Below you’ll find a video replay of last week’s webinar, Our Favorite Cruise Itineraries. During the webinar, we talked about our favorite ocean and river cruises.
Ralph: I started off with the Douro River, which, as you know, is in Portugal and runs into Spain. And this is a wonderful cruise itinerary for me because it starts in the city of Porto, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s got a great old town; it’s got really friendly people. We’re on the other side of the city of Porto right here in this photo and it’s just a marvelous city to walk around, it was very cheap, people were extremely nice. That’s one of the things I love so much about Portugal. Now you can actually begin in Porto, but your cruise or your cruise package might actually begin in Lisbon and then you would tour Lisbon for a few days and you might go to a few places along the way and you would end up in Porto, and that is where you would board the ship.
Ralph: And this is what they call the Riviera. And so now this is the side we were looking at in the previous picture. And this is just a very nice place to walk and, like I say, very good restaurants and that sort of thing. And actually a couple of the cruise lines dock on this side and Scenic and Emerald are two of them that I can think that dock on this side. Uniworld, Viking, Ama and the others they dock on the other side there. So all of those are within walking distance. So you have this beautiful wine-producing region here.
Britton: Okay. Yeah. So the Douro is known for its wine and one really magical thing about the Douro that so many people that love that sailed the Douro is that the Portuguese government has put restrictions onto when you can sail. So you’re only sailing during the day, you’re not doing any of your sailing at night. And for people that enjoy scenic cruising, this is a really great trip because you get to sit on deck during the day and you get to really look at everything passing by. I haven’t had the opportunity to do this trip, but from everyone that I’ve heard that has done this trip, they say that it is a favorite of theirs. And if Ralph is back, I let him pick up a little bit. But I think that that scenic cruising is something that people really, really enjoy about the region.
Ralph: You described it better than I could. I’m glad.
Ralph: So next we’re going to move on to the Baltic, and Britton, I think you should take it away with the Baltic because you have spent a whole lot of time up there and it’s one of your favorites.
Britton: And, yeah, if you’ll go to the next slide, you’ll see why. So I am a huge ABBA fan. I am a fan of Sweden entirely. And my father lived there for close to 10 years and so we really got to spend a lot of time in Sweden, in Scandinavia. But the first Baltic cruise I did was when I was about eight years old. And if you’ll go to the next slide as well, Ralph, you’ll see my brother, who was just a little little kid, he was about seven when we did this trip and this was in Estonia, and it’s one of those trips that has really stuck with me and it allowed me to fall in love with this region that I now know so much more about and love. But you get to visit so many countries.
Britton: We started our trip in Copenhagen and then you go to Sweden, Estonia, here’s a picture of us in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and it’s just, I mean, it’s just one of my favorite itineraries in the summer, it’s really nice. Well not recently, Sweden hasn’t been cool, but back then it was cool in the summer and so you didn’t have to worry too much about being in the heat during the summer, you know, like you would if you’re going to the Caribbean or something. And so I think it’s a really, really wonderful summer trip. But then also in the winter it’s pretty magical as well, and in the fall and in the spring. But I think the summer is the best time to go, it’s so light and it’s a really, really beautiful itinerary.
Britton: And I’m sure Ralph has more to say about it because he knows a lot about the region as well.
Ralph: Yeah, well you had those beautiful white nights and that’s why I love to cruise like during the summer solstice because you have these, it never really gets dark, never gets completely dark, and you just want to walk outside if you’re on ship, walk out on the balcony every 30 minutes because it’s just so beautiful cruising through there.
Ralph: The Stockholm Archipelago, which is 30,000 islets, islands and rocks. It is just stunningly gorgeous and you cruise through there for probably two or three hours on your approach to Stockholm and when you’re leaving Stockholm. So that’s something you want to be up for. These cities are wonderful, everything works. Scandinavians speak better English than some people in my County do. It’s a marvelous cruise destination.
Ralph: And with that, let’s move on to the next one.
Britton: So this one is different, of course, it’s the Mekong River. So the Mekong goes through Vietnam and Cambodia. And this was actually the first river cruise that I did and you can see me on the far right as a child and Ralph as a young lad. And we did this cruise with a Dutch couple, actually, we didn’t know them, we met them on board, and they had brought their two children who were about five and seven, and it was such a great trip.
