River cruising is gaining popularity—and why wouldn’t it? It takes you to places where nature, culture, history and exotic lifestyles blow your mind. Cruise journalist Jane Archer is happy to share her experiences. Enjoy the show!

 

 
 

Margaret Manning:

My guest today is Jane Archer. Jane is an award winning cruise journalist who loves cruising like many of us do. Jane writes for the Daily Telegraph and spends half of her life on cruise ships around the world. I’m so happy we have got you here today, Jane. Welcome.

Jane Archer:

Thank you very much.

Margaret:

So many women in our community love to cruise, including myself, but we know so little about the wonderful options available.

Jane:

Let’s hope I can enlighten you a little bit.

Margaret:

A lot of people are really interested in river cruising. I took my first river cruise last year with Viking, and I loved it. I’ve done both river and ocean cruising, but I really did love river cruising. In your opinion, what are some of the advantages of river cruising over ocean cruising?

Jane:

There are a lot of advantages, to be honest. The obvious one is that if you are on river cruise, you have a view the whole. Even if you are sailing, you are going to see the land on both sides, so you’ve always got a view.

They organise the itineraries in a way which will ensure there is a bit of sailing time on a lovely sunny day. Then, you can go up onto the sundeck, glass of wine in your hand, and just sit and watch the world go by. It’s absolutely fantastic.

The other positive thing about river cruising is that it takes you right to the very heart of some of the most magnificent cities in the world. They’re all amazing places that you can go to, and they were all built up on the rivers because, of course, in the old days, that was the means of transport.

There were no roads or cars back then. Everyone travelled by river. So they built these fantastic cities beside the river. If you were a prince, and somebody was sailing by, they’d know you were rich and important.

Margaret:

They’d see how big your castle was.

Jane:

Absolutely. If you are a Bishop, they’d see how fantastic your cathedral or your church is, and so on. That’s why these magnificent places grew up alongside the riverbanks.

River cruising gives you all the standard cruising benefits as well. You get on board, you unpack and that’s it. You get off for tours, but unlike other means of touring, you don’t constantly have to pack and unpack and repack. Everything is there for you. You’ve got all of your meals laid out, too.

Also, you don’t have to worry about sea sickness. This is an awful subject to bring up, but some people do worry about that. They worry about going on an ocean cruise, because they fear that they may get mal de mer. If you go on a river cruise, there will be no problems of this nature.

Margaret:

I know what you mean about sitting upon the sunroof with a glass of wine in your hand. It’s as if the vessel is going on glass. The movement is so smooth, you might as well be just sitting in your living room. You can hold the glass of wine in your hand, and it wouldn’t spill. It’s a beautiful experience.

Jane:

Absolutely. You are just gliding along and watching the views on either side. It is superb.

Margaret:

There are a lot of rivers on the planet, and not just in Europe—they are all over the place. What are some of the highlights of river cruising? Which routes would you recommend in Asia and Europe?

Jane:

Interestingly, I’ve discovered that there are so many rivers that people have not even heard of. It’s amazing how many places there are with rivers. We’ve all heard of the Rhine and the Danube, and they are fantastic in their own right. But if you’ve done those, what else is there?

One of the big routes in Europe at the moment is the Douro cruise. The Douro is a river in Northern Portugal, and this is a trip within the Portuguese borders. You start off in Porto and sail along the Douro as far as the border with Spain.

This is followed by a day trip to Salamanca, which is in Spain, and then you are back onto your ship and you sail back to Porto. It is an out and back route, but along the way you see some of the beautiful country side.

This is wine growing, port wine area. You get to see all of the vineyards on these impossibly steep slopes, and it’s an amazing sight. Porto in at one end and Salamanca is at the other. They are both absolutely fantastic.

Salamanca is Spain before the Brits got there. It is absolutely beautiful. Porto is also lovely, but in a completely different way. It has a faded elegance, and it’s built on several hills which you’ve got to go up and down on. I love it; it’s absolutely worth going to see.

In the meantime, there are plenty of opportunities to taste the port wine. There are some little villages that you visit, and it is a fantastic experience. If you go in the summer—I think I was there last August—the weather is absolutely glorious as well.

Margaret:

I’ve never thought of the Douro in Portugal? Are there any particular cruise lines that you would recommend?

Jane:

Several different good cruise lines offer trips on the Douro. Viking, The Waterways and Uniworld River Cruises have ships there. Emerald Waterways are starting up there this year, releasing their first cruise lines.

The French company CroisiEurope is launching one of their new ships this year, which will give them about four ships on the Douro. This is an amazingly popular ride now.

Margaret:

It sounds wonderful. Is there anything in France?

Jane:

Most certainly. Rhone is the big one at the moment; everybody seems to be going to the Rhone. The Seine is also a fantastic river cruise, but it’s an out and back from Paris. Obviously, you’ve got Paris at one end, and you’ve really got to have at least a night in Paris to enjoy the city.

