Thoughts on Travel, Photography and Life from Ian Lloyd

Rhine Cruising

Cruising is not for everyone. It seemed liked a good idea at the time but I am a travel photographer used to planning my own itinerary and stopping to photograph wherever and whenever I wanted. I reasoned that with a luxurious cabin complete with sliding balcony doors to open and shoot from, a large sundeck to wander around, plus gourmet meals laid on, what could possibly go wrong?

In the past I have done assignments and lectured for National Geographic on small and mid sized cruise ships so I was aware that most of my fellow travellers would not be what I would call adventurous types. They would enjoy the regimented daily schedule of pre-arranged meal times, daily bus tours set out the night before and the evening shows of crew talent time. Cruising is comfortable travel with no fraught planning or decisions to make about what to do, where to go and when to eat. I reasoned I could live with this and might even enjoy the comfort and luxury. But alas it was not meant to be.

My first inkling of trouble ‘up at mill’ was when my wife and I were told a month before the cruise that the itinerary from Cologne Germany down to Basel in Switzerland had been reversed. With onward hotels and flights already booked our only option was to get the cruise company to fly us to Basel and when we arrived in Cologne after the cruise then take a train back down to Basel where our trip would resume. I briefly considered cancelling the cruise and using all the money that we would save to hire a luxury Mercedes to drive down the Rhine and stay in swank hotels. As it turned out, not doing this was my first big mistake.

River cruising in Europe is extremely popular and there is a huge demand for more ships on already crowded rivers and waterways. Our cruise was scheduled to cover a relatively short distance over eight days but unbeknownst to us, the highlight of the trip, the Rhine Gorge was covered in about two hours on one afternoon. Thank goodness the weather was sunny and hot that day!

The rest of the trip cruised past German industrial facilities, coal barges and at best unremarkable trees along the banks. When we were berthed close to an interesting town we were often sandwiched between one or two other cruise ships so the balcony view from our room was looking into someone else’s cabin. In port cities like Strasbourg and Basel we were berthed in out of the way industrial areas requiring a long bus ride into the town. At this stage the cruise began to seem like a series of bus tours.

So, was it worth it? No. Definitely not. We were bored, didn’t see much of the places we visited, were herded like sheep on to buses for shore excursions and generally felt out of place with the geriatric passengers. On top of this we didn’t see much of the Rhine Gorge scenery that we had booked the cruise for. In the end we chalked it up to a learning experience and vowed never to do it again.

by Ian Lloyd