Britton: And to do the trip so young, we kind of didn’t, I didn’t anticipate to get as much out of it as I did. But for people who kind of had taken the time and learned the history in school and maybe lived through some of the history of the war and being able to see all those and hear the stories and see these things that you’ve heard about in real life is amazing. And my favorite part of the trip was of course just mingling with the locals and meeting them. All of the children were so eager to talk to you and it was so nice. Everyone was so friendly. We got to see so many beautiful markets.
Britton: The worst part about the trip for me was the flight. I mean it is not easy, especially coming from North Carolina. I had to fly from my hometown to Atlanta to Los Angeles to Bangkok and then to Ho Chi Minh City. So it did take a lot of time for travel and the time difference wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it. And you get to go in these oxcarts and I mean, I just had so many first-time experiences there and we stayed in a really lovely hotel overnight.
Britton: And I remember Ralph saying to me when we did this trip, I want to move here, when we were in Ho Chi Minh City because it was so inexpensive, but everything was so nice. The markets were so nice, the people were so nice. And I remember my grandmother telling me a story about when she visited about crossing the street and she said, that’s going to be the hardest thing that you do because there are so many motorbikes, there are so many cars. And she actually told a story about one of the locals coming and taking her by the arm walking her, he said, just go, and they walked across the street and then he walked back over. But that was very much the feeling that I got as well, that people were very eager to help and super friendly and welcoming and nice and it was such a great experience.
Ralph: Yeah, that’s what I remember too. The people were so friendly. I was a little bit concerned as an American going over, like, how would they feel about us? Because you know, we had the Vietnam War of course. But they talked about how they were the most forgiving people in the world because they had been in so many wars for their independence, you know, for eons. And you’re right, I mean kind of like Portugal, Vietnam was a place, and Cambodia too, was a place where the people really made the trip special, and it’s just such a frenetic place to like, especially the Capital City there, it was just crazy. But that was part of the beauty as well.
Britton: You also have these beautiful temples that you’re going to, we went to Angkor Wat, and so, I mean, it was the people, it was the history, and I will say that, even cruising through Europe, I think that I took in the most, I think that I learned the most about any history when we were in Vietnam and Cambodia because it was just, we were going all day long, it was so info-packed. And I will say that I would recommend that you are fairly active, maybe not that you can run a 5k, but that you’re able to walk and that you’re able to stand on your feet for long periods of time, because we were gone for most of the day during these excursions.
Ralph: And this picture is Paulette Hannah who has done articles. And all of these cruises that we talk about, we’ve got a whole lot of articles on both sites about all of these cruises.
Ralph: So this obviously is my choice because I’ve been a few times to Antarctica and it is just one of those special, special experiences. Of course, that’s what you get to see after you cross the Drake Passage, and the Drake Passage is a reason that a lot of people don’t go to Antarctica. They are fearful of these seas between South America, the tip of the South American Continent and the Antarctic Peninsula, and they can be rough for sure.
Ralph: The last time we went we had about close to 30-foot waves and it was really, neither one of us got sick, and we felt confident with the captain, but once you get there, it is just stunningly beautiful. It’s like being on another planet as you can see there. So I won’t say much more about Antarctica, but it’s one place that I would urge you to consider putting on your bucket list just because it’s like no other place on earth.
Britton: And I do want to respond to Mimi’s question quickly. She asked if we recommend a river cruise in Vietnam and Cambodia as opposed to any other transportation mode. Obviously I don’t have experience with any other mode of transportation, but I thought the river cruise was good. I know that a lot of people worry sometimes because you have this wet season and this dry season, so water levels can be a concern. But I think that we actually didn’t go at the ideal time and we still had a great experience. The thing that I like about river cruising always is that is just the level of the tours and the guides and the knowledge. So I always recommend a river cruise just because it’s so easy to get places and to learn and things are kind of set up for you, especially in somewhere that’s so foreign.
Ralph: And it was our floating hotel, so it would typically dock out in the, well it would anchor out in the middle of the river, from what I recall. And we’d get on these longboats and we would go into the villages. So I don’t remember that we ever actually docked, we might have in Phnom Penh. But it seems like we were out in the middle of the water a lot with the longboats coming to transfer us to shore.