At the other end you’ve got Noir which is where Joan of Ark was burned at the stake. That is an interesting place to see, and so are the Normandy landing beaches. There are a whole host of different places and things that you can go and visit.

Auvers-sur-Oise was where Vincent van Gogh lived for a very short time and then put an end to his life. You can learn all about his life there. The guide on the tour I went to knew everything that there was to know about Vincent van Gogh, and it was amazing to listen to the story of his life.

The Rhone tour basically takes you from Leon down to the Mediterranean, down to Avignon and to Arles. If you are into painting, Arles is also where Vincent van Gogh used to do a lot of his painting.

Avignon’s Palais des Papes, is a fantastic place where the Popes used to live. Leon is known as the gastronomic capital of France, so if you like food you will enjoy Leon. Also, you are coming down through wine country, so you’ve got plenty of wine tasting you can do en route.

Still in France, you can do a cruise from Bordeaux which is, again, very much in the wine regions. The cruise itself is not a very long cruise. It’s a combination of three rivers: the Garonne, the Gironde and the Dordogne. It goes through all of these fantastic wine growing regions and Bordeaux itself.

Bordeaux is the most amazing city, and you will have at least one day there to enjoy it. So this is an overview of the French cruises. If you really want to go the whole way, you can put them together, which would be a fantastic experience.

Margaret:

A month in Europe sounds wonderful.

Jane:

You can do two cruises together, i.e., the Rhone and the Seine—come off the Rhone and go on the Seine or vice versa. Or you can pack all three of them together. It would be a fantastic French experience.

Margaret:

That sounds truly amazing. What you’ve just described fits what you mentioned at the very beginning, that the rivers are at the heart and soul of these countries. They were a means of transport and economy, so the beautiful cities that were built along them are full of history. If you’ve got any interest in history, art, painting or textiles, these river cities are a great place to visit.

Jane:

Absolutely. These cities were built to be absolutely beautiful and stunning in order to catch the attention of people coming by. That’s why they are so beautiful.

Everyone has heard of the Danube, but cruising into Budapest past the Parliament building is just absolutely stunning. That city is glorious. And it’s not the only one.

The river cruises take you past so many fantastic places. Vienna is also on the Danube, and I think Vienna is possibly one of my most favorite cities in the world. It is absolutely glorious.

Margaret:

You mentioned so many places I’ve visited by train, and I know that approach is nice too as train stations are right in the middle of the city. But I think there’s something magical when approaching a city on the water.

The Viking cruise that I did was on the Rhine, and it left me with so many memories. The one I love most is when we went down that point where the castles are on both sides of the river.

Jane:

That’s the Gorge.

Margaret:

Yes, the Gorge. When you stand on the deck with the loudspeaker telling the history of the castles and how they’ve changed hands three of four times in the hundreds of years they’ve been there, you’re left feeling the importance of this place.

I think that when you’re over 60, you want your travels to teach you something. You want to absorb some of the history and culture of the places you’re visiting. It’s not just a frivolous and fun trip, it’s a learning experience.

Jane:

Absolutely. There is so much history and culture going on in these places. You come away with so much information and new knowledge. It is a fantastic experience, which I really love.

Margaret:

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Now you made me want to go to Portugal and do the Porto cruise. I haven’t been to Porto, but I’ve heard it’s an elegant and beautiful city.

Jane:

It is absolutely lovely, but you should pack your walking shoes, because going up and down those hills is pretty tough.

Margaret:

Is it hilly? I think Porto might be on seven hills. I have a passion to visit the world cities built on seven hills.

Jane:

Rome, obviously, is your starting point.

Margaret:

There’s Rio, Moscow and Seattle as well. I’m really excited about these cruises because they are the ones I think women over 60 would love. River cruising itself has got a lot going for it.

Moving to Asia, which cruises would you recommend over there?

Jane:

There are a lot of river cruises on offer in Asia. Asia is fantastic, and it is really coming of age now in terms of river cruising. Everyone probably knows of the Yangtze river in China. It was the top line for quite some time, but it’s been knocked off the top spot by the lower Mekong which takes you through Cambodia and Vietnam.

So you are sailing from Siem Reap—where you’ve got Angkor Wat and the fantastic temples—to Ho Chi Min City, which is the most wonderful place. It is lively, and vibrant, and, of course, it’s got the history and the culture as well. It’s an extraordinary place.

One of the newest routes is the Irrawaddy, which operates since Myanmar has opened up to tourists. It’s become a hugely popular cruise. You can do either from YanGon right up to Mandalay; from YanGon up to Bagan, or you can do a shorter one from Bagan to Mandalay.

There are many options you can choose from, and what you are going to see there are some fantastic temples and pagodas. You’ll visit people and workshops and see life as it was in Asia 30-40 years ago.

The scene is changing though; over the very few years that I’ve been going there I’ve noticed a change. So if you want to see all the history and culture still untouched, I would recommend you go now.

