River Cruise Experience
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The River Cruise Experience


Written by Rick Archer
May 2013

When Marla told me she was thinking about scheduling our first-ever river cruise, I thought she was reading my mind.  I had recently caught myself drooling with envy every time the Viking River Cruise ad flashed on the TV screen. 

I laughed when Marla admitted that ad had the exact same effect on her.

With our first-ever River Cruise scheduled to take place one year from now, I was curious to learn about some of the differences between an ocean cruise and a river cruise. 

So I asked a friend who had been on a river cruise before to explain the difference.

Russell's 2012 River Cruise to Russia

Rick's 2012 Ocean Cruise to Russia

The Tale of Two Maps

By chance, my friend Russell Orr had visited Russia last year about the same time that Marla and I took our Russia 2012 Cruise

Naturally every time I saw Russell, I would ask him about the river cruise he took to Russia.  Truth be told, as we compared notes, I found myself having a hard time controlling my envy. 

Please don't misunderstand.  My cruise to Russia was an unforgettable highlight tour.  In particular, I loved Stockholm and I loved Tallinn.  It was a great trip. 

But what I really wanted to do was to see more of St. Petersburg.  I spent nine hours in St. Petersburg.  Russell spent three days.  I spent no time in Moscow.  Russell spent three days. 

Need I say more??

An ocean cruise gives you a wonderful look at the Big Picture, but will frustrate you if there's a place you prefer to concentrate on.  A river cruise allows a person the luxury to focus directly on a region.

One evening I asked Russell to talk about what it is like to be on one of the long boats they use on the river. Russell's eyes lit up like Christmas candles.  I could see the delight in his big smile.

Russell started his reply by saying I could not even begin to imagine the joy of his trip.  Russell grinned as a memory flashed across his mind and then he began to tell me a story. I may get the details a little mixed up, but here is the gist of it.

Russell said his favorite moment was a particular "enchanted evening" spent dancing with his beautiful lady friend Pat. 

Russell explained that the ship had hired some Russian college students during the summer to help run the show.  This was a great way for the young people to pay for their education.

Russell said he had no idea "Russians" could be so friendly.

He concluded that unlike the dour old-timers who still bear the scars of the Communist era, the young actually know how to laugh and smile. 

Russell said among the enthusiastic college kids were two musicians who played every instrument under the sun. 

Each night the duo would play their music and each night Russell and Pat would get out and dance under the stars.  Russell added they were the only guests who actually danced.

Apparently there was a closed circuit camera that was focused on the music area.  This camera sent a feed to every cabin so people could listen to the music in their rooms if they wanted to. 

Russell explained that the dance floor was situated right in front of the musicians and their array of instruments.  Apparently the camera's eye included both the musicians and the dance floor as well. 

One night as Russell and Pat danced the night away, the camera caught their every move… and neither of them had any idea they were putting on an 90 minute show for the entire ship!

The next morning one guest after another came by to thank them for providing such wonderful entertainment!  In fact, one guest asked Russell if they were planning to do it again.  They were the hit of the cruise!

I am sure Russell and Pat were a little embarrassed that their special moment was captured on camera, but deep down I think they were tickled by the praise as well.  I asked Russell if the camera caught any smooching.  He grinned and blushed a little, then politely declined to answer. 

I probably have no business sharing such an intimate story, but it is so cute that I could not help myself.  'Tis better to share and ask forgiveness later!!

I have no doubt that Russell and Pat made every guest on that ship wish they could dance too.  I always tell men they should learn the fine art of romantic dancing.  Chances like this river cruise come along too rarely in life as it is.  Why not make the moment perfect?  

I always say that Slow Dance and Romance go hand in hand.  Indeed, something pretty special happened on that river cruise.  When the couple returned to Houston, Russell asked her to marry him... and Pat said yes.


A Very Select Group

From what I gather, the river cruise adventure has many features that separate it from our ocean experience.  Just for starters, you are swapping a massive ship that carries anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 passengers for a slender ship that carries a maximum of 190 very privileged guests. 