Britton: Yeah. So the next is the Danube. And you know, this is always our recommendation for first time river cruisers. Because you have these two segments of the Danube so you can do the upper or the lower, so you have two choices of itineraries there. And then even within the upper Danube, you have so many different itineraries. I know that a cruise company just said that they were going to go to six cities that other cruise companies haven’t. So I mean you have so much variation. And this is a picture of AmaMagna, which is Ama’s double-wide river cruise ships, so if it looks a little bit bigger that’s why. And this is in Austria. Ralph took this picture, I think it’s beautiful. But this kind of just gives you an idea of what you see as you cruise along and what you see when you’re docking.
Britton: You’re going through these small towns but there are always people and you also go to these big towns. You go to Vienna, which is one of my favorite towns. You go to Budapest, which is beautiful and also a great town and you’re just put right in the city. And in Vienna you can easily walk or bike into downtown. It’s just so accessible and it’s just a really great itinerary. And this is the reason that I fell in love with the Danube. And this is the reason why I chose my first Danube itinerary was because I really wanted to go to Salzburg. I used to dress up as Maria Von Trapp, she was my favorite. And if you do happen to go on a cruise that offers the Salzburg excursion, that is so worth it. You actually get to go to these gardens and it was just such a cool experience for me.
Britton: But you see these things and it’s not just the Sound of Music and it’s not just the gardens, but you see all of these things that you’ve seen before. When you go to Budapest, you see, actually if you’ll go to the next slide, Ralph, there are just so many sites that you’ve seen before, be it in movies are in pictures, and just to be able to see those in real life is great. But you have all these different, there are just so many different trips you can do, round trip Vienna, you can go to Nuremberg and Regensburg and the Danube, but I think is just one of the best choices for someone who’s starting to river cruise.
Britton: But then even those who, I’ve done it three times and I will probably do it again this year. I just love this itinerary and it’s so easy to bike and hike and be active, but also to take buses and do gentle walking tours, if you need to. So I really think the Danube does offer something for everyone and that’s what I look for when suggesting itineraries is that there’s something for everyone to be able to do.
Ralph: So this might sound random, but it is connected. Since 2003, who was the godmother of Crystal Serenity an ocean ship? That lady right there, Julie Andrews. Okay. So now it’s my turn.
Britton: Fun fact.
Ralph: Yeah, fun fact. Yeah. Fun fact thrown in there. So now it’s my time. Russia’s Far East, wow. This was probably, I mean I have a hard time ranking my best cruise experiences, but I think this would be it, Russia’s Far East. I did it with Silversea. I know that Crystal will be going there with their new expedition ship, the Crystal Endeavor. And this was just a … here’s my son acting up as normal. So I traveled with Alex on this trip. We went from Nome, Alaska across the Bering Sea, to this shotgun sort of peninsula. And it was like, it’s just, I can’t say enough about this trip.
Ralph: We were always going to shore in Zodiacs to places like you see here. And it was a mix of the culture, which we visited this sort of native tribe here. It was a mix of the culture and the wildlife that made it so special. Kind of like Antarctica, it was just like being on another planet. I just can’t say enough good things about it. There are very limited departures. I think during the year we went, which was probably about five years ago, they were telling us that only 500 cruise ship visitors per year visit Russia’s Far East. But it is a fascinating destination. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Britton: And this is you too, on the Rhone. You have an affinity for France.
Ralph: Yeah. You know, I think the other day I was listening to your podcast, Britton, and Marilyn Conroy talked about the Rhone River being one of her favorite parts of Europe and there’s a good reason for that. You know, it is a wine-producing region. You’ve got Provence there, you’ve got the city of Lyon and the city of Arles where Vincent van Gogh lived, and it’s just a beautiful region.
Ralph: I’ve also heard cruise executives or people in the cruise industry talk about it would be their favorite itinerary because of the shore excursions. There’s just a lot of great excursions on the Rhone River. You can do every, this is a picture of Lyon right here. It’s a very nice walkable city. But you can do everything from truffle hunts to visit a Chateauneuf-du-Pape to visiting the Pope’s Palace in Avignon.
Britton: And chocolate tastings, I saw the other day.
Ralph: And chocolate tasting mixed with red wine, of course. You know, there are just so many good excursions. The bicycling is really good. I’ve done a train ride on the Rhone. We’ve got a really good video posted on Rivercruiseadvisor.com about some of the excursions that we did on the Rhone River, and I just highly recommend it. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous region.
