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There is a great Sting song, All This Time, that starts “I looked out across the river today. Saw a city in the fog and an old church town where the seagulls play.” I love this song because it tells a story: the story of a river. Rivers are the highways of the past. They are waterways that have fostered and housed civilization since the beginning and can tell us magical stories. Most of the cities that have dominated history have sprung up on major rivers. Rivers wind through enchanting scenery and chart courses through cities and towns that embody the culture of a place.
The buzz phrase around the office of late has been “river cruise.” I hear it every day. I see articles and web posts pop up in my social media feed all the time. It is the next big thing. Scratch that, it is the big thing. And, personally, I am obsessing about getting one scheduled as soon as possible. For those of you who have never heard of them or have been reluctant to explore them, please allow me to enlighten you!
River tours run all throughout the world and, for the most part, are exceedingly well run. They are plentiful in Europe but they can also be found throughout Asia, Africa, and the Americas. (We had 2 calls just the other afternoon for a Hudson river cruise. How lovely that would be in the fall with the colors resplendent in the New England sun!) Generally, these cruises embark and disembark in major cities of beauty and importance. Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Calcutta, Cairo and more. Often if a major city is not located exactly on the river there are included excursions, sometimes even with short flights, that will make sure to include them on your itinerary.
These cruises are more like intimate voyages. The ships generally carry about 150 passengers, as opposed to some ocean liners that can pack in thousands of your closest friends. They are boutique cruises that can cater to all different tastes and preferences. You can experience the wines of Bordeaux, the temples of India, the sounds of New Orleans jazz. Ama Waterways even offers a golf tour down the Danube. These tours aren’t specific to just one season either. Picture yourself cruising down the Rhine, stopping off in the world-renowned Christmas markets of Germany, shopping, dining, exploring in a storybook winter landscape.
River cruise boats are meticulously designed and furnished with an exceptional eye for detail and the goal of luxury and comfort for all. They are floating luxury hotels with uniquely designed suites, well-appointed public spaces inside and out, spas and fitness areas, pools and sometimes even running tracks, over-sized chessboards and putting greens on deck. Additionally, they offer sumptuous food and wine experiences on board. Locally sourced and themed meals, providing an enticing farm to table experience. The cruises are generally all inclusive of meals and drinks, although this varies by cruise provider.
On an adventure such as this one wants to disembark, to explore, to taste the flavors, to hear the sounds and to see the sights. River tour operators incorporate included shore excursions to appease all. You can experience castles, museums, vineyards, cathedrals, temples, farms, breweries, restaurants and bars. The list goes on and on. Guided tours are offered or you can explore on your own, on foot or borrowing the ship's bikes for a ride along ancient city streets. Often, these tours are exclusive to the cruise company. Uniworld does a magical private night-time tour of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice that includes a tour of the crypts below, something that the average tourist would not be able to do without some serious string pulling.
Rivers are truly a trip through time. They are an inspired way to explore a land and a culture. I have a wistful vision of floating along the calm waters of the Seine watching the sunset along the French countryside, a glass of the local wine, a warm blanket around my shoulders, the promise of tomorrow bringing a day full of newness. Rivers are timeless and important and tell innumerable stories. Again, the lyrics from Sting’s song swirl in my head, “all this time the river flowed endlessly to the sea.”