Massages in the United States and on major oceangoing cruise lines are rather straightforward: Arms, legs, neck and back. On a European river ship, though, you have to watch out for more B’s: the belly and elsewhere (I’ll let you figure out what else starts with B!)
Having your tummy rubbed is a strange sensation for someone from the States. It’s seriously difficult to relax and enjoy your message when you’re trying to suck your stomach in. But what the massage therapist chose to rub down was not the only difference I experienced when I decided to indulge in a massage on the Rhine.
First and foremost, there is usually not a proper spa onboard any river boats. On boats that do offer massage, you’ll be getting your treatment in a small room, usually off of a corridor somewhere. There’s no relaxation area, no waiting room. You just show up at your scheduled time and tap on the door where your massage therapist will be waiting.
Second, you’ve got very little choice of treatments. On Tauck‘s ms Inspire, where I indulged in a muscle rubdown, they’ve got one massage therapist offering five options: a 30-minute foot massage (perfect after all the walking you do on a river cruise!), an aromatic full-body massage, a fully clothed chair massage, a classic full-body massage and a classic partial-body massage.
I chose the aromatic full-body massage.
The day of my massage, I returned from my morning excursion to find a large towel folded on my bed along with a note and a form to fill out. Even though it was only a five foot walk from my lower deck cabin door to the massage room, there was no way I was going to walk that in just a towel!
Instead I wrapped myself in the robe that had heretofore been tucked away at the top of my closet.
At five minutes to 3, I headed over down the hall to meet my massage therapist. Herni turned out to be a tiny Indonesian woman with a soft voice and hands of steel. My massage started in an unusual way: seated in a chair with my feet soaking in oiled water. It seemed like a waste of time, to be honest.
Eventually, Herni had me lie down on the table, where she went to work. Aside from the belly rubbing, it turned out that an aromatic massage was pretty much a regular massage. That silly little seated hair and neck massage with my feet in oil water accounted for the ten-minute difference between a classic massage and an aromatic massage – and cost me nearly 25 euros extra. (I would have been better served if I asked ahead of time what the differences between the massages were.)
Tauck, AmaWaterways and Uniworld offer massages on most or all of their vessels, while Avalon Waterways offers it only on select boats. Viking River Cruises does not have massage therapists on its ships.
In the end, despite the accompanying accoutrements — and the sucked-in stomach — I was spaghetti at the end of the hour, limp and relaxed. When I went back to my cabin, my bed served as a perfectly acceptable relaxation chaise. If all that matters is a good massage and you don’t care about the ambiance of your surroundings, a river cruise is as good a place as any to get a solid rubdown.