Finding the right cruise line, ship and itinerary might is a challenging part of the process. There are a bunch of them, all sailing to interesting places we may have dreamed about for a lifetime. Iconic landmarks we have seen in films and on TV spring to life and have real meaning after visiting them too.
The fact that Europe contains more UNESCO World Heritage sites than anywhere else on the planet does not hurt the odds for a good travel experience either. But then we need to pack. Already familiar with Caribbean cruising, many travelers have that sort of packing down to a science. What to pack for a river cruise in Europe? That’s an entirely different animal requiring different skills.
Upgrade Your Smartphone– Generation after generation of smartphone cameras make capturing images along the way as we travel easier all the time. The latest smartphones, iPhones or Android devices, have the very best image capturing sharing ability ever. Before you buy a new camera for your upcoming cruise, consider upgrading your smartphone to the latest available. You know you want to anyway, now here is the reason you need to do just that. Odds are you will spend far less on a new smartphone than a new camera with similar capabilities.
Upgrade Your Apps– Unlike ocean cruising, the world of river cruising enjoys a bounty of geo-specific apps to help us enjoy the experience.
Comfortable, flat walking shoes– Much of the good stuff is seen on included walking tours you will not want to miss. Many of those experiences happen on centuries-old cobblestone streets that are uneven at best. Add in a 45-degree incline or decline and sure footedness is a must. Bonus tip: Buy those shoes well in advance of travel. You do not want to be breaking in a new pair of shoes on tour.
A Travel Vest/Jacket/Sportcoat– We liked the Bluffworks Travel Blazer ($295) the star of our show, and a brilliant star it is. After trying a half-dozen different travel blazers, this one is the best ever. Here’s why:
- Lots Of Pockets But Not Too Many- The Bluffworks Travel Blazer has ten which is plenty. The ScottEVest had a mind-boggling 26 pockets often causing me to mumble “I know it’s in here somewhere”.
- Zippered Storage- This is the one you need for your passport. If you are going to lose anything when traveling internationally, it can not be your passport.
- Hidden Cash/Credit Card Pocket- also appropriate to have a handy pocket to store these valuable items in the same place, every time.
- Machine Washable- I was skeptical. I would never throw Christian Dior in the washing machine. The Bluffworks Travel Blazer fabric looks and feels like equal quality to what Christian uses.
- Not Bulky But Nearly Indestructible- I am not sure what “100% technical, breathable, mechanical stretch” fabric means but it works. Technically it’s polyester, but to say so is unfair.
- Cool In A Number Of Ways- Unlined sleeves and a perforated back lining leave the LLBean sweat shop-type model in the dust and also make for a more stylish look.
- So Easy To Pack/Wear You’ll Want Two- Available in ‘classic’ and ‘slim’ fit, I have both. This would be today’s version of bringing more generous fitting pants for use later in a voyage.
A Comfortable, Touring Backpack And What Is In It– Tours range in length from an hour to multi-hour events when you will be away from the ship, either walking on foot or driving in a Motorcoach.. That’s any ship, any cruise line: part of the deal. Add those to your personal items that include:
- Your Smartphone is really smart in Europe, especially if your hosting plan is with T-Mobile
- Backup Battery Power- You will want the ability to charge your phone three times. Verify this before being on the bus with no power backup.
- Local Currency- You’ll want €Euro for two things on tour: To buy stuff and to tip guides/drivers. €1-2 is plenty for the tip and €coins are a good choice for that. Equally important €.50 Euro coins to use restrooms.
- A Hand-Held Map Of The Area- most ships have these readily available as you walk off the ship. Important to have because not everyone we meet along the way will have the apps noted in #2
- Snacks- My current list: KIND Bars,
- Your (Comfortable) Headphones- Two uses: In case the tour guide is boring for some other listening opportunity and the cruise line’s headphones are probably not as good as yours. Important because information on tours passed from guide to group member with electronic devices the cruise line maintains, some better than others.
Social Skills-…if you have some. If not, that’s OK too, you will gain them rather quickly. Yes, the destinations are a big focus on river cruises. Also a big part of it all is the shared experience one has with other passengers on board. This is not a scary and uncomfortable situation whatsoever though. In fact, the intense destination focus enables even the shyest of shy people to enjoy this element. On tours, around the ship, at mealtimes, you will be enjoying the company of other like-minded people, mostly from North America, the UK and Australia.
Flexibility– River cruises are a different animal than ocean cruises and not only because of where they sail. Ocean cruises run a fairly straightforward itinerary from place to place on the published itinerary. Whenever the ship sails, all passengers are on board. River cruises may drop passengers at one location then sail on, rendezvousing with passengers later in the day, further up or down the river.
Clothes– When we think of packing, first thoughts usually turn to clothes. When thinking about what to pack for a river cruise in Europe, clothes are obviously on the list as well, just not as prominent.
Generally speaking, river cruises are less formal than ocean cruises, sort of like how Alaska Cruises are less formal than most Caribbean ocean cruises. More now than ever, the focus of any defines the experience. Make that a river cruise where the spotlight is far more on-the-shore than on ship. That makes what to bring on a river cruise something travelers can enjoy as they choose comfortable walking shoes for a tour of an amazing place over which formal wear to bring for dinner.
Chris Owen shares frank, inside information about cruise vacations on ChrisCruises.com.