About halfway through our travel experience with Abercrombie & Kent, a standard Luftner Cruises river sailing with additional elements added by A&K, we visited two quaint towns in Germany. Along the way, our small group of travelers enjoyed having not one, but two guides with us for the day and reached a tipping point rather common on river cruises: free time revolt.
Wertheim and Miltenberg are two charming towns in Germany that epitomize what we often think of when recalling previous river cruises or dreaming about future sailings. Ships dock very close to the center of town. Friendly locals are genuinely happy to see us. Sidewalk cafe’s are plentiful and the weather is cooperating. Culinary offerings, unique to the town, range from regional brews to signature sausages, bakery items and more. These are places travelers naturally want to linger at a while.
The Catch 22
A standard and important part of the river cruise experience is an orientation tour of the area, done first for a number of reasons. Many locations have undeniable historic significance, locally-sourced guides present factual information we might not find elsewhere and knowing our way around helps us get the most out of ‘free time’ planned as part of the experience. When all goes well, that free time can be one of the richest, most memorable parts of the entire experience. Unfortunately, if any part of the day falls behind schedule, for any reason, it’s the free time that gets cut short.
At The End Of The Day, It’s Your Vacation
This is where we advise taking charge of your travel experience. Not to ignore the plan laid out by the cruise line, but to focus your attention on the parts you like best. It’s an easy to understand concept on an ocean cruise where there are so many onboard activities that no one could possibly do them all. The same actually holds true to a certain extent with river cruising as well. If spending time in cathedrals is something of interest to you, there are plenty of them on the river. If one of your goals is shopping, there are plenty of opportunities for that as well. The ‘taking charge’ part comes when we make those interests known to guides right up front, at the beginning of the tour.
Practical Advice: Every tour guide I have ever had the pleasure of following on a walking tour had ears and a brain. Ask them at the beginning of the tour how long it will be, how much free time is going to be allowed as well as when and where the group will meet at the end.
Déjà vu The Second Time Around
Walking off the ship in Wertheim, I recalled the same situation happening on a previous river cruise at the exact same location. Then, as now, we went on a walking tour of Wertheim; a small town that really does not take all that long to see. Following my own advice, I broke off from the group and found a nice sidewalk café for breakfast and a cup of coffee.
Later, motor coaches arrived and moved us to Miltenberg; another charming town on the river. I would not have wanted to miss either of them. Still, having a bit more time in one or the other would have been a good idea and one that caused a number of those in our group to reach the tipping point.
Actually, You Do Have A Choice
This is one element of the river cruise experience that cruise lines commonly do not address unless it becomes ‘a problem’. Passengers want to get the most out of their vacation and the thought of breaking off from escorted tours rarely occurs to them.
After all, they are in a foreign land and have placed their safety in the capable hands of the cruise line.
The Abercrombie Difference
In our case, we have not only a local guide with our small group at each stop but an Abercrombie & Kent escort with us every step of the way. Today was a time where the value of that A&K escort paid off as Gabe directed the local guide’s attention to staying on schedule to allow more free time. Not enough, but more.
The Logistics Work Against Free Time
The part of all this that neither the travelers, guides nor escorts have control over is where and when the ships stop. Today, Amadeus Brilliant made what are called technical stops, just long enough for those going on tour to do so. The ship did not take on water, fuel or supplies, just disembarked passengers. It’s a kind of confusing concept so let’s break it down:
- Ship arrives in Wertheim
- Passengers going on tour get off ship
- Ship immediately departs for Miltenberg
- Passengers tour Wertheim
- Passengers take bus to Miltenberg
- Ship arrives in Miltenberg, picks up passengers
- Ship immediately departs for Rudesheim, the next day’s port of call
It’s a tight schedule complicated by going through a number of locks along the way that may or may not go quickly. It’s a first-come, first-served situation that can cause ships to run behind or ahead of schedule.
…But That’s Travel For You
When I say ‘free time revolt’ it’s not like passengers ganged up on the A&K escort, demanding more time to do what they wanted to do. We all know that there is a schedule that we need to stay on to make it to all the places we want to see. Still, we wanted more time in Miltenberg, the tipping point came there simply because the place is so enchanting that group members wanted to shop, have lunch, take photos, or just walk around a while rather than hurrying back to the ship to be on time.
Such is the nature of river cruising though. Ocean cruises have abundant man-made activities and features on board, too numerous to do them all. River cruises feature amazing places, iconic landmarks and potentially life-changing experiences and memory making opportunities, also too numerous to fully engage. Still, passing up a leisurely cup of coffee, drinking in the local scene (or something along those lines) will be a memory to carry forward forever. Sure, skipping part of a tour would mean missing something else that might be better. But that experience that you created, that you took ownership of and you enjoyed can be a golden moment to be treasured forever.
Chris is on location this week, sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent touring Europe by river. On assignment with Porthole Cruise magazine, Chris is covering a variety of topics along the way, testing Boingo Wireless connectivity and a variety of travel products that have been provided for him. As always, Chris provides the details to let readers decide what resonates (or not) with them in an unbiased, factual manner.
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