Last updated on January 8th, 2023
Featured image: River cruises, like this one on the Rhone, can make travel more accessible to women over 80 | Photo by Daniel VILLAFRUELA, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tips to find the right experience for you
By Diana Eden, Contributor, Women Over 80 Travel
A few of years ago, my younger sister and I decided to try a river cruise on the Rhöne River in France, starting in Lyon and ending in Arles. We were delighted with the experience.
I hadn’t quite turned 80 at the time. One day, I was sitting on the top deck enjoying the sun on my face and the view of the hills covered with lush vineyards and dotted with ancient stone buildings. I thought, “when I’m 100 years old and decrepit, I’ll just cruise up and down a beautiful river like this all day!”
Why women over 80 should consider a river cruise
1. The intimacy of a small ship
Truthfully, I found the small river cruise ship to be ideally suited to me in my older years. It was so much more intimate than a massive 14-story mega-liner. It was quieter, more relaxed, and easier to navigate (you can walk stern to bow in under a minute!).
On this trip, I was happy to have my sister as company, but I would not have worried about going solo. With a maximum of 140 passengers, it is easy to make friends. All the passengers fit into the lounge together for drinks, announcements, and entertainment, and all fit into the one dining room. Being just two, Carol and I usually sat at a table for 4 or 6, meeting some lovely people. It is unlikely that a solo guest will be eating at a single table in a corner or going on the excursions without already knowing some of the others.
CAVEAT: Be aware that cruise companies rarely relinquish that miserable single supplement. If you are solo, check first, and depending on capacity, see if you can make a deal or have the supplement waived.
2. The clientele is my age
The clientele also seems to be of retirement age. Certainly, no children were running around unattended. In fact, no children were present at all except in the iPhone photo albums of proud grandparents. I look for trips where I can relate easily to my fellow travelers.
3. Disembarking the river cruise ship
One of the best aspects of a river boat is the ease with which you can get on and off with a simple gangplank and the guiding hand of a crew member and be almost instantly in the center of town. Since most ancient towns originated on a river, we docked near the main intersection and could be in the center square in less than five minutes. That made it possible to take an evening stroll around town before or after dinner.
This was the case, especially in Vienne, a lovely town already thriving 2000 years ago, which boasts the Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia, the ruins of a Roman theater, timber-supported medieval houses, and many other centuries-old monuments. Even in