When I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, on my way to board a ship for a 12-night cruise along the River Seine with Vantage Travel, I had no idea what was in store for me.
Not a fan of schedules or being at the mercy of others when I travel, not only had I never taken a cruise, I had never taken an organized group tour of any kind.
I wondered what it would be like. Would I chafe at defined meal times? How would I handle all the structure? Would I be bored? What would my cabin be like? Would I enjoy the company of the other passengers? Are river cruises a good option for solo travelers?
Over the course of 13 days, all of these questions were answered. Meals were well-timed, delicious, and optional; if the ship was docked, you could go into town for dinner if you felt like it. There was some structure to the day, but you always knew in advance what it would be and I could go along with it or plan around it. I was never bored, not for one minute. My cabin was 165 square feet of well-utilized space. Sometimes I enjoyed my fellow passengers, sometimes I enjoyed alone time. And I can now say that I think river cruises can be a fabulous option for solo travelers. Following are some of the discoveries that led me to this conclusion.
What’s So Great about River Cruises for Solo Travelers?
Let’s get this out of the way right up front. Vantage Travel had invited me, along with a group of other writers, on a press trip to enjoy one of their river cruises. I prefer to travel on my own, like any other passenger, so I can share with you an experience that you can have, unadulterated by any special perks I might receive as part of a hosted group. I went to their website and found that they have a Solo Travel section, which includes a page called Solo Last-Minute Travel Deals. I chose one of those last-minute deals so that I could tell you exactly how much it would have cost you to take this exact trip, and what you would have received for your money. Vantage sponsored my trip, but I paid for my own drinks in the lounge, paid to upgrade my flight to a premium economy seat, and covered any miscellaneous expenses along the way.
For someone accustomed to doing all of the research, making all of the arrangements, and taking all of the responsibility for any trip, relaxing into a river cruise takes a bit of adjustment. Based on my experience, there are (at least) seven reasons that river cruising for solo travelers is a wonderful choice.
You only unpack once. You will visit many different destinations in the course of your trip, but your room and your belongings move with you. There is no gathering up your belongings every day, lugging baggage, or searching for something in the bottom of your suitcase. There are lots of drawers, a good-sized closet, and a well thought out place for everything. So many readers complain to me about the hassle of handling luggage when they travel solo. A river cruise takes that burden away while offering you visits to many different destinations.
You can socialize or not. As I mentioned in River Cruise Tips for Solo Travelers, you would probably have to work pretty hard to not make a number of acquaintances on a river cruise. It can be a very social experience—but it doesn’t have to be. It is incredibly easy to meet people at meals, on tours, in the lounge, or on the deck. But you can also have quiet time in the library, on the roof deck, or in your cabin. It’s entirely up to you how much you participate in group activities, and there is no pressure to do anything.
There are deals to be found. The 12-night river cruise that I took with Vantage Travel, France Culinary Delights: Paris to Normandy, was listed on the Solo Last-Minute Travel Deals page on their website. It was deeply discounted at approximately US$2,800, which included an upper level cabin with French balcony, tours in every port, 3 meals a day, unlimited wine and beer with dinner, free bike rentals, and more. As a comparison, as I am writing this, I am sitting in a café in a 3 ½ star hotel in Toronto. Twelve nights here would run me over US$2,900. No meals, no drinks, no round-the-clock coffee, tea, fruit, ice water, and hot chocolate. No tours, no entertainment, no activities, no movement. Just a bedroom.
There are a variety of accommodation options. Vantage offers single cabins for those who don’t need a lot of space or are trying to economize. A reader recently shared that she enjoys the cost savings of the single cabins because she spends very little time in them anyway, preferring to sit on deck or take advantage of the other amenities on the ship. They also offer roommate matching, if you don’t mind being paired up with another solo traveler to share a larger room and save. If money is not an issue, or you have the flexibility to take advantage of a last-minute deal, there are double rooms and even some suites to choose from. You can see photos of my cabin in Paris to Normandy: A River Cruise in Photos.
You can go your own way. While there are many included tours (which I found to be fabulous), as well as some optional tours to choose from, you don’t have to take them. The ship docks right in town, so in minutes you can get from your cabin to the center of everything. Do your own research and see the sights you want to see. Put on your walking shoes and take a wander around town. Choose an outdoor patio and have a glass of wine and watch the world go by. Sign out one of the free bicycles that are carried on the ship and cover more ground. Order a taxi and go further afield. There is no requirement to do anything other than get yourself back to the ship before it departs.
You cover a lot of ground (er, water). You are literally delivered to the center of multiple destinations while you sleep. The time and effort that would be involved in getting to all of the cities and towns by land that I visited on this trip by water, would be enormous. Plus, you would need to find accommodation in each of those places and do all of the research on each of them to determine the highlights you want to see, where you want to eat, what you want to do. Taking a river cruise eliminates a lot of work and makes seeing a lot of smaller, off the beaten path places possible.
All you have to do is show up. This can take some getting used to. You don’t have to research or book tours, figure out transportation systems, manage time constraints, or worry about lugging your bag around all day if you don’t need it. You don’t have to read restaurant reviews, make reservations, or shop for food. This was the easiest trip I have ever taken in terms of what was required of me. As long as I got myself to the dining room for breakfast, I was set for the day. I could choose a tour (there were generally options for both more active and more leisurely paced excursions), join a walking group or get on a waiting bus, and off we’d go. There would be a knowledgeable guide to take care of everything from entrance fees to wireless headphones, to making sure I knew how to find my way back to the group if I decided to go off exploring on my own. When I returned to the ship, my room would be clean and it would probably be close to cocktail hour. Followed by dinner. Then entertainment. Then a great night’s sleep.
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.