If you are comfortable with crowds and don't mind waiting in lines, then trips on monster ships such as the one pictured might be fun. 

However, I will confess that at my age I feel more at ease with the intimate setting. 

I like a small group.  I get to see these same people every day and I have an entire week to get to know them.  I might even make a friend for life with an opportunity like this.

They say a cruise ship is like a floating hotel.  I say a river boat is closer to a floating inn.  Or maybe a very large yacht! 

Another major difference between a river cruise and an ocean cruise is the view.

On an ocean cruise, you spend countless hours staring out at the sea.  For people stuck in the city for most of their lives, this is a welcome sight.  That said, seeing the same vista day in and day out grows old very quickly.  You soon find yourself glancing at the water from time to time, but that's about it.

On a river cruise, there is actually something to look at it.  You will literally float through the most beautiful countryside imaginable.  You will gasp at one precious sight after another.

Not only can you dine out on deck, every cabin has a river view.  Be it forests and vineyards, farms and chateaus, there will be always be something new to capture your fascination.

No matter where you are on the long ship, you can just sit there watching the world go by.  Sip your wine and enjoy one of the happiest moments of your life as rolling hills and the ever-present green countryside moves across your eyes in an endless tableau of pastoral beauty.  


Tender Mercies

There are no days at sea when you sail down the river.  Each day brings you to one quaint town or precious little village after another.  Each day takes you to a new adventure.  

The Rhône River has served as the "Mississippi" of France for centuries.  Local farmers have used the river to transport their goods to market for centuries.  Furthermore, ships from all the Mediterranean countries have long used its waters to trade with Northern France. 

Consequently, there are existing docks at every town where our longboat can pull up and drop you off instantly.  At each stop the boat will dock right in the center of the town. 

It takes all of one minute to get on or off the ship.  You can stroll through the town in the morning, come back to the ship for lunch, then head back out and explore some more.  You come and go as you please.  This is the right way to see the world!

Now compare that to the tedious "tendering" process common to the large cruise ships.  On every other trip I have taken, there is at least one port that requires a smaller boat known as a "tender" to ferry you onshore. 

If you are given seven hours at a port, two of those hours are completely wasted.  For example, we recently used a tender in Belize on our Mariner 2013 trip.  Our ship was parked over a mile off shore. I estimate we burned at least an hour and a half traveling back and forth.

We always use a tender at Cayman.  The huge lines mean at least one hour in each direction.  Tendering means you get to wait in line for half an hour to get on the boat.  Then you waste another half hour getting there to the island.  Then you have to turn around and do it again in the evening. 

There is no time wasted on a river cruise.  You don't spend half your trip at sea and you don't spend half your day on a tender. 

In fact, if you wish, on a river cruise you can be busier with sightseeing than practically any trip you have ever taken. 


The Atlantis

No one is going to deny a river cruise is expensive.  As with any premium adventure, you have to pay a price for the privilege of having a truly wonderful experience

In 2010, I visited the water park at Atlantis in the Bahamas for the first time.  On that visit, I made a very unusual discovery.

Prior to the trip, I blanched when Marla said tickets were $130 for a day's visit.  That would $260 for the two of us.  "No way", I said.  But Marla showed me the pictures and persuaded me.

On the night before our cruise ship stopped in Nassau, I asked several of the passengers if they were going to visit Atlantis. Every person said the same thing. "Nah, it's way too expensive."

I estimate only a dozen people out of 200 guests went there that day.  That's a shame because Marla and I ended having the time of our lives.  The rides were incredible and there were hardly any lines.  The place was not crowded at all.

Our favorite ride was the Lazy River.  We had so much fun, we stayed in those tubes for nearly three hours.  Marla and I were alone 80% of the time.  It was an incredible experience to have this remarkable playground all to ourselves. 

That's when it dawned on me.  You get what you pay for.  Pay low prices, get big crowds.  Pay big prices, have more fun.  On a river cruise, you save time, you meet truly interesting people, and you see the world in perhaps the grandest way possible. 

St. Augustine famously said, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page."

