Although river cruise lines are ramping up onboard programs (adding yoga classes, photography lessons, cooking demos with guests chefs, local entertainment, guest lecturers, and the like), such efforts are—to a large extent—constrained by the size and scale of the vessels.
River cruise ships are unable to offer the same bells and whistles (e.g. full-service spas, casinos, varied specialty restaurants, etc.) enjoyed by passengers on large ocean-going vessels: That’s because they are designed and scaled to cruise narrow inland waterways and dock at smaller ports along the way rather than sail the high seas. Space—especially public spaces—is at a premium.
Yet, despite what some might see as a major drawback of the onboard experience, it’s easy to fall in love with the intimacy of river cruises, which generally carry fewer than 200 passengers. Never boring, their varied and interesting itineraries allow travelers to experience up close the local culture of small cities, towns and villages.
Michelle Baran, senior editor for river cruising on Travel Weekly, an industry publication, recently wrote:
“…Many of the most memorable river cruising moments don’t take place on the water – they take place on land.”
On our 8-day Viking River Cruises “Chateaux, Rivers and Wine” itinerary (departing from and returning to Bordeaux, France) we were wowed by three bespoke epicurean excursions offered by the cruise line: Truffle hunting in the Périgord region; creating our own personal blend of cognac at the House of Camus, and sipping local wine while eating freshly shucked oysters from the Bay of Arcachon.
These excursions complemented the other Viking River Cruises tour excursions (focused largely on history and wine) and enriched our understanding of the region—in fact, they were a perfect “side dish” for culinary travelers.
You can read my feature story: Epicurean Excursions on a Bordeaux River Cruise in the Summer issue of Food Wine Travel Magazine.