Bette Midler once said that with all those different countries so close together, Europe is like a giant Disneyland.
And she’s right: waking up every day in another obscenely picturesque country makes it feel like you’re just popping from attraction to attraction at Epcot – except without the churros, and kids throwing up on your Prada man bag.
And of course, the scenery is real. Taking a river cruise means sailing past castles, gothic bridges and over-the-top palaces. It’s like an E-ticket ride where alcohol is served.
But being a newbie to the river cruise scene can mean making mistakes that impact the quality of your cruise. So, herewith are some tips for making the most out of yours.
- Check what’s included in your fare. As a rule, river cruise vacations include a bit more than ocean cruises (which partially explains the higher price), but the handful of tour operators who charter gay river cruises can vary substantially. Brand g Vacations – the undisputed leader in this segment – offers the most all-inclusive experience, usually including two nights in a pre- or post-cruise hotel (4.5 or 5-star), transfers, shore tours and unlimited adult beverages. Basically, everything but your airfare.
- Start with the biggies. If you’re not a frequent European traveler, go for the big-name cities first – like an Upper Danube itinerary, which includes Prague, Vienna and Budapest, and is like a greatest hits of river cruising.
- Know that, other than the size of your windows, all standard rooms on a European river cruise ship are exactly the same. Ocean cruises can have 20 different categories of rooms. Not so on river cruise ships. Sure, there are some glamorous suites. But otherwise, all rooms are identical, except that the lowest floor only has smallish porthole windows, while the upper floors have walls of glass that open. (Actual balconies are rare, except for suites.)
- Also know that – depending on your budget, of course – the upper floors are worth it. While that room on the bottom deck is identical, that upper deck room, with its huge windows, gives you incredible views of the passing scenery. So, you can lie in bed and take photos of German castles and say things like, “Imagine the dungeon in that ”
- You will likely have to sit with others, at least at dinner. River cruise ships generally have one main dining room (with a secondary venue for those who don’t want the full meal experience), and tables for two are somewhat rare. It’s mostly four- and six-tops. But take this as an opportunity to meet new people. We’ve made great, lifelong friends by saying, “Would you mind if we joined you?”
- Pace yourself. Some companies, like Brand g, include unlimited adult beverages. Which means the drinks aren’t going anywhere. Why ruin days 3 and 4 by partying so hard on days 1 and 2 that you can’t get out of bed? We’ve seen it happen. A lot.
- Cruise guests are divided into small groups for the daily shore tours, but you can pick which group you’d like to join. Choose one that contains people you’ve connected with. Shore excursions are enhanced by doing them with new friends.
- Don’t miss the post-dinner shows. Straight cruises feature clogging and talks about migratory birds, which might make you want to throw yourself over the side. Gay cruises up the ante considerably. Brand g, for example, books Tony-winning cabaret performers and iconic comedians or drag queens, so you’re getting big ship entertainers on a river cruise. Best of all, the performers are often on the ship for the entire week, so you have the chance to get to know them as real, live human beings.
- Take advantage of the opportunity to dine off the ship. The tendency is to say, “Well, I paid for the ship meals” and to head back automatically from your shore tour at lunch or dinner time. But once or twice, stay in the city and enjoy a meal there. The memories are so worth it, and you don’t lose valuable sightseeing time walking back and forth from the city center to the ship.
- Plan to spend some time in the pre- or post-cruise city. Sometimes those nights are included (there are almost always two hotel nights included with Brand g), but if not, add them on. European cruises tend to depart from, or end up in incredible cities like Prague, Amsterdam, Budapest, Madrid, etc., and to miss really seeing them would be a crime.
Now you’re ready to river cruise like a pro, and enjoy the giant Disneyland that is Europe. Just remember, on a gay river cruise, the only animated bears are onboard.
Eric Poole is Director of Marketing for Brand g Vacations, the Leader in All-LGBT River Cruises and Land Tours.