For more than 20 years, I’ve traveled the world professionally as a former Travel Channel host and now a PBS producer and host. I still can’t believe I get paid to explore far-off places, meeting incredible people along the way. As any traveler knows, the more places you see, the more you want to see. Though I’ve checked many adventures off my bucket list, one eluded me until last summer: a European riverboat cruise.
River cruising is to Europe what road tripping is to the U.S. It’s the epic, romantic trip that’s as much about the journey as it is the destination. There are many ways to explore Europe—by train, plane and teeny automobile with a scooter engine. When you go by riverboat, no moment is wasted. Getting from A to B is a feast for the eyes, without fighting traffic or sharing a sleeper car with a snoring stranger. Instead of a car bingo board featuring semitrucks and gas stations, the river cruise version could boast 11th-century cathedrals, fairy-tale castles, sprawling vineyards and more. BINGO! Now doesn’t that sound more fun?
Riverboats harness everything that’s great about cruising. You only unpack once and sleep in the same bed every night, with access to incredible tours, excursions and cultural experiences. Unlike giant ocean liners, riverboats provide an intimate travel experience. Even the largest European river ship, AmaWaterways’ AmaMagna, accommodates just 194 passengers. This ship offers spacious staterooms (who’s ever used the word “spacious” to describe European accommodations? I’m talking double vanities, people!); dining venues with gourmet cuisine; spa services (hello, foot massage after a day clocking 16,000 steps!); and a sun deck with heated pool. You may not want to travel any other way. Did I mention I have the amazing honor of being the AmaMagna’s godmother?
What’s more, river cruising makes what could be a stressful travel experience a breeze. So often, we try to pack too much into the vacation of our dreams. I get it—a European trip is a vacation of a lifetime, and you want to squeeze every last drop out of it; however, it’s hard to be fully present when you’re tackling all the logistics yourself. Why not let a seasoned pro plan all the hard stuff, such as transportation, tickets and reservations? When you don’t have to focus on the nitty-gritty details (and try to use Google Translate to figure out what in the heck every sign says!), it’s easier to soak up the beauty and history.
Last summer, my husband and I brought our five-year-old twins on a Rhine River cruise. Between the long flight, jet lag and sleeping in an unfamiliar place, a whirlwind European vacation with two almost-kindergarteners could’ve spelled disaster. With the framework our ship provided, however, the trip was magical. The four of us explored Germany’s Heidelberg Castle; learned about Gutenberg’s printing press in Mainz, Germany; and pretended we were the stars of our own fairy tale on the cobblestone streets of Strasbourg, France. The best part? Not once did I hear them ask, “Are we there yet?” Because from the moment we embarked, we were already there.