I recently went solo on a river cruise in France, sponsored by Vantage Travel. I embarked on this trip as a complete newbie. Not only was it my first river cruise, it was my first cruise of any kind. In fact, it was my first experience of any type of organized group travel. I learned a lot and would like to share my best river cruise tips to help you make the most of your next trip.
Before leaving home to join the France Culinary Delights: Paris to Normandy River Cruise, I sought advice from readers and friends. I suspected there would be some experienced cruisers in the group, and they did not disappoint, offering great information gained from their own travel experiences.
Here I offer my best tips for making the most of a solo river cruise, including tips from readers and lessons I learned on my cruise along the Seine.
Best Solo River Cruise Tips
- Alone time. If you are someone who values (or, as in my case, needs) time alone, you may have to plan for it. I spent more time in my cabin than I would have expected, simply because it was such a social experience that that was often the only way I could get quiet time to do a bit of work or read or just watch France floating by. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed the social aspect of the trip very much. At the same time, I am someone who requires substantial solo time in order to be at my best in group situations.
- Social time. If you are someone who enjoys being around people, you are going to be in your element! At least on this cruise, everyone was friendly and welcoming, inviting me to join them at meals, stopping by to say hello if I was sitting on my own, chatting on the tours. It takes very little effort to meet a huge number of people. In fact, I’d say you’d have to work at it to avoid making new acquaintances. Naturally, everyone shares their travel experiences, so you may get ideas for future trips. Enjoy!
- Daily insider tips. Be sure to attend the “port talk” every evening. This is where you get not just the itinerary for the following day, but ideas for extra activities you may want to participate in, insider tips from staff about the destination you will be visiting the next day, and additional information (such as information about accessibility, options for more or less physically strenuous tours, the next day’s weather report, and any surprises the Cruise Director might have in store for you).
- Spread yourself around. This excellent river cruise tip was passed on to me by members of the Solo Travel Society and I put it into action on the very first day. It was recommended that I sit with different people every day. As a solo traveler, I always had many seating options at dinner. There’s almost always room for one more! The only thing that was not an option was sitting alone at the large tables in the dining room. It was a lot of fun meeting new people at the table or joining people I had met earlier on a walking tour or during the cocktail hour.
- Take all the tours. There were tours in every port that were included in the cruise package, and every one that I took was interesting and informative. They ranged from short walking tours to day-long excursions to multiple sites. Everything was so well-organized. Amazingly, even when we wandered off to pursue our own interests in different places, we all respected the timelines and managed to get back to the bus and keep the tours on track. (You know that doesn’t always happen in groups!) I would recommend taking any and all tours that interest you. In some cases, you may take an overview tour of a town which will reveal to you other places you want to visit. You may see shops you want to return to, cafes to enjoy after your tour, or a gallery you can explore later in the day.
- Check out the optional tours. I only took one of the optional tours, the Footsteps of van Gogh walking tour in Auvers-sur-Oises. This one had caught my eye when I was reviewing the itinerary and had also been recommended to me by a friend who had taken a similar tour when visiting the village. It was wonderful and worth every penny to literally walk the streets and through the fields where the artist had painted and lived out the latter part of his life. Of course, I could have just wandered about the town on my own, but the guide was incredibly knowledgeable, offering a much deeper experience than I would otherwise have had.
- Don’t feel obligated to participate in everything. This was something I had to learn along the way. The cruise had many activities available, both on and off the ship, and it was sometimes difficult to choose between two great concurrent options. I embarked on this trip with a twisted knee, and in my excitement, I overdid it on the very first day, taking a 3-hour walking tour with cobblestones, stairs, fields, and hills. The second day, I did a walking tour of Monet’s gardens at Giverny. The third day, I didn’t leave the ship. I felt guilty for missing out on the tour of the day, but I knew that I would be in much worse shape on the 4th day if I didn’t give my knee a rest. Plus, it felt luxurious to have an afternoon nap with the door to my French balcony open, curtains blowing in the breeze, and the sound of rain softly falling outside. From that point on, I was more mindful about what I participated in and how.
- Pack earplugs. If you are sensitive to sound at night, you may want to take earplugs. A Solo Travel Society member recommended this since the ships sometimes travel through the night and may be passing through locks, which could generate some noise. I didn’t encounter this issue, but it may depend where your cabin is located. Likewise, if you like to get to sleep early or take an afternoon nap, earplugs may come in handy if other passengers are participating in activities and your cabin is located near a common area, or if there are festivals or celebrations taking place near where the ship has docked.
- Do your own thing. If the tours in any port don’t strike your fancy, do a little research to find something that does and take off on your own. Just make sure to check with the staff to ensure you are back in plenty of time before the ship departs! There is no obligation to take any of the organized tours, or to return to the ship for your meals if you don’t want to (although the food was great!), or to stay on the ship after dinner, unless it is departing for the next port.
- Take advantage of the concierge service. I’m so accustomed to doing everything for myself when I travel that I didn’t make use of this service. Many of my fellow passengers did, though, and really appreciated it. The concierge was so helpful, arranging reservations, tickets, and transportation to various events, attractions, and restaurants. Honestly, between her and the Cruise Director, I can’t imagine how they ever got any time to sleep. They were incredible – and incredibly busy!
- Using Uber presents a challenge. While in Paris, I used Uber several times to get around. You may already know that I think Uber is a brilliant resource for solo travelers, having used it in 6 different countries now. Here’s the challenge: Uber doesn’t know where your ship is. There is no physical address for the spot where you are docked, and the area covered by the port can be very large. The solution? Walk up to the street, stand in front of a store or restaurant, and enter in that address. Trust me, after 4 cancellations in a row because the driver couldn’t get to me, this is your quickest, easiest solution.
- Using Uber yields a reward. On the other hand, the reward of using Uber is the chance to have a conversation with a local. I took a couple of my fellow passengers with me when I did a little shopping in Paris. The traffic was astounding, but while we were stuck in it, we were treated to a lengthy, animated conversation/monologue by our driver about the terrible mayor (“She’s CRAZY!”), the horrendous traffic (“It’s TERRIBLE!”), and the many new bike lanes (“They’re STUPID!”) and green initiatives (“They’re a WASTE OF MONEY!”), as well as corruption, misuse of funds, and various other government problems. It was both entertaining and an up close and personal glimpse of life in Paris. Perhaps predictably, our driver’s response to my suggestion that he come to Canada was similarly emphatic: “It’s TOO COLD!”
Do you have river cruise tips to share with your fellow solo travelers? Please add them in the comments section below.
Thank you to Vantage Travel for sponsoring my trip on their France Culinary Delights: Paris to Normandy river cruise. You can get all of the information about their trips and specials for solo travelers here. All experiences and impressions are my own, and Solo Traveler maintains complete editorial control over all content.