During the years I ran my dance studio, I completely ignored the rest of the world.  Then Marla introduced me to travel.  On each trip I learned a new reason why people value travel so much. 

The first time I saw Rome, suddenly the history of the Roman Empire came alive.  When I saw Turkey, I began to think of Noah's Ark and the possibility the Black Sea and the melting waters of the Ice Age could explain the myth of the great flood.

When I visited Scotland, I developed a superior understanding of the struggle between the Scots and the English.  When I went on the Titanic Cruise, I got so deeply in touch with the tragedy that I felt like I practically knew the people who died.

When I saw Barcelona, I discovered just how beautiful a city can be.  When I saw the Panama Canal, I was incredulous at the magnificence of the engineering accomplishment.  Travel helps me learn so much about things I never knew before. 

Another quote about travel I like is from Mark Twain.  "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness... Travel helps us discover we are a family after all."

When I visit other lands, I start to realize exactly what Twain meant.  Race, religion, ethnicity all begin to mean less.  People all want the same thing - peace, safety, health, prosperity.  The world becomes a much smaller place when you travel. 

I am 63 as I write this story.  If you are anywhere near my age, then you understand that time grows more precious every day.  People my age don't have a lot of time to waste any more.

Why waste time if you can afford not to?? 

Based on our Puritan ethic, few of us allow ourselves the risk of high-priced luxury.  We have spent our entire lives denying ourselves the finer things in life so we will have money at the end.  But the cruelty of aging is that despite our frugal ways, we have only a small ten year window where we still have the health to see the world.  Once our health goes, travel will never be the same again.

Life is for living, not passively sitting at home waiting for the end.  Some of you might agree we have reached the point in life where we have earned the right to pamper ourselves.   As they say, there are no pockets in shrouds. You can't take it with you.


Complimentary Wine

While a river cruise is undeniably expensive, there are savings in places we aren't accustomed to.  There are complimentary features that will certainly be appreciated.  For example, there is complimentary wine served at every meal except breakfast.  You can have as many glasses of wine as you wish (if you prefer beer, soda or water, that is served free as well).

When Marla and I sailed aboard the Azamara Journey for our Titanic cruise, the wine was served throughout each meal.  Barriers fell quickly thanks to the magic of the wine. Every night at dinner, the dining room was animated with laughter and talk.

One of my favorite moments on that trip came when my brilliant friend Bob and I talked deep into the night. Bob was an expert on the Titanic.  Thanks to our wine-loosened tongues, Bob opened up. He told me stories and angles I never knew beforeI learned more about the Titanic that night than I ever thought possible.  Bob and I became friends for life.  I could see Bob again and restart the conversation in a flash.  There is something about wine that helps get the party started. 


A Cultural Experience

Complimentary Excursions

A river cruise differs from an ocean cruise in that it gives you a fighting chance to really explore. 

Don't get me wrong… I like ocean cruises.  But if there is one downside, it is the superficial treatment that each port receives.  A river cruise differs from an ocean cruise in that it gives you enough time to walk around and learn.

Like my trip to Paris on our Oslo 2010 cruise, there simply wasn't enough time to even begin to see the city.  We had five hours total to explore.  By the time we reached the Louvre, we didn't have enough time left to go in.

We just stared at the windows of the most famous museum in the world as I screamed with anguish.  This isn't right!!  And then it was time to head back to the bus. 

A river cruise wishes to educate its passengers about the region of the trip.  Therefore, in addition to free lectures on board, each day there are several small-group sightseeing excursions at EVERY port.  You don't pay a dime.  The ship wants you to participate in the learning experience, so these visits are complimentary.

More than likely, you will meet a cheerful, outgoing guide who will escort you through each new town.  In addition to being quite knowledgeable about the region, the guide will learn your name, where you are from and maybe even your favorite type of wine.

Your guide will quickly assess your physical status and be able to give advice on what trips you can handle and what you might do if you need an alternative. 

Best of all, our guide will help immerse us deeply into the culture of the region.  France is steeped in all sorts of fascinating ancient history.  At different times the Franks, the Gauls, the Greeks, the Romans, the Vandals, the Goths, and the Moors have fought countless battles for control of this precious farmland. 

