As published in The Florida Villager
As I boarded the plane to Basel, Switzerland to catch my Viking River Cruise, I swore on a stack of Bibles I would be bored to death among all the ‘old’ people on that cruise. I’m ashamed to say that was my perception of what a river cruise offered; no casino, no bars, no shows, no pool all equated to boredom. Well as Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”
I walked onto the Viking Kvasir in Basel to smiling faces and helping hands. I was led to my stateroom, which had a lovely balcony and ample room for my two large suitcases (to this day I still don’t know how to travel light). Eager to explore my new surroundings, I freshened up and headed to the main room of the ship. There I found the one and only bar with guests already ensconced. And lo and behold, they were young. I pulled up a stool and became fast and furious friends with the bartender and maitre d’.
So, here is what I found to be one of the many perks of a river cruise- it’s your own floating Cheers. Everyone knows your name. No matter where I went on the ship, I was not only greeted but also engaged in conversation. The staff was always so willing to assist in anyway possible, right down to the pianist who would play well after his time was up. Ok, I bribed him with a drink but he cheerfully stayed.
If you are looking for and expect that big cruise ship feel, don’t book your ticket on Viking because that is not what a cruise like this is about. What it is about is that feeling of being ‘home’, it is small without all the distractions, guests will mingle with each other more and the staff is pretty entertaining. They spend time with you and do the little things that you don’t get on a huge cruise ship. For example, one day after an excursion, we all came down the walkway and some of the staff were on the upper deck with a banner that read “Welcome Home” and singing and clapping. This is the type of thing that makes a river cruise so memorable.
Traveling alone can have its awkward moments such as dinnertime but my maitre d’, Darko, made sure that didn’t happen. He ushered me straight away to a table with women all my age and settled me in. Needless to say, the Pitt girls and I became ‘family’ on that trip and still stay in touch.
Speaking of mealtime, the food was outstanding. The menu was fabulous each and every day down the Rhine. The service was impeccable and my wine glass was always full.
My cruise took me through four countries and 9 cities. My first port of call was Breisach, Germany where I disembarked to explore the magical Black Forest. Next stop was Strasbourg, France, which made me feel like I had stepped into a fairy tale. I visited Strasbourg Cathedral and rode the carousel that sits in Cathedral Square. Day 4 found me at Heidelberg Castle and enjoying traditional German food and music at a tavern in Rudescheim. Day 5 was spent cruising to Koblenz, Germany where I was completely enthralled by the little towns, castles and ruins that dotted the riverbank. I headed to Marksburg Castle and yet another glimpse into a time gone by. Day 6 was Cologne, Germany where I was awe struck by the gothic cathedral. Day 7 was a drive into the picturesque Dutch countryside to see the nineteen, mid 18th century Kinderdijk Windmills.
The next morning I said goodbye to all my new friends and disembarked for three days in Amsterdam (another story for another time). Drifting off to sleep on the plane back to Miami, there was only one thought on my mind. How could I return to my little floating ‘home’ on the Rhine?