Part of the appeal of river cruising is the ability to see so many destinations in one trip. Many people choose to add pre- and post-cruise extensions to their trips, or maybe even both.
On my last trip with AmaWaterways guests could opt for a pre-cruise extension in Prague before departing for the cruise in Vilshofen, Germany. Not only does adding an extra stop on your tour, allowing you to see more of Europe since you are already there, but it also gives you time to settle in and get acclimated to the time change before you start your cruise.
Because cruise companies offer land extensions, it is easy to simply book those and not worry about researching where to go in certain destinations. This is another part of what makes river cruising so appealing in general. River cruise itineraries are designed to take passengers to landmarks and highlights in each city, and they do just that. These extensions are curated in the same way.
But what about traveling outside of the land extensions offered by the cruise lines?
My father Ralph and I are going to cruise aboard AmaMagna from Budapest to Vilshofen, and I was given the task of planning a short trip to Prague after our cruise. As I mentioned before, river cruise itineraries are designed with highlights and landmarks in each city. So when you book a river cruise, or an extension through a cruise company, you can sit back, relax, and trust that you are going to see all that you need to see.
As soon as my cruise is booked, I stop worrying. There is no need look for maps or time out routes. Attempting to plan a trip to Prague was a challenge that I was less prepared for than I initially thought, especially since Ralph and I have just two short nights in the Czech capital. So, I did what anyone else would do – turned to my good friend Google.
A quick search of the term “Prague” brought up many landmarks from The City Of A Hundred Spires: The Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, and more. I knew, however, that we were not only working with limited time, but that Ralph and I also like to venture off the beaten path. Without someone to schedule tours for me, I was well aware that some of the things I would plan could be a waste of time. But we will get back to activities in a minute.
Before I could find out what Ralph and I were going to do in town, I needed to figure out where we were staying. Since we only had two nights in Prague, it was important to take location into consideration. I didn’t want us to lose a lot of time trying to find our way across town to see certain sights. When cruise companies plan tours, transportation is included, and transport time to and from hotels was factored into timetables. Ralph and I would be responsible for getting around on our own.
When Ralph sent me a list of hotels he was looking at, my eye was immediately drawn to the Hilton Prague Old Town. Not only because the hotel was beautiful and in the middle of an historic part of the city, but also because it was directly next to a metro line. This would make getting across town cheaper and easier than having to work out taxis or cars.
Though Ralph and I are staying in town, this note should be applied for hotels that are farther out as well. You can often save money by booking a hotel that is outside of the city center, but it can end up costing you when it comes to the fares of Ubers and taxis. Taking metros are buses is the best way to get around Europe, so long as you are close to a stop or station.
Now that I decided where we were going to stay, it was time to plan our days.
Though it is not always easy, I remind myself that it is okay to miss “main attractions” when traveling. Sure, it seems silly to go to Paris and not to see the Eiffel Tower, or to New York and not visit the Empire State Building, but I have to remind myself that these experiences are often overwhelming and extremely time consuming. This is especially true at this time of year, when many people are on summer holidays.
Trying to fit in all the sites that were on the first page of Google was going to prove to be difficult. I knew that we would end up spending so much time standing around and riding on the subway to get from Point A to Point B that our precious time would fade away, and at the end of our two days in Prague, we would feel as if we had done nothing. It was time for a different plan of attack.
Ralph mentioned that he wanted to go to The Charles Bridge. While I was sure the bridge would be flooded with people, it couldn’t be that hard to navigate a bridge, could it? I immediately started looking for things that we could do on the way to the bridge to maximize time.
The best way to do this was for me to go onto Google Maps and navigate from our hotel to the Charles Bridge. That way I would be able to see what was on the way, so that we could continue exploring without having to diverge from our set path.
The first thing I found was the Apple Museum. Not a necessary stop, but certainly a fun one. And hey, sometimes all we need is a little bit of fun. I also found a café on the way called Tricafe. The café had a high rating, but not a large number of reviews. Which is good in this case, because we are trying to avoid crowds, remember? Ralph and I always enjoy indulging in a coffee at any given time of day, so I knew that if there was one thing that I had to remember throughout my planning period, it was coffee breaks.
A friend of mine also mentioned that we had to walk to the Strahov Monastery, where the monks have a brewery. Almost as much fans of beer as we are coffee, I decided that this was also a necessary stop.
After working around with maps a bit, I realized that it would take 50 minutes to walk from our hotel to the monastery, and we could hit the Apple Museum, Charles Bridge, and Tricafe all on the way. I figure that with walking, not only to our desired locations but within them, and stopping for photographs and quick bites, this will probably take up most of our day, as we still have to factor in the bus ride from our disembarkation point of Vilshofen, Germany to Prague. If we do finish at the monastery early, though, there are plenty of museums nearby that should be able to keep us occupied before we make our way back to the hotel.
One of my main pieces of advice when you’re going to a city where you have never been, especially when you only have a day or two, is to do all your sightseeing on the first day. Once you have seen what you want to see, you can allow yourself to be pulled in various other directions. Generally on the way to these sites, you will find things that captivate your interest. Make a list of everywhere you want to visit and save it for day two. That way, you are only planning one day, and you are also allowing yourself to get out of the tourist jam.
A lot of cruise companies do this when planning these extensions as well. The first day will be spent touring, and oftentimes the second day is a free day, or you are at least given free time to explore as you will. On AmaWaterways’ three day Prague extension, guests are to check-in to their hotel and explore on day one, tour on day two, and then have free time in the city on day three. We are following the same schedule, essentially, just in our own way.
After doing all of the research I had to do for this trip, I ended up coming to the conclusion that while booking an extension through the cruise line may be easier and less time consuming, looking at maps and planning routes can be quite fun. If I didn’t try to piece together a route from the hotel to the bridge, I would have never found out about the Apple Museum that I am now extremely excited to visit.
Yes, part of what makes cruising so easy is the ease of travel and having everything set up for you. If that is something you value, go ahead and book your land extension through your cruise company. However, as long as you have a basic understanding of Google Maps, you may be surprised at how fun figuring out your own tour can be – and how sometimes life is just about finding things along the way.