The area we will visit was featured in Julius Caesar's Gallia, a book where he told the story of his conquest of Gaul in 58 BC.  You will be amused that in my 8th Grade Latin class, I actually translated some passages from Caesar's Gallia. Believe it or not, I still have the book!

"Gallia est provincia magna in Europa. Gallia est patria agricolarum.  Puellae silvas Galliae amant."

That was from Chapter One.  I bet you can translate it... "Gaul is a large province in Europe.  Gaul is farmland.  Gaul has beautiful trees."

Many of Caesar's battles were fought right along the Rhône River.  For that matter, his greatest victory, the Battle of Alesia, was fought just a few miles north of Chalon where our trip ends.

Avignon, one of our stops, was once the most powerful city in Southern France.  Avignon owes much of its importance to Caesar.  After Caesar conquered it, he made the town his favorite outpost.  Avignon was important because the Rhône was the route taken by Mediterranean sailors wishing to trade with Northern Europe.  Control of the Rhône was vital to the conquest of the entire region.

After Caesar vanquished this city, he ordered an elaborate defense system be built.

Why bother winning it if you aren't going to keep it??

Today Avignon features some of the best preserved ramparts (defensive walls) in France. 

Here is a picture of the Roman ruins in Avignon, France. These are some of the walls built to defend the city.

We will get two chances to visit these Roman ruins.

We will have the entire afternoon of our first day to explore Avignon.

Then on Day Three of our trip, we will visit Avignon again.  On one of these days, we will surely visit this amazing site.

Avignon has much more to offer.  For example, Avignon is called "The City of Popes".  Indeed, there is an amazing castle known as the "Pope's Palace".

Most of us assume that Italy has always had the most influence with the Catholic Church. 

Not so. At one point, the French held sway.  In 1305, a deadlocked conclave finally elected Clement V, a Frenchman, as Pope.

Clement preferred to remain in France, so he declined to move to Rome. In 1309 Clement moved his court to the papal enclave at Avignon. It would remain here for the next 67 years. This absence from Rome is sometimes referred to as the "Babylonian Captivity".

A total of seven popes reigned at Avignon; all were French, and they each increasingly fell under the influence of the French Crown.

Finally, in 1376, new Pope Gregory XI abandoned Avignon and moved his court back to Rome. The Avignon Papacy was over. 

Besides the castle, there's the mysterious "Bridge to Nowhere".  The reason the bridge remains incomplete is pretty amusing. 

Apparently over centuries, erosion has damaged the bridge.  At this point, the remaining part of the bridge has been restored, but now it is too low for a river boat to go under... so rather than raise the bridge, they found it easier to leave the job undone.

Tourism is more valuable to the city than have a complete bridge. So many people are amused by the unfinished bridge that it has become the international symbol of the city.

You didn't know any of this, did you?  Neither did I.  Travel is a dynamic form of education.

I have been on 27 cruise trips so far.  Only twice have I been on a trip that attempted to teach me something about where I was going.  Both trips occurred last year.  The first was our visit to the Panama Canal.  The other experience was the sad Titanic Memorial cruise that sailed to the spot where the Titanic sank.

Other than those two trips, there has never been any attempt whatsoever to educate the passengers on the history and the culture of the places we visit.  Why cut into valuable bingo time?

That will change dramatically on this river cruise.  Our trip through southern France promises to offer one history lesson after another.  We have already discussed Avignon. 

What about Arles??   Arles is a quaint village that became the home of Vincent Van Gogh for about a year and a half towards the end of his life (1888-1889).

A deeply disturbed man, Van Gogh began a steady descent into madness during his time here.  And yet remarkably, Van Gogh was very prolific in his artwork.  During our visit to Arles, you could easily learn more about Vincent Van Gogh than you ever imagined... or maybe even wanted to know.  For example, you will discover this is the town where he cut off his own ear. 


