Cruise on European Rivers - with cruise director, Nancy Paredes
>> I met Nancy Peredes, a professional river cruise director for Avalon Waterways, at this year's New York Times Travel Show, fell in love with her energetic personality, and asked her if she would discuss European river cruising with me in preparation for an article. Not only was she delighted to comply, her photographer husband, Peter Nagy, pitched in, too.
[Photos: To illustrate this article, photos are presented at random. Hold your cursor over each picture to reveal its location.]
River Cruising in North America
Many North Americans who cruise rivers, inland lakes, and canals via their houseboats, cabin cruisers and/or yachts believe they thoroughly understand the pleasures of multi-day, water travel. They appreciate lush landscape wherever they travel and, in some cases, savor the appearance of cities that are a few hundred years old.
Unlike in Europe, very few North American inland waterways are serviced by cruise lines specializing in overnight voyages. With the exception of "small ship" cruise services provided by the American Cruise Lines and the American Canadian Caribbean Line, cruising in North America via a cruise line is usually done on coastal excursion vessels that, once out of port, head to other countries.
River Cruising in Europe
The rivers of Europe do, indeed, expose you to spectacular, natural landscapes. They also expose you to the history of Western civilization, from pre-Roman times to modern metropolises, all of which you can appreciate from the decks of commercial river cruise boats.
Consider that along many rivers in Europe, you can still see ancient Roman ruins, from foundations to full amphitheaters, such as in Rouen (lower Seine Valley), Tournus (River Saône), and Lyon (Rhone River). Interested in more evidence of Roman past? The cliff sculpture of King Decebalus (carved between 1994 and 2004), marks the spot of the Dacian king's last battle, when he fell against the Roman Emperor Trajan in 100 AD. It is located in the Kazan gorge of the River Danube, near the City of Orsova, Romania.
In addition to Europe's mighty rivers are man-made canals that connect rivers and/or inland lakes. Not all of these bodies of water are level with one another, so to navigate up or down hill, the water level in some canals is controlled by a gated chamber (lock). A series of locks, for example, can be stepped to connect ships sailing on a stream at a hill's base to a large lake on that hill's top.
The original locks used wooden gates that could last as long as 50 years. By the middle of the 15th century, engineers, including artist Leonardo da Vinci, strove to improve the mechanical life of those gates, ultimately giving birth to Europe's current canal and lock systems. One of Nancy's favorite lock experiences is located on the Main Danube canal, where her boat travels up or down (depending on direction) 81 feet in 30 minutes. On top of the lock, a stunning valley spreads out before you, while on the bottom, looking up the lock's walls, she says that you feel like a tiny spider on the floor of a bathtub.
Ships that travel through locks are built to specifications that dictate depth, width, and height. All require advanced access permission that includes specific arrival dates and times. A captain's failure to meet a lock schedule can result in a significant amount of lost cruising time. Consequently, all cruise lines that ply Europe are very schedule-conscious. Guests who miss their ship's departure must take a bus, taxi or train to the next port or lock.
Nancy cruises along the Rhine, Main, Danube and Mosel, covering the architecturally stunning countries of Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
To give you an idea of the amazing things you'll see along these waterways, consider the section between Rudesheim to Koblenz, Germany, where numerous castles/ruins sit on the peaks of the Rhine's gorge walls. For a dramatic look at this location right now, view the TLC Series - Great Castles of Europe, along with other stunning pictures on the website, www.Loreley-Info.com.
The Lorelei (or "Loreley") of the Rhine is a sea nymph (mermaid) who tricks sailors who do not pay attention to navigation along these beautiful, but rocky, shores. On the Danube, her sister's name is "Isa." Today, Isa is seen as a statue on top of the treacherous Rock of Jochenstein in Donau (Bavaria), Germany. Fortunately, with today's navigational devices and up-to-date charts, personally meeting either nymph on the rocky shores is rare.
