Jumping Ship: How the Rhine Reeled in an Avid Ocean Cruiser to River Cruising

The following post is written by Jen from the Boscov’s Travel Marketing Department. Jen recently interviewed Lisa Rohrbach, Boscov’s Travel’s Director of Training and Professional Development, about her first experience taking a river cruise.

Whether you’re a seasoned or first-time cruiser, it’s impossible to ignore the popularity and rapid growth of river cruising as an alternative to ocean cruising. With smaller and more intimate ships; destinations that only smaller ships can access; and a more inclusive experience with included shore excursions, alcohol and smaller expenses that add up during your vacation, like Wi-Fi, specialty drinks, room service, etc., it’s no wonder that many seasoned ocean cruisers are jumping ship to river cruising.

Lisa Rohrbach, Boscov’s Travel’s Director of Training and Professional Development, is one of those cruise enthusiasts who jumped ship from ocean to river cruising. After experiencing more than 25 ocean cruises, she recently sailed on her first river cruise with AMA Waterways on a 7-night cruise along the Rhine that included stops in France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. She shares her experience here, along with her thoughts on the differences between taking a river cruise and an ocean cruise.

Hi Lisa! We learned you recently sailed on your first river cruise with AMA Waterways. Since you’re an avid ocean cruiser, can you tell us how the two experiences are different?

River cruise ships are much smaller than most ocean cruise ships with a quieter, relaxed atmosphere—our ship only had 82 staterooms, as opposed to the hundreds that are on an ocean liner. I would compare a river cruise to an intimate family dinner versus an ocean cruise is more like an extravagant wedding celebration—obviously, they both have their positive attributes, it just depends on what type of environment and travel style you’re looking for.

What did you find you preferred about river cruising?

All of the inclusions onboard! Our price included all of our daily excursions, unlimited wine and beer with our meals, no additional charge for specialty coffees, plus all the little extra complimentary touches. Also, the food and wine onboard were excellent–we had fresh local selections daily.

What do you prefer about ocean cruising?

The evening entertainment and onboard casino. River cruises are wonderful during the day and they did offer some evening entertainment but it’s not on the same scale as an ocean cruise–it’s definitely more low-key.

Was this your first trip to Europe?

No, I have traveled to Europe many times before and have previously visited three of the four countries on this itinerary, including Switzerland, France and Germany. This was my first trip to Amsterdam, however, and even though I have visited the above countries before, many of the stops on the cruise’s itinerary were new to me. There were several quaint little towns along the Rhine which were very picturesque.

Why would you recommend a river cruise over a bus tour or independent travel?

Since you use your river cruise ship as a floating hotel, you only have to unpack once! Also, since it’s a very warm and friendly atmosphere, you develop a relationship with the staff and they quickly learn your preferences compared to staying at different hotels on a bus or independent tour.

Which excursion was your favorite or the highlight of your trip? Why?

My favorite excursion was a lovely walking tour of the old, historic center of Strasbourg, France. This area of the city looks like something out of a fairy tale with beautiful half-timbered houses with colorful flower boxes. It was so quaint and since I love history, this tour transported me back to another time!

Who do you think would be a good fit for a river cruise?

Travelers who love a stress-free atmosphere with good food and wine and enjoy walking, biking and exploring history and culture. Those who are also prone to motion sickness would prefer it over ocean cruising since we didn’t feel the movement of the ship at all.

Do you think there’s any sort of traveler who might not like one?

If you like a lot of evening entertainment, it may be too quiet at night for you. I also don’t think it’s a great fit for families with young children.

What were some highlights of the ship?

We loved our cabin, which was a twin balcony stateroom on the Violin Deck and featured both a regular and a French balcony. The lounge is a great meeting spot to relax and watch the scenery go by. We also enjoyed the regular dining and The Chef’s Table, which is an intimate restaurant that serves a five-course tasting menu.

Did anything surprise you?

Initially when you reserve a river cruise, the cost may seem higher than an ocean cruise but I was surprised that we had very few extra expenses while onboard. We only paid extra for a couple of cocktails that weren’t included in our fare, as well as gratuities to the cruise staff.

Do you have any tips for a first-time river cruiser that you’d be willing to share?

Don’t shy away from a river cruise based on the initial cost. It’s unlike an ocean cruise where the initial cost may be lower but once onboard you end up spending more money for drinks, shore excursions and specialty items.

Any other tips to share?

Yes! A great perk to booking with a Boscov’s Travel Specialist besides knowledgeable and friendly service is that you can use your Boscov’s credit card to pay for the trip in advance, receive 12 months to pay for it with no interest, and earn reward points!