France - A World Leader in Art, Science, Fashion and Culture

France has long been Europe's epicenter of art, science, philosophy, fashion and culture.  This trip is so different that you will have the chance to actually meet the French people in a way that allows for the exchange of ideas and politics. 

You won't have a tour guide that you see today for the only time in your life.  You will actually get to know your guide on a personal basis.  If you ask the right questions, you may learn about France and its people in a way that will far transcend any documentary or book you might read. 

There have been rumors over the years of animosity between the French and the Americans.  We have heard about French rudeness and disdain for our politics.

As a result, we make fun of the French.  For example, 'Q: Why don't they have fireworks at Euro Disney?  A: Because every time they shoot them off, the French try to surrender.'

Yes, it's true that the USA saved France in both World War I and World War II.  Good for us!  But please do not forget that America might not even exist were it not for France. 

It was France's intervention into the Revolutionary War that proved to be the turning point.  Without France, we might be the 50 Colonies today and the Atlantic might still be known as "The Pond". 

And I would like to add that Omaha Beach of D-Day fame is practically hallowed ground to the French.  There is a sign at the national cemetery that says:

"This ground is dedicated in perpetuity to the people of the United States of America for the sacrifice its brave and noble fighting men gave to our country." 

There are 10,000 graves at that cemetery.  It is a very moving sight indeed.  I cannot even look at this picture without tears welling up.  I wish to add the French consider it an honor and a sacred duty to guard and protect this cherished property.

Furthermore, every year French citizens in the Normandy area come out to celebrate D-Day with American flags, parades and a huge outpouring of gratitude.  Americans are absolute heroes to these people. 

To this day, there are people in this area who witnessed the American bravery first-hand.  They watched in horror as young soldiers died trying to liberate them. They wept as helpless soldiers were shot down in their parachutes.  They peeked through their windows to see brave men die in door to door fighting at St. Lo and Caen.  They even helped bury the countless young men who died facing deadly machine guns on the nearby beach at Omaha.

There is no 'French rudeness' in Normandy, only gratitude.  These people remember what happened like it was yesterday.  They saw people they had never met before who sacrificed their lives to save them from Nazi tyranny.  

Their attitude is eternal: We will never forget America.

This rumor about French rudeness is a myth.  Sure, if a tourist behaves poorly, naturally they can expect to be treated in kind.  But that is the exception.  In this world of crazy senseless terrorism, France is thrilled to have our friendship.  France is one of America's truest allies. 

I have visited France twice. Wherever I have gone, Marla and I have been treated with warmth and respect.  All I had to do was wear a smile and I received the kind of welcome accorded to a trusted friend and neighbor. 

Both times I found myself utterly charmed by the beauty and culture.  I welcome the opportunity to learn more about this amazing country.


Parting Thoughts

There are other pleasant surprises about this trip that might not have occurred to you.  For example, there is no such thing as "seasickness" on a long boat.  The rivers are wide and smooth.  There is no such thing as waves and rapids.  The ship simply glides through the calm waters.  If anything, the sailing has less vibration than your average bus ride.  

People might read my story and conclude that I am knocking ocean cruises.  There is an old saying, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you".  I am not disrespecting ocean cruises.  As Marla constantly points out, an ocean cruise is an extremely safe and cost-effective way to see the world. 

There are times when an ocean cruise makes complete sense.  For example, a cruise is the perfect way to see the islands of Hawaii. Ordinarily, to see all the islands of Hawaii would require daily transfers from island to island and new hotels every night.  There would be considered time wasted. 

Since a cruise ship is basically a floating hotel, it is perfect for Hawaii.  Likewise for Alaska and the United Kingdom.  Using the water is a very efficient way to visit these areas.

On the other hand, there are places that are inaccessible by sea that can be reached by river.  Europe is the perfect example. 

To me, a river cruise is simply a more surgical form of an ocean cruise.  For example, a cruise ship might be able to go through the Panama Canal, but only a longboat can sail the Rhine, the Danube and the Volga - and the Rhone and the Seine of France.

