River Cruise Q&A: Jenny Cookman, Travel Counsellors

I’m a travel consultant and river cruise specialist. In this blog, I’ll answer a few frequently asked questions about river cruising…

How did you discover river cruising?

I have always loved the sea, lakes, and rivers. In 2019, I was invited to take a short river cruise with A-Rosa and had a fantastic time. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with river travel – the everchanging views, the beautiful ships, and the sense of being on a journey.

I also met Kristin Karst, AmaWaterways Co-Founder, at the CLIA river cruise conference. Her passion for river cruising is infectious.

Since then, I have accepted as many opportunities as possible to experience this form of travel and have sailed on or toured thirty-nine different ships. I share my experiences on this blog and with my clients – helping them find the perfect option.

What’s special about river cruising?

Watching the ship glide through the water is captivating. The changing landscape is a highlight for me. There is always so much to look at – from castles on the Rhine to the vineyards of the Douro valley,

Each day is a new adventure. I’ll often join a tour and then take time to explore on my own. One of the advantages of the small ships is being able to dock close to the centre of a destination.

Can you tell us about river ships?

A river ship is like a floating, boutique hotel. If you like small hotels in great locations with a view, river ships are an excellent place to stay. The top deck provides a striking 360-degree view and even when the ship is docked next to others, the view from the deck is always accessible.

Most river ships are similar in size because of the constraints of navigating locks.

The internal design and finish are unique to the river cruise line and designers add style, character and functionality to the individual ships.

On deck you will often find activities like giant chess, an astroturf putting green or a walking track. Some ships have a small swimming pool on deck where you can take in the views while you enjoy the water.

Keeping the same room for your whole journey means you have a base to come back to and don’t need to pack, move on, and unpack again.

What is the difference between ocean and river cruising?

Oceans take you to countries and rivers take you through them. On a river cruise, you will dock in or near the centre of the city or town. This means that you can often disembark and explore by foot or on a bike.

The biggest difference is the size: river ships carry around 100 to 180 passengers. The largest ocean cruise ships carry over six thousand people. It’s a completely different experience with both have their own advantages.

With size comes many more facilities. On an ocean cruise ship you’ll find multiple eating venues, a theatre, shops, pools, clubs for children and many more incredible facilities. The larger ships are like floating resorts with a broad range of entertainment and activities.

Onboard river ships the facilities are on a smaller scale, but you’ll often find a small pool, gym and spa.

Entertainment on a river ship is low key with some musical entertainment and themed nights. On an ocean ship, you will often find shows that wouldn’t look out of place in the West End.

If you suffer from motion sickness, river cruise ships are very stable, even when a wake is created by passing vessels. You will never get large waves and the riverbank is always in sight. There can be some gentle bumps as the ship passes through a lock.

What’s the food like? Is there any choice?

Dining onboard is always a highlight. River cruise lines are known for their excellent, regionally inspired, cuisine.

River cruise ships generally have one restaurants and dining can be flexible or timed. The double width ships AmaMagna and Riverside Mozart both have four dining venues offering more choice to their guests.

You can choose to sit at a small table with just your party or join fellow guests. I have spent many interesting mealtimes comparing our thoughts on the day’s activities.

Menus are varied and dietary requirements catered for. On most ships, breakfast and lunch includes a delicious buffet with a wide range of options. Some ships also offer an à la carte menu. Dinner is served at your table with choices available.

There is often a welcome dinner with a gala menu, and you could also be invited to join the chef’s table or to enjoy speciality dining, for example, La Rive onboard Scenic ships and the Chef’s Table on Amawaterways vessels.

What was your best meal onboard?

Travelling through the French countryside on the Uniworld SS Catherine was a delight. We had the opportunity to taste local specialities every day including locally grown truffles. River cruise lines often choose menus that reflect the regional cuisine and source fresh local produce when possible.

My most memorable meal was a simple but delicious lunch that was served on the sundeck. The selection of tasty French cheeses, colourful array of salad and freshly baked bread was delightful. To accompany the cheese, I had a glass of the local Hermitage red wine, a perfect combination.

What’s the best thing about river cruising?

The staff onboard all the ships that I have sailed on have been lovely. They have been helpful and friendly. Without exception, all my clients tell me how fantastic the staff are.

Relaxing on the deck or on my balcony, watching the world go by, remains a highlight of all my river cruises. 

Do you have a favourite itinerary?

I’m often asked this question and I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every itinerary. The one that stands out for me is the Douro in Portugal. The vineyard clad river valley is beautiful. It was a pleasure to explore the local towns and villages and sample the delicious produce.

I also love the city of Porto. It is a colourful and vibrant place and easy to explore on foot. It has become one of the most popular destinations in Europe and is listed by UNESCO. Churches, quiet squares, and colourful shop facades are a few of the features of this delightful place.

The Rhine Gorge with an incredible 40 castles is also on my favourites list. This UNESCO recognised area is an incredible combination of human ingenuity and natural beauty.

Find out more about the best river cruises for first times in my blog (linked here).

If you have any more questions, please get in touch using the enquiry form or by email: jenny.cookman@travelcounsellors.com.