Ralph: And now we go into the Mediterranean. And there he is again. That is my son, Alex, Britton’s brother, Alex. And this is in Malta and wow. I mean Malta, I wouldn’t say that it is sort of emblematic of the Mediterranean, because what I found in Malta was it was like a desert island almost. You didn’t see a whole lot of vegetation there or anything like you would, say for example, maybe you know in the South of France. I mean all of it’s kind of arid, I guess.
Ralph: But that’s the thing about the Mediterranean is you have so many different types of regions and islands and landscapes and that sort of thing. One of my favorite places in the world is, you know, this is Cinque Terre, of course, off the coast of Italy. But one of my favorite places became Crete. And I liked it so much that after I had done a cruise to Crete, I actually booked a vacation there and I went back for a land vacation and stayed for a week and then I did it the year after that as well. And I just really liked the culture there, the people. And it’s representative of the Mediterranean. There’s just so much to do there, so many different cultures and countries. Of course, the Med tops anybody’s list, I guess. And this is Alex again in Rome.
Britton: And when we were putting this together about the Mediterranean, I just want to add that there are so many, again, Mediterranean itineraries, because we were looking at Turkey and we were looking at Croatia and we were like, well, is that part of the Mediterranean? I mean it really, it spans. So there are many options to do there. And that’s part of it as well, is that sometimes you think Italy, but there are more places to see.
Ralph: It’s a great place to pre and post as well. So if you’re, you know, if you’re cruising from Rome, you want to do a pre-trip in Rome, and if you’re ending in Barcelona, you want to do a post-trip in Barcelona. So it’s just a marvelous region.
Ralph: Next we move on to canals. And I only discovered canals, well I discovered them probably sometime in 2003, 04, or 05, or sometime in that region. And I was hooked on my first one. I thought, wow, what a great way to travel. You’re traveling on these narrow canals, like the one that you see here in front of us, and with these towpaths on each side that are good for either walking or biking. And this is Tamera and me, and you can see that we have two bikes and this the barge, the Madeline, is leading us and it’s going, you can see that we could easily catch up because there’s the next lock right in front of it.
Ralph: So they’ll stop at that lock and the ship will have to be lowered again. But we rode about 20 miles that day into Strausberg. We actually wrote into Strausberg on this particular trip. But you can see the beauty, I mean that’s the thing, you’re so close to the beauty of the countryside on these small canals. And this was shot in April quite a few years ago.
Ralph: And this is why I charter myself. I charter barges from quasi-Europe every year since 2014, and I fill those with mainly the readers of Avid Cruise and River Cruise Advisor. So I’ve got three back-to-back this coming April and those are sold out. There is a little thing with these though, I did have a couple that had to cancel, and they actually canceled, they were booked back-to-back. So there are two cruises that were canceled. They made a nonrefundable deposit, so if anybody is interested in taking those cabins, the balance due is not that much, so just reach out to me on River Cruise Advisor.
Ralph: Oh, it looks like me again right? Okay. The Galapagos. My first experience with the Galapagos was just this past September. And it had always been on my bucket list, but for some reason I wasn’t just dying to get there. I thought, okay, I’ll get there one day, whatever. Once I went there I was like, Oh my God, how soon can I come back? And this region it’s just teeming with wildlife.
Ralph: In this picture, you can see Silver Galapagos, which will be replaced by Silver Origin this coming summer. But if you look on the rocks, you’ll see all these orange crabs just everywhere. Now what you do in the Galapagos is you do hikes, so you’ll walk the shoreline, you’ll see these crabs, you’ll see birds and you’ll see other things like that. But you also can do snorkeling from the shoreline or they will take you out in a zodiac for deep water snorkeling. So we typically went snorkeling from the shoreline. We’ve got a great video on Avid Cruiser about it, about our snorkeling experience.
Ralph: We snorkeled with the huge sea turtles that you see, which were so beautiful and graceful. We also saw sharks, that scared us a little bit. So we’re not the bravest people in the world so we turned around and swam back to shore pretty quickly. You would walk past these blue-footed boobys and you know, the animals just weren’t afraid of you at all. I don’t know how to describe it. It was not, I didn’t know what I thought the Galapagos was before I went, but it was definitely a different one from what I was expecting and I really enjoyed it a lot.
Ralph: And this is another one, actually, the Galapagos is another cruise that I will be hosting because it seems like I’m doing more hosting of cruises these days, and I’ll be doing this cruise departure on October 31st on Silver Origin. And if you want more details about that, just go to Avidcruiser.com and reach out to me.