Suddenly areas in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Hungary become accessible to one of the most comfortable forms of transportation imaginable.  Who ever thought a cruise trip could take you to the Alps?  Castles and mountains and forests are magically placed right at your fingertips. 

A river cruise allows you far more time to explore a city or a town than you can ever imagine.  You have all morning and all afternoon to tour the place.  Your day can begin as early as 6 am if you actually have the strength to get up at that hour

Here's something else you may not have considered.  Have you ever thought of using a bike to expand your reach?  Marla and I have tried bicycles in several places.  For example, we have used bikes to explore Key West and Martha's Vineyard.  Usually the drawback is time.  We wanted to use bikes in Maine's Acadia National Park, but the stupid ship wasted so much of our time with tendering that we had to scrap our plans.

Not so on a river cruise. As we discovered in Key West, a bicycle is the perfect way to explore a small town.  Since the boat drops you into the center of town, you can rent a bicycle in the plaza and off you go.  Imagine all the ground you will cover.  You can ride through the streets of each village as far as your body will let you.  Then when you get hungry, head back to town, drop the bike off right in front of the ship and hop back onboard.  How could that possibly be easier?

Better yet, you have the evening too!

I suppose it does get dark once in a while.  Actually, now that I think of it, maybe even once a day.   

On an ocean cruise, I don't even think about a port at night.  On a cruise ship, typically you need to get back on board at 4 pm so the ship can sail hundreds of miles to the next port. 

Or perhaps we get back on board early so the gambling casinos can begin to operate again. 

Many times I have wished I could have dinner in town at night and go to a nightclub afterwards. 

A good example would have been St. Petersburg on our 2012 cruise to Russia. 

My word, here we were six thousand miles from home.  How cool would it be to have dinner with Marla and our friends in this amazing historic city?   Let's see what Russian food tastes like and see what Russian nightlife looks like. 

However that never happened.  At 4 pm we were hurriedly whisked back on board the cruise ship.  Poof!  It was here and now it is gone.  One brief taste of the city and we had to leave.

Wouldn't it have been nice to see a performance of the Russian Ballet?  On a river cruise, that's something you can actually do.

Perhaps in France we might take in a show somewhere in town.  Why not see the fabulous French Can Can in person??

A river cruise is totally different.  There is no gambling, so the ship has no reason to rush you back on board.  Furthermore, the ship typically sails in the wee hours of the morning.  After all, the next stop is just down the river.  The entire length of the trip is only about 200 miles from start to finish.  It is 124 miles from Avignon to Lyon.  It is 70 miles from Lyon to Chalon. 

That averages out to about 30 miles per night.  Each night while we sleep, the staff simply gets out their oars. 

They sing 'row, row, row your boat gently down the stream' in French as they merrily paddle away.  Be careful not to join in the singing… they might hand you a paddle.

The consequence of these short distances is startling.  Most evenings, the long ship stays docked right at the pier so you can get off the ship at night and have yet another adventure. 

How about sipping some wine at a sidewalk café with friends? 

Imagine sitting there under the stars with a breeze during a blissful April evening.  Maybe they will play French music while we sit.  Will be the sad "La Vie En Rose" sung by Edith Piaf?  

Or will it be "La Marsellaise", the French national song made famous in Casablanca when the French loyalists defied the Nazi occupiers by singing over the voices of the Germans?

Or perhaps you might
just spend your evening strolling around ancient Roman fountain under the moonlight in the town plaza

It doesn't get any better than this.

Even the caliber of the crew is different.  As Russell explained to me, there is a warmth and savoir faire to the college educated crew that transcends what you might be used to on an ocean cruise. 

At the max, the ship holds 190 guests.  With a staff of 45 people, that creates a startling ratio of one staff person to four guests.  As a result, almost all the crew learn your name, not just the waiter and the room attendant.  For that matter, maybe you will learn some of their names too! 

There are many advantages to this sort of intimacy.  Each waiter and each bar person will know what beverage you desire before your lips even move.  All you have to do is whistle.  Or use sign language if you are too exhausted by all the fun to speak.  I recommend pointing, the Universal language.

