Last month, I was invited by Riviera River Cruises to sail on one of the line’s unique solo-only departures. I wrote about my first impressions of Riveria River Cruises, but this week I want to highlight the solo experience. Read my first impressions here
I always say that my favorite part about river cruising is that there is something for everyone, on this trip I found that especially true.
When people heard me talking about a solo-only trip, most people assumed I meant a singles trip. Though I laughed at the idea of a riverboat full of seniors looking for a hook up, it made me wonder what the crowd on the ship was going to look like. I assumed that there would be hardly any men on board, if any, as I thought these cruises would be more appealing to single women looking to travel in a way that they felt safe. My assumptions were partially true but, luckily for those women who were looking for some action, there were quite a few men on board.
Our sailing was made up of nearly equal parts solo travelers and passengers who were traveling with friends or family. One of the group of men on board was a family: a widower, Peter, his brother-in-law, Roland, and their cousin, Chris. It was the first trip that Peter had taken since he had lost his wife and Roland’s first since the passing of his sister.
The small group I traveled with was comprised of three ladies and me. Two of the women in my group had partners at home who couldn’t (or didn’t want to) join. There were other groups of friends traveling together like my friends Allison and Angela, who had both lost their husbands but became best friends while they worked together at a school. They have been traveling together since and even have another Riviera cruise planned to see the Christmas markets.
Not everyone was traveling with friends, though. I was surprised to see another “young person” on our ship. Generally, the average age on a river cruise ship is around 60 so when I saw 36 year-old Holly, I made a bee line to meet my new best friend. Holly is a pharmacist and chose the trip because she appreciated Riviera’s shore excursion offerings: “I wanted to take this trip because I really like history. Some of the other tours I looked at had biking and hiking options and I just thought, I don’t need all that. I want to learn about the towns. The solo aspect was really appealing as well.”
Perhaps my favorite “group” on the sailing was David and his mother Colleen. “We help each other,” they told me when I sat down with them in the dining room. David had a brain tumor, which was discovered on a family trip to California a few years ago. Since then, he has required a bit of extra help. His elderly mother, nearing 90, also needs a bit of extra help to do things. David was great about carrying her walker and holding her hand as she navigated her way onto and off of the boat. They travel with Riviera often choosing solo trips because it allows them to have their own rooms and independence but also to be there to help each other.
Lastly, I need to speak of my hiking buddy. Jenny is a 72 year-old badass, even though she didn’t seem to like it very much when I used that term… She was down for any adventure, from taking the cable cars in Boppard and Rudesheim to climbing 533 steps to the top of Cologne’s cathedral. Jenny is a widow who also recently lost a son to diabetes but, as an old physical education teacher, she knows that she has to stay active and moving to keep herself going. She challenged me to face my fear of heights, huffed and puffed with me up many stairs, indulged in a few fabulous cocktails with me, and kept me laughing the whole time. I so enjoyed getting to know her.
Though many others on board were fit and joined us in our antics, there were others, like Colleen and David, who were not able to partake in those activities. Some of the passengers opted to stay on the ship for most of our stops, but others managed their way into town. Normally, Riviera would have a gentle walking tour for passengers who needed a bit of extra time or assistance but, because of the size of our group, they did not offer a gentle tour on our sailing. Instead, our Cruise Director, Peter, would take the slower walkers into town and do a modified tour with them, showing them sights of interest and where to meet to get back to the ship. The walking tours were strenuous for some, but even those with wheelchairs and walkers were able to do some of them. It just depended on their level of comfort and ability.
I want to give a full review of my Riviera experience, but it was important for me to share with you the types of travelers I met on my trip. This sailing was very inspiring for me. As a young person, I feel liberated in being able to do things by myself. I am able to use my cell phone to direct me if I’m lost, I am able to walk long distances, I have a good memory, etc. I don’t think that I ever take that for granted, but I do recognize that it’s a privilege that I have.
As many people get older, especially after losing a spouse, they get more fearful. Traveling abroad can seem scary, especially alone, not only because you are going somewhere new but also because there are so many logistics from making the river cruise booking to flights and baggage to ground transportation. Riviera makes sure that every passenger who books with the company uses a travel advisor, meaning that you will always have someone to help you or advocate for you if something goes wrong. Riviera also offers a guarantee on all of its river cruises, so if you are not satisfied you can leave the sailing and get a full refund, though I truly do not see how anyone would want to leave Riviera’s wonderful ships.
This sailing was a learning experience for me. In many ways, the solo only aspect made it one of the most welcoming on board environments I’ve experienced. So, for those of you who are looking to take the first step to travel alone but are scared, Riviera may be a good starting point. I was so inspired by my fellow travelers to continue to explore on my own. What are you waiting for?