Is river cruising, particularly in Europe, becoming a victim of its own success?
The question was on the minds of a few participants in our recent river-oriented Cruise Critic Live! chat, where there is some concern that this year’s explosion in new ship introductions will lead to congestion on the Rhine, Danube, Moselle, Seine, Rhone and other rivers.
Indeed, Viking River, which introduced 18 new ships just this week and is continuing to boom, is working hard to spread things out. One way to do that? Discover a new river.
Viking is, along with Uniworld, one of two river lines to introduce France’s Bordeaux as a new itinerary this year. I’ve already cruised along the Rhone (known for Roman history, Provencal food, wine and lavender) and the Seine, which has Norman history, art, culture – and, yes – food and wine. So the chance to sample a new part of France via a quick two night cruise on Viking River’s Forseti was tantalizing.
Even on such a short visit, it’s clear that there are some compelling reasons to check out Bordeaux by river ship:
*The itinerary, which is seven nights (with pre- and post-opportunities in Paris), begins and ends in Bordeaux, and sails on three waterways: The Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, and the Gironde Estuary (the biggest of its kind in Europe).
*Why go to Bordeaux? Resident Paul Dawson, a local university professor who is helping Viking to put together its shore excursion menu, characterizes the region as “la belle endormie” (Sleeping Beauty). Centered around the city of Bordeaux, the region is known for food and wine (of course) and lavish chateaus, and is largely rural, with beautiful rolling landscapes.
*The city of Bordeaux itself, which in the past ten years has undergone a renaissance, has enormous appeal. It lies on the Garonne River and its waterfront is newly developed; don’t miss the fabulous Three Graces fountain. Playful and whimsical, it’s pedestrian (and dog) friendly, with spouts that cool you down on hot days. At night, the water streams are colorfully lit. When the surface is wet it also reflects, like a mirror, the gorgeous 18th century Place de la Bourse across the street. That district of buildings is equally gorgeous; the architect of Versailles designed them in the 18th century.
*As part of Viking’s strategy to offer unique destination experiences, some of the shore tours are simply fantastic, ranging from truffle hunting to blending-your-own-cognac in Cognac to a tour of an historic chateaux, led by its owner. (Stay tuned for our behind the scenes story on how Viking created the Bordeaux experience).
We’re heading back later this spring for a more comprehensive visit and look forward to sharing that with you. And back to the original point about whether or not river cruising in Europe is becoming too congested – well, with only Viking River and Uniworld in this charming, southwestern French region, it’s not at all crowded. At least not yet.