A great tip! Thanks for your time, Lisa!

To learn more about the exciting destinations you can experience while taking a river cruise, please contact a Boscov’s Travel Specialist at 800-755-8020 or email us at travelrequest@boscovs.com.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury). View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

Find Bliss on Norwegian’s Cruise Line’s Newest Ship

If go-karting at sea seems your speed, get ready to meet the new Norwegian Bliss. Debuting in the summer of 2018, Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship, the 16th in their fleet, will initially spend her summers exploring Alaska and her winters island-hopping in the Carribean and Mexico. Besides offering the largest-at-sea two-level electric go-kart race track where drivers reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, the ship boasts an aqua park with a free-fall slide, a side-by-side racing inner tube slide, and a looping water slide that extends over the sides of the ship. Younger water lovers can splash under tipping water buckets and take aim at their parents with water cannons in the ship’s aqua park. And for those looking for a little less relaxation and a little more adventure can take aim in a competitive open-air laser tag course themed as an abandoned space station.

Foodies will delight at the ship’s southern-inspired cuisine, including the new Texas Smokehouse Q, featuring authentic Texas barbeque against the sounds of live contemporary pop country music, and Los Lobos, which offers upscale Mexican flavors along with guest favorites, like tableside fresh guacamole preparation and handcrafted margaritas. Steak lovers can challenge their stomach capacity with the 20-ounce Angus porterhouse featured at Cagney’s Steakhouse, and enjoy a nightcap at the A-List Bar, serving premium cocktails, wines and spirits. Even those missing their daily latte at sea will be thrilled to hear the ship houses a full-service Starbucks location, in a nod to its home port in Seattle.

Of course, no cruise would be complete without a little relaxation and spa-time, and like the ship’s name implies, bliss can be found in Mandara Spa, which also features a full-service salon and barber shop and fitness center. Due to popularity on its sister ship, Breakaway, Bliss features plenty of outdoor promenades and lounge and bar areas, as well as al fresco dining options to immerse guests in the cruise experience, as well as the beautiful views on board at sea. Custom-built for the Alaskan cruiser, guests will be able to view glaciers and the natural beauty of our northernmost state directly from the ship, or hop off at one of the Alaskan ports for sightseeing and exploring.

After departing from Seattle, the cruise will feature stops in the Alaskan ports of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, as well as Victoria, British Columbia. Whether exploring the Misty Fjords or zip-lining in Ketchikan, or trekking through glaciers or whale-watching in Juneau, or panning for gold or dog sledding through Skagway, Alaska offers adventure for everyone. Victoria, with its stunning Butchart Gardens and famed Chinatown, as well as Seattle’s Space Needle and historic Pike Place Market rounds out just a taste of shoreside opportunities for cruisers on the Bliss’ inaugural Alaskan voyages.

To learn more about the Bliss’ itineraries and price out your stateroom or suite today, please contact a Boscov’s Travel Specialist at 800-755-8020 or email us at travelrequest@boscovs.com.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury). View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com

Ahoy Cruisers! Here’s What We Learned Planning Our First Cruise

The following post is written by Jen from the Boscov’s Travel Marketing Department. Jen set sail on Disney Cruise Lines in September 2017. 

Confession: Despite having spent my childhood summers on the water from Maine to Maryland on my family’s small speedboat, I had never considered taking my own family on a cruise. Although I loved my summers on the ocean on our tiny little boat, graduating up to a huge ship wasn’t necessarily something that ranked highly on my vacation bucket list. But after several friends came home from a cruise raving about their experience, and after our kids kept hinting that they’d like to visit islands and the beaches in the Caribbean, we decided it was time to set sail. With the help of an experienced Travel  Specialist to guide us through the planning process, we planned a memorable vacation our whole family enjoyed. Here are a few things we learned along the way:

