who enjoys smaller crowds. I love meeting new people and making friends, but am easily overwhelmed by too many people and too much noise.The smaller crowd on the Uniworld river cruise made it easier for me to feel comfortable. Also, I was able to connect with people on the ship, and get to talk to them about things that really mattered. I noticed other passengers doing this, too.
The ship seemed to encourage these intimate experiences. Even in the dining area, there were tables set up for smaller groups and couples. When I wanted to have one-on-one time with fellow passengers, I could. And when I wanted to socialize, there were plenty of opportunities to do that, too.
Enjoy the local scene close to ports
Overall, there were a lot of things that surprised me about river cruising.
At first glance, for instance, the price tag seemed high, but every detail of my experience was high-end and I didn’t have to worry about anything. From luggage transfers, tips, transportation to and from airports, meals, excursions, and bottomless glasses of wine, this cruise had it all.
Another surprise was that I wasn’t the youngest cruiser. On my ship I interacted with families that spanned generations, as well as couples, young and old. There weren’t any young children on this particular cruise, and I am not sure I would bring my young children just yet, though I think that other cruises, such as the German Holiday Market, cruise might be one we would all enjoy together.
Overall, the experience was fun, and I raved about it for a while after I got home. I loved seeing so many of my favorite French cities by water. Now, when I see the commercials for luxury river cruises, I don’t have wanderlust at all; instead, I just get more excited for my next adventure.
What is your favorite cruising style?