If you don't want to go into town, there is entertainment on board every evening. 

Yes, there is a dance floor.  No, it isn't large, so yes, you better brush up on your small floor ballroom dancing.  I definitely suggest you take a refresher course on slow dancing. Incidentally, I happen to know someone who is an expert at teaching small floor dancing in case you need a few tips.

There is another difference that might completely take you off guard.  For example, I was startled when Marla said there is no "Formal Night".  Huh?  I didn't believe her, so I asked again.  Marla shook her head with confidence.  She was sure of what she was talking about.  No Formal Night!  What part of "NO" don't you get, Rick?  

Marla said that on a river cruise, comfort rules over style.  The ship deliberately cultivates a relaxed, resort-casual onboard atmosphere - leave the formal wear at home.

I find that very curious.  If there is any place on earth where people collect who can probably afford to look prosperous, I would guess it is on board one of these long ships.  And yet they de-emphasize the chance to show off.   Very interesting. 

I suppose you can always cheat if you want to.  If you want to look really good, go for it.  They probably won't tell you to go back to your room and wear something less flattering. 

That said, be careful.  Don't overdo it.  It's like a nudist colony… you're either in or you're out.  If I ain't looking good, then you better not be looking good either.  If anyone makes me look bad by over-dressing, I promise to expose your fashion cruelty to the world through bad photographs and snide comments. 

Trust me, after I get through doctoring your photo, you won't be smiling.  Plus I will make you look fat.  That's a promise.  Think Jabba the Pizza Hut.

Speaking of pictures, another thing you might find unusual is that no photographers will interrupt your meal.  No more quick gulps of food so you can force the fake smile. 

Another thing you will surely miss are dancing waiters and loudspeaker announcements at dinner.  This absence worries me a great deal.  Gosh, what we will do?  Without constant interruptions, we could be forced to develop the long lost skills of witty dinnertime repartee.

How foreign is that?   I might have to practice ahead of time. 

Speaking of the lost art of communication, this trip promises to give people an extended chance to get to get acquainted on a much deeper level.

While there is something to be said for the hot tub experience, I don't think "deep conversation" is one of them.  But if you are wandering side by side through the streets of Lyon at night, you might actually open up a little and bare your soul.

While we were on our recent Mariner 2013 cruise, at dinner someone asked Marla what was her favorite cruise.  Her answer surprised me.  She said, "Our river cruise in 2014."

I immediately chided her.  "Marla, you can't pick a trip you have never been on as your favorite."

Marla responded in typical Marla fashion, "Don't tell me what to think.  This trip is something I have dreamed about for a long time. I love everything there is about this trip.  If I say it is my favorite, then just take what I say and accept it."

At this juncture, Marla has already sold fifteen cabins and has several inquiries to follow up on. That is an amazing total when one realizes that Marla's group promises to be somewhere between 16% to 25% of the entire passenger list.

I say this impressive number is a validation of Marla's work.  This is an expensive trip, no doubt.  Therefore to have so many people show this kind of confidence is quite an honor. 

The one thing I can promise is that we will be a family. 

You can count on that. 

Marla and I had this exact experience on the 2012 trip to Russia.  We all shared so much warmth and laughter traveling together.

In Denmark, we stayed at the same hotel. It was there that the girls surrounded Marla with reassurance during my bizarre passport dilemma (yes, I actually lost my passport!)

We shared meals and went strolling through the magical Tivoli Gardens together.  In Finland, we shared lunch in the cellar of an intimate countryside inn.  In St. Petersburg, we drank vodka together in a huge Russian dining hall.  In Estonia, we drank beer together in a dark candlelit German biergarten. 

We grew close.  We had an entire journey filled with special moments like these.  We banded together and became best friends in foreign lands.

Marla and I agreed the friendship is what made the cruise to Russia special.  That will happen again on our river cruise.  We will be side by side packing a lifetime of memories into this journey.  An ocean cruise is still a wonderful way to develop friendships, but the river cruise experience takes it to another level.  This trip promises to be a sublime experience indeed

Rick Archer
June 2013

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