As I wrote earlier in this article, North American river cruisers do so on their own houseboats, cabin cruisers, or yachts and the sights they see are wonderful, but not necessarily historic or architecturally significant. In Europe, however, most river cruising takes place on commercial vessels that are designed for the express purpose of sightseeing. North Americans on European river cruisers appreciate:
- Guided tours of historic places, both on and off their ships.
- Hotel comfort while on the move.
- English as the spoken language.
- Professionally served meals featuring local food and beverages.
- Freedom from researching routes, studying charts, and worrying about rough weather.
- Shared insights and the company of fellow travelers.
- Enough time to enjoy the beauty of Europe without rush, confusion, or continuous repacking.
Due to limited vacation time, North American tourists are often struck with the desire to "see all of Europe, and see it quickly." To fulfill that need, bus tours, offering services combining "7 days, 7 countries," are popular. Unfortunately, this type of daily travel, with limited visibility from bus windows and excessive cathedral visits, can quickly wear out "packing and unpacking" tourists, leaving them with an exhausted, "been there, seen that," checklist attitude.
While a multi-day European river cruise can introduce its passengers to several countries at a time, it does so in a leisurely, highly-informative, visually stimulating, extremely social atmosphere; an experience that becomes easy to remember, which is what most people want when they invest in a vacation.
Nancy's job as an European River Cruise Director differs greatly from an Ocean Cruise Director on a big ship. She is solely responsible for guest arrangements (socializing, touring, dining, informing) on what is considered in the cruise industry to be a "small ship" - one that holds under 135 passengers.
Unlike an ocean cruise director, her primary job is to keep her guests informed. While she can arrange optional tours, most tours are included in the price of the fare and she does not push merchandise sales either on or off the ship. Her guests are therefore free to examine interesting communities without being encouraged to buy a thing.
Nancy is the most proud of her ability to encourage close-knit "cruising communities" for their time under sail. Her guests come together to hear talks and music played by local artists, plus share information through socializing while on and off the boat. She believes that of all the European tour types available, river cruising provides the most enjoyable and memorable experiences. How does she know? She's worked throughout the tour industry for over 25 years.
More about Nancy Paredes
Nancy is one of the few, American female river cruise directors on a European cruise line, and the only woman cruise director at Avalon Waterways, where she is currently employed. She began her career in 1983 and has worked in all phases of tourism, including tours by bus, plane, and train, in addition to river cruising.
Prior to her present position, she worked in the European river cruise industry for six years. She chose to work for Avalon Waterways because, as she puts it, "Avalon features the newest cruise boats in Europe" and they "have the biggest cabins, with none smaller than 172 square feet." Nice ships with comfy cabins make her guests happy, all of which helped to build her "guest satisfaction" rating to over 97%.
Links and Other Information
A brief, but well-written article about How to Become a Cruise Ship Director can be found on Articlesbase.com. Also, if you are interested in this career-track, join the Cruise Lines International Association - CLIA. This reasonably-priced association (under $300) is loaded with cruise-related tips, webinars, standard classroom sessions, and boat inspection opportunities. To join, you must be aligned with a travel professional, so get to know a local travel agency and ask if they can sponsor you.
The most well-known European river cruise companies are:
Want to book an European river cruise? For more information, contact an authorized travel consulting service, such as provided by Littleviews Travel.
Should you book on-line or through an agent? While on-line and agent prices are usually the same, if you want to best attend to details, such as air travel dates, layovers before and after a voyage, transportation from an airport to and from cruise points, potential air-travel interruptions due to unforeseen circumstances, questions about accessibility or the lack thereof, and keep track of companion travel, you might be better served by developing a relationship with a well-informed agent.
Questions? Ask Karen at Karen@littleviews.com
Article by Karen Little based on March 2010 interviews with Nancy Paredes. Photos by Peter Nagy. First published on 4/25/2010. All rights on article reserved by www.Littleviews.com. All rights on photos reserved by Peter Nagy. If you wish to reproduce this article as a whole in any way, please contact Karen Little of www.littleviews.com.