I’d like to quickly touch up on several routes I did recently. I went on the Red River in Vietnam, which takes you from Halong Bay—which everyone would have heard of through the great city of Hanoi. On route you are visiting little villages and workshops, and you are finding out how the local people live.

We visited a house where they were making the Vietnamese conical hats. It’s painstaking work, but it’s fantastic to see them doing it.

The most recent cruise I just did was in India on the Brahmaputra river, which is in Asam. This is the most fantastic river cruise in Asam in North Eastern India, and it takes you right off the beaten track. You are getting to places which are probably very difficult and uncomfortable to reach by road.

Cruising is a comfortable way to do it. You’re seeing people in little villages and towns that you have never heard of. You’re discovering what their lives are like, and it’s fantastic, because they are just as thrilled to see you. They took pictures of us, because it’s all such a new experience for everybody.

Margaret:

They actually live on the river and do their business on the river. They sell food and work— it’s their livelihood.

Jane:

Absolutely. They are so remote because using the roads is not really a very convenient way to travel in this part of the world. So actually, they still use the river to go about.

Margaret:

On these cruises that you’ve mentioned, the Irrawaddy, the Mekong, etc., how big are the boats?

Jane:

Actually, it varies a lot. There are ones that are from about 30-35 passengers, right up to larger ones which will hold about 120. Pays your money and takes your choice, really.

Margaret:

That’s not many, if you think about the average boat size. When people think about cruising, they often think that the smallest ship is the one that holds 400 to 500 people. The ones you mention are tiny ships that can get right into the heart of the place.

Jane:

That is actually something that is worth mentioning, and I should have talked about it in the beginning. Boat size is one of the big differences between river cruising and ocean cruising.

In Europe, the biggest river ships hold about 200 passengers, and you can go right down to 70. Then, when you go over to Asia, the ships get smaller. When I did the Red River route, the boat we were on was colonial style, absolutely beautiful. The cabins opened up on a narrow promenade deck all around, which was really lovely. It held 32 passengers.

Margaret:

What lines would you recommend in Asia?

Jane:

AmaWaterways and Uniworld have cruises on the Mekong. If you are talking about the Irrawaddy, one option to look at might be Belmond. They’ve got two out there actually. The one I went on with them is Orcaella which holds 50 passengers and was a lovely experience.

There’s also a company called Sanctuary Retreats. They have the Sanctuary Ananda which I think was about 42 passengers. Again, it was a fabulous experience to cruise with them on the Irrawaddy.

Another big name out there is Pandaw. They have cruises on the Mekong and the Irrawaddy. I cruised with them on the Red River. You can also book the Brahmaputra route through them.

Saga also offer the Brahmaputra route. It’s worth getting in touch with Saga if the Brahmaputra holds an appeal. It’s on a boat called the Mahabaahu.

Margaret:

Saga is a good idea because you’ve mentioned they are a company focused on people over 50.

Jane:

Absolutely, and they package everything together for you. It’s the easy way to do it because the package includes the flights and any transfers that you will need to get you out there.

Margaret:

That’s a great idea. You’ve been on lots of different river cruises, would you say there is a good percentage of older people that travel? Not that age has to make any difference, but what would you say is the demographic?

Jane:

Actually, river cruising is still mostly appealing to those 60 and over.

Margaret:

I had a feeling that was the case. On the Viking cruise I did, the demographic was 50 and up

Jane:

In most cases, when I’m on river cruises, I’m finding myself surrounded with people who are very close to retirement or have been retired for some time. I think this is a great shame. I know your audience is over 60, and cruising is a wonderful holiday for people over 60.

But actually, it’s also a wonderful holiday for people who are in their 50s or in their 40s. Cruising is the easiest way to see all those beautiful places and learn about the different cultural backgrounds.

Margaret:

I think there’s a stereotype about cruising in general. I remember when I was in my 30s and 40s I would never think of cruising. It was for old people, and why would you do it? It’s boring. I wish I had started river cruising earlier.

Jane:

I think a lot of people feel like that. It’s really not boring, unless you just can’t sit and watch things for two hours. That is the time you can use to sit and read a book or watch a film or the scenery pass by.

Margaret:

Or write a book.

Jane:

You can go to shore. It’s amazing.

Margaret:

Jane, as always, you excite me so much, I want to immediately hang up and go and book a cruise somewhere. You’ve got me on Porto though. I think I might actually look for that one this summer. I appreciate all of your suggestions.

For those who watch the video or read the interview, if you are interested in learning more about Jane’s work, she writes for the
Daily Telegraph
. If you go to the Daily Telegraph’s website, you can find her articles on all of her magical tours.

Jane:

Yes, you should find a page with many, many of my articles, if not all of them.

Margaret:

Every time Jane goes on a cruise she writes about it. I think you’ll find a lot of great information there. Thank you, Jane. It’s been wonderful to chat with you. I appreciate all of your wisdom and insights

Jane:

Pleasure.

What is your experience of river cruising? Which of the places Jane mentioned sounds the most intriguing to you? Would you feel comfortable sailing far away from home? Please share your thoughts!

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