One of the best aspects of river cruising is undoubtedly the amount of time you get to spend ashore. With port calls that range from short early-morning calls to extended overnight stays, river cruises are the best way to see a number of European cities in a single week. But how do you make the most of your time ashore? After all, for first-time visitors to places like Vienna, Amsterdam and Paris, the amount of attractions, historic locations and culinary delights can seem overwhelming.
In order to make the most of your time ashore, it pays to do a little research, particularly as river cruise lines typically offer more than one type of excursion. In Linz, Austria, for example, you’re confronted with even more choices: You can choose to explore this attractive city or head out farther afield as many cruise lines offer excursions to Salzburg and the medieval city of Cesky Krumlov.
A quick Google or Wikipedia search can help immensely in determining how you want to spend your day – choosing Salzburg over Linz, for example. But even for sightseeing in a single city, the Internet is an indispensable companion.
Most major attractions have websites listing their features, admissions rate and opening hours, and a few will even let you purchase tickets in advance, which can be an enormous timesaver when you’re actually on the ground. One of the best uses of advance purchase tickets is a visit to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, where the ticket queue can be lengthy during peak hours. Going with tickets in-hand that were purchased at home (or at your hotel in Paris) can save you valuable time. Avid Cruiser Ralph Grizzle did this with his family on a recent trip and says he saved standing in line for hours to go up the iconic tower.
While full day port calls and overnight stays provide guests with a great deal of flexibility and options for exploration, it can still pay to plan out a few hotspots you want to hit. Don’t go overboard with it – you want your time here to be free and enjoyable – but definitely map out any attractions you can’t leave without seeing.
This is particularly useful for calls that visit Vienna, Austria, which plays host to a mind-boggling array of historic cafes, each one seemingly cooler than the next. Your research will also provide you with an important aspect of Viennese café culture: A latte here can be an affair lasting several hours, as opposed to the “grab-n-go” mentality of North America.
While River Cruise Advisor provides a great amount of information, in our experience there’s still no substitute for a good printed guidebook. You can slip it in your backpack and pull it out as needed, make notes in the margins, and circle choices that interest you. We never leave home without one.
For those who are digitally connected, bring along the iPad or iPhone. Many European cities have free WiFi hotspot locations, and a quick check of your iPhone can tell you what street you’re on and give you accurate directions on where you’re headed.
Of course, should you ever get lost, you could always just go “the old fashioned way” and ask someone.
Finally, on one day of your trip, plan to have no plan at all: Some of the best discoveries we’ve made were the ones we simply bumbled across.
From advance tickets to Versailles to reservations at that restaurant you always wanted to try, careful planning can make all the difference to your time ashore. We highly recommend it.