River Cruising; The Pros and Cons for Beginners

This post has taken over five months to publish, the reason, honestly, I wasn’t completely sure what to write. The trip involved river cruising, and confirmed something I’d already suspected. Providing a balanced opinion required some careful thought.

Cruising has never really appealed to me, particularly the huge transatlantic liners, carrying thousands of passengers. This cruise type seems oversized, passengers probably remaining anonymous to the crew, and one another. The towns they stop at, possibly becoming swamped, even overwhelmed with mass daytripping. Possibly, this isn’t an entirely accurate view, as many people swear by cruises, cruising every year, so am I missing something?

River cruising on the Danube, Salzburg in Austria on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-2 salzburg


Viking River Cruises offer cruises on one of the great rivers of Europe, the Danube, stopping off at the Christmas markets of several of the iconic cities, which line the famous banks. This seemed a suitable test bed for a virgin cruiser, so when I received an invitation to join a group of amazing people on this trip, I jumped at it.

A small sailing ship adventure cruise does appeal more, but that wasn’t on offer. Therefore river cruising, taking a slow boat ride along one of Europe’s iconic rivers seemed a sensible compromise.

River cruising the Christmas markets of Europe, a souvenir stall on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photographyIain_Mallory_SAM_2423 christmas_market

Christmas market souvenir stall

Viking ships are smaller than cruise liners, the more intimate surroundings make it easier to get to know other passengers. The cabins are comfortable, the crew are friendly, helpful, and the bar staff know how to mix a decent mojito. They also soon get to know each passenger, referring to them by name, and knowing their preferences.

European river cruising with the Viking Skadi on the Danube on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain_Mallory_SAM_2404 danube

Viking Skadi on the Danube

There is entertainment every evening, providing ample excuses to order extra cocktails, it’s hardly wild, but relaxing is key on this type of cruise.

Excursions are laid on in the cities visited, which after starting at Passau, include Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, with a grand flourish in Budapest. The passengers are split into manageable groups, with a guide for each, but they are still large numbers of people moving around each city. With several ships moored, often there a number of these groups form each ship, the guides using radio broadcasters on different channels to keep their charges informed, and under control.

Riverside food seller on the banks of the Danube in Salzburg, Austria on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-3 salzburg

Riverside foodstall

The time spent in each city varies, predictably the more popular destinations receive more attention, with longer stops, and added excursions. All of these are of course optional, and extra tours may incur an additional charge.

One trick to getting the most out of the trip is tag along with more experienced cruisers, they already know all the dos, and dont’s. I hung around with two avid cruisers, and often found they opted to avoid the organised tours, and explore at their leisure. This suited me too, fitting more with my style, getting to know a place, although as some stops were relatively short, this was not always possible.

River cruising in Europe on the Danube, the Christmas market at Salzburg, Vienna on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain_Mallory_SAM_2405 christmas_market_salzburg

It’s all about the Christmas markets

This was probably the main reason I feel this style of travelling is not for me, with limited time to really look around most destinations. Bratislava was especially short, we arrived early morning, and left around midday. Enjoying the included breakfast on the ship, meant time was short, so heading into the city and finding a coffee shop seemed preferable.

It is a particularly easy, and relaxing way to travel however, without the need to drive, swap trains, or wait at stations/airports. Just be back on-board before the ship departs, and enjoy the scenery between destinations. The ship obviously continues to sail during the night, so often passengers go to sleep in one city, and wake up in another. This is the appeal for many, and is easy to understand, sitting back, enjoying the abundant, excellent food, with some wine, and grabbing a good night’s sleep.

European river cruising, the "shoes on the Danube" art on the promenade in Budapest, Hungary on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain_Mallory_SAM_2443 budapest_art

The moving “shoes on the Danube” art Budapest

misty view in Vienna. Austria at dusk on the river Danube on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain_Mallory_SAM_2415 misty_danube

Dusk mist on the Danube

The cities involved are impressive, some of the finest in Europe, and they were all lit up with Christmas lights. They also offer some of the best seasonal markets on the continent, with plenty of stalls, usually spread across the city centre. Warm glühwein helps keep out the chilly winter weather, and bratwurst, waffles, or other local specialities tide cruisers over until back on the ship.

I generally enjoyed the experience, it was a different form of adventure. However, it isn’t really the style of travelling which suits me, as having time to explore is essential. Meeting people, discovering the culture, getting lost, actually having enough time to get lost, are key parts to the puzzle.

European river cruising on the Danube, the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain_Mallory_SAM_2431 budapest_parliament

Parliament building, Budapest

There are plenty of experienced cruise writers around, they understand cruising. In future I’ll stick to what I appreciate best, and leave cruising to them, or maybe send a substitute in my place.

Unless of course somebody has a spare place on an adventure sailing cruise, possibly on a small clipper in Alaska, the polar regions or Patagonia?

River cruising, view of the Danube in Salzburg, Austria on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300 salzburg

Blue skies in Salzburg


Comments 5

  1. MissMagpieFGS

    Interesting post. I’ve been considering a River Cruise. I am a fan of the small cruise lines and will embark on our 3rd Windstar Cruises this summer. I ruled out a river cruise for this next trip mostly due to the bundled in cost of the excursions in each city. I too prefer to explore on my own.

  2. Frank

    Love your honesty on this post … I too am not a cruise person, for the reasons you stated in the article. I need time to stretch out in a destination, minimum 3 days, ideally 1 week!

  3. Gran Canaria Local

    We’re not really cruise people either. Although, we’d quite like to island hop around the Canary Islands. We studied in Brno and did indeed travel to Bratislava where we spent what felt like the whole day in a pool hall. So, you probably saw more than us.

  4. Terri Fogarty

    You experienced one cruise line. Not all river cruise lines are the same or offer the same type of excursions. I am not a big fan of ocean cruises on those gigantic ships, so was very happy with the river cruises I have taken, which generally serve fewer than 200 passengers. Getting to know the people on board is a wonderful aspect of the trip. It is also a very relaxing way to travel, since you only have to unpack just once.

    I look at a river cruise as part of my Europe adventure, with a pre-cruise stay in some city, and a post-cruise stay in another. Here is your opportunity to explore a city in-depth.

    River cruises are not for everyone, but it is very popular for a reason.

  5. Kay

    Hi Ian,

    My favourite way to travel is by boat, but after doing a Caribbean cruise in the winter, I agree with you in that I prefer longer to spend in each place and would rather not be herded around with the thousands of other passengers.

    The best sailing trip I did was on a traditional gulet in Turkey, sailing round the Lycian Coast. There were only 16 of us and we were all best friends by the time the trip ended. It was the most relaxing week of my life, the food was amazing, the scenery was stunning… I loved it!

    If anyone puts an adventure sailing trip your way, tell them there’s an Edinburgh based bloggers who would love to come too!

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