One of the key attractions of river cruising is the fact that it puts you closer to the action. Rather than being docked out in some busy container port like Civitavecchia when all you want to see is Rome (as often happens with ocean cruises), river cruises tend to dock right in the heart of the action, putting you closer to major points of interest and making it easy to get around on your own.
But the misconception with river cruising is that you will always, without fail, be docked in the heart of the city. Not only is that not the case, but sometimes, the expectation that you will be isn’t even rooted in reality.
One of the biggest causes of complaint comes from readers who dock in Amsterdam. Which is ironic, given that Amsterdam has some of the best port facilities in Europe, with river cruise ships mainly docking just steps away from Amsterdam Centraal Station.
However, when those eight or so berths are taken (which frequently happens), river cruise ships must dock further from the center of town – far enough that, unless it’s a nice day and you have no mobility issues, you’ll be too far away to walk to the center of Amsterdam.
Other cities, like Vienna, are spatially separated from the River Danube and the docking locations. This necessitates a motorcoach ride into the center of the city.
Plenty of ports of call, however, are located right within walking distance of the town center. Some notable ones include Bordeaux, France; Regensburg, Germany; Linz, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Budapest, Hungary – proving that good docking locations aren’t just limited to small towns.
But is not being docked right in the city center a real issue, or just a perceived one? After all, in the middle of the searing summer heat, how likely are you to walk into town? Would the included tour not take you to all the places you want to visit, and how much walking would you really do?
If you find yourself docked in an undesirable location, here are a few suggestions for getting around it:
Take the Tour
One great way to ensure that you always get to see the heart of the city is to simply take the included tour. Complimentary city tours usually include a motorcoach component coupled with a walking tour or visits to relevant and important sites.
What’s more, they’re also flexible: many will give guests the option to stay in town and explore on their own, either to re-join the coach transfer at a later time or to simply elect to take a taxi back to the ship.
Typically, each ship will have small cards with the ship’s docking address printed on it available from the Reception Desk
Take the Shuttle
For those who truly want to do their own independent thing, inquire first with the Reception Desk as to whether there are plans to run any shuttles to and from town. If there is motorcoach availability, many river cruise lines will typically do this, particularly in ports like Vienna and Nuremberg or at remote docking locations on the Buda side of Budapest that are furthest away from the main section of town.
Use Public Transportation
Another option – and a great one at that – is the possibility of using public transit to reach the main sights and center of town. As transit options will vary from city to city and can include grade-level trains, underground subways, and surface bus networks, it’s always best to ask at the Reception Desk. These folks come here every single week and frequently go ashore themselves; they can give you the lowdown on public transit options.
Take a Taxi
As a final resort, just take a taxi. From most docking locations it shouldn’t set you back more than a dozen or so Euros, and it will get you where you want to be, quickly. Remember to grab a card from the Reception Desk or bring along a copy of your Daily Program so you will know where your ship is docked; even if there is a language barrier, you can hand the taxi driver that card, show them the address, or even plug the location into your smartphone.
Getting around was never so easy, but this is likely the most expensive option on the list. We’d advise trying to take a shuttle bus, shore excursion, or public transit if you’re looking to maximize your Euros.
Keep in Mind …
River cruise lines must secure docking locations well over a year in advance. Sometimes, operational considerations can change the expected docking location – which is why lines like Viking River Cruises always print disclaimers in their pre-cruise documentation stating that guests should always identify their ship before dismissing their taxi, particularly when embarking. The harbor authorities can request ships to re-arrange their berths at any time.
The other thing to recognize is that venting your frustrations to the ship’s Reception Team, or even navigational officers, is entirely pointless. It is a situation that is completely out of their control, and is akin to asking them to change the weather for you.
The best course of action is, as always, this: try to be flexible. Experienced travelers know that flexibility is key to a successful trip. The more you try to pigeon-hole a vacation into being something it isn’t, the less you are likely to enjoy it.
After all – why sweat the small stuff? Just enjoy being in Europe, Asia, or wherever your river cruise adventures may take you.