Britton: And we’ll put our email at the end of this as well.
Ralph: Yeah, yeah. And this is one more that I’m hosting. This is 2021, this is September of 2021. But the Moselle River has always ranked among my favorite rivers for just its beauty. You know it has these, I mean there you go, this is last September. I was on Crystal Bach on the Rhine and Moselle River. That cruise is Amsterdam round trip. It’s 11 days. Basically what you do is you cruise from Amsterdam down the Rhine to Koblenz and where most ships go straight, Crystal Bach took a right and we went up river all the way to Trier and just pass beautiful places like this along the way. And there she is.
Ralph: We had gotten off the ship and we were cycling as Crystal Bach was coming in. This is Bernkastel here, and this is the ship that I’ll be hosting a cruise on in September of 2021, so that’s about a year and a half away.
Ralph: But this is a Russian guy. He was on with his wife and they cycled every day and we did too, so we were with them quite a lot. So I think the Moselle and Crystal, they’re kind of a marriage made in heaven, and it was one of the best river cruises that I’ve done.
Britton: And this is the bonus, which we kind of called the weird category. So this is probably the most interesting and weird trip that we’ve ever been on, dad, next slide please.
Britton: So this is Ralph and I in front of the Swedish flag because the Gota Canal is in Sweden, and we went from Stockholm to Gothenburg. And the reason why I really thought it was important to mention the Gota Canal because if you were to do a trip where you ended in Stockholm, this is such a cool way to see Sweden. Now it might not be the most comfortable way to see Sweden, if you’ll go to the next slide, please. This was our stateroom and we didn’t have our luggage in the room. Clearly there was no space and neither of us could be in the room at the same time unless we were in bed. The showers were outside of the stateroom. We had to walk to them in the 50 degree June Swedish weather.
Britton: But that said, it was still one of the most special trips that we have ever taken. And at one point, our ship actually got stuck in the Canal and then if you’ll go to the next slide.
Ralph: Well at one point, at many points.
Britton: And okay, well we got stuck here and they had to come pump water into the Canal because our ship, I remember on the first day, and Ralph remembers this too, that we were kind of getting the rundown of the cruise itinerary from the cruise director, and he says, “Now some parts of the canal are one meter deep and our ship’s draft is one and a half meters.” And one of the women says, “But won’t we scrape the bottom?” And he says, “Oh yes, many times.” And we did and we got stuck.
Britton: But it was just the Swedish countryside is so pretty. And Stockholm is such a great city and Gothenburg is such a great city. And so to be able to have this way to get there and the food was great. And then the last slide, you’ll see that we navigated a series, we navigated so many locks throughout this and we went on the sea and it was just great to be able to hop on the ship and then meet them at the top of the locks. And it was just a pretty cool experience and we got to go to these small towns and all the locals welcomed us and there were people playing music on the side and flowers–
Ralph: People gave us flowers.
Britton: Yeah, and it was just such a cool experience and it would be a really great extension to a cruise.
Ralph: It would be. Yeah. Because you start [inaudible] in the heart of Stockholm at that beautiful city town, and then we find our way to the Gota Canal there. And on this one we were, if I recall, it looks like the back of the ship, but it looks, if I recall, we were coming up this staircase and, oh, that must be the front of the ship, so we were coming up the staircase. We got off, met a friend there and went and had an ice cream and came back and then finally the ship had made it all the way out.
Britton: And it’s a short trip. I mean, that’s why I said it wouldn’t be as good as a standalone, but I think it was like three nights.
Ralph: Yeah. Well, four days. Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, this was one of the most memorable trips that we’ve ever taken. And it was bunk beds back in that stateroom. Those were bunk beds. So if I got out of bed, in order for Britton to get out of bed, I had to leave the room so that she would have room to climb down. And you can see they gave us some nice, beautiful, Swedish strawberries there, which I still think are the best in the world. And a bottle of bubbly there.
Britton: Yeah, it was a great experience. And I will say the majority of the guests were Swedish, but we ended up sitting next to a Swedish couple who were, I mean, they were probably in their seventies and both spoke English perfectly, and we didn’t ever have a hiccup with that at all.
Ralph: Yeah. Right. So those are just a few of the cruise itineraries that we really loved and would recommend to you.