It’s so much more helpful to plan a cruise with a Travel Specialist

At first, planning a cruise seemed simple and something we could on our own  (we planned the trip prior to me joining the Boscov’s Travel team). But we quickly realized that everything—from picking a departure port, cruise line and a ship, and then a category and room on the ship, as well as an itinerary that worked well for us at the time we needed to vacation—was not nearly as simple as it originally seemed. Although we pride ourselves on being able to research and plan many of our own family vacations to the beach or other nearby locales, as inexperienced cruisers, we quickly became overwhelmed by the choices and realized that we needed expert help to be able to craft the perfect vacation that also fit into our budget. Our Travel Specialist, an experienced cruiser herself, quickly put us at ease and started to explain the process to us: First, roughly decide on your budget. Next, decide which cruise line appeals to you. For us, this was our simplest choice since we own a timeshare through Disney Vacation Club and had the option to use our points in lieu of cash (which we ultimately decided against doing since our points didn’t go very far towards covering our fare). But had we not been so committed to sailing Disney, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of cruise lines and the sometimes subtle or not-so-subtle differences among the ships, as well as price-points for sailing on each line. Once we had that narrowed down, we took a look at what ships and what itineraries were available during the timeframe we wanted to sail, and from where the ship departed so we could factor in any additional transportation and pre- and post-cruise lodging costs into our overall budget. At this point, with our Travel Specialist, we compiled a small list of suitable cruises and went to work on researching the ships and itineraries to decide which one appealed the most to us. Taking the information back to our kids, we determined as a family that we wanted to experience a short 3-night cruise for the first time to ensure that we all enjoyed it (and no one would be prone to motion sickness) before we invested in a longer week-long stay aboard a cruise ship. At this time, our Travel Specialist also advised us she felt it was best to fly to Florida at least a day before our cruise’s departure to take some of the stress out of worrying about flight delays or cancellations, which might affect our ability to get to the port on time. This pre-cruise stay allowed us to get in two nights at Walt Disney World prior to our cruise, thus extending our short cruise into a longer land and sea vacation, which was great for us since we knew we’d be blending together a familiar and fun vacation spot along with a new and unfamiliar experience.

Figuring out your budget and what’s most important to you

Once our ship, date and itinerary were chosen, it was time to tackle where to stay on the ship. Unlike most vacations where we’re placed wherever the hotel chooses to put us, cruising is much different with cruisers selecting the exact room they’d like to stay in. Prices can also wildly vary with those staying in interior rooms low on the ship paying much less than those staying high on the ship with verandahs or balconies. Additionally, like airfare, cruise pricing is not set: Generally, cruises are least expensive  when the itineraries and dates are first announced (often a year to almost two years in advance – see current itineraries here http://boscovstravel.com/temp/Disney-Cruise-Line-Sailings-2017-2018.pdf), and steadily increase in price as you near the sailing date. Because our family chose a short cruise, and because we were not sailing to many ports of interest, we decided to splurge on our accommodations to make the most out of our time on the ship. As first-time cruisers, and since communication to our Travel Specialist would be cut off as soon as we sailed away from Port Canaveral unless we wanted to pay exorbitantly high roaming charges on our cell phones, we decided it would be in our best interest to have the help of a concierge staff to help us with any request, including personalized help with booking on-board experiences and off-ship excursions both before and during our stay. Our concierge privileges also enabled us to be among the first to board the ship, maximizing the time of our vacation, plus gave us access to a special lounge steps from our room that offered specialty coffee, hors d’oeuvres, and beer, wine and cocktails, which are not normally included in your cruise fare. While our concierge stay nearly doubled the cost of our cruise compared with us sailing in a less expensive cabin on the ship, as first-time cruisers unfamiliar with cruising and overwhelmed with the options each day both on and off the ship, we were glad we opted to go for a shorter cruise to save money and instead splurged for the extra help and truly personalized service we received from the concierge staff—they made everything incredibly easy and stress-free for us from the moment we arrived at the port to the moment we stepped off the ship.  While we were definitely spoiled this time by the amazing service of the concierge staff, we certainly feel more confident to sail without such a luxury next time now that we know the lay of the land and what to expect during a cruise vacation.

Because we allocated so much of our budget towards our concierge room, we didn’t have much left over for excursions off the ship, nor for much pampering or paid-activities on the ship. Cruises are packed with hourly entertainment for the whole family, and while most activities and dining are included with your fare on a Disney cruise, some activities are not, such as wine tastings, spa treatments and specialty dining and beverages. Additionally, nearly every excursion off the ship cost something—whether it was a couple of bucks per person, or sometimes several hundred per person. Since our next cruise will likely be longer in length, and we’ll place importance on the ports over the on-the-ship experience, we’ll likely sail in more moderate accommodations to be able to afford excursion adventures and some additional fun things on the ship while we’re at sea.

Other financial considerations also include the cost of passports for your family if you don’t already have them, gratuities for your dining and stateroom attendants, as well as travel insurance. We were incredibly fortunate to be the last unaffected sailing prior to Hurricane Irma’s arrival, and didn’t stress too much about her impending arrival since we knew our trip would be covered due to any delays or disruptions.

Because we received such experienced guidance by our Travel Specialist when planning our trip, and had such personalized help with the concierge staff on the ship, we were truly able to simply relax and enjoy every second of our cruise, making it a truly unforgettable and fun experience for our whole family.

If you’re ready to start planning your next cruise, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, call 800-755-8020 or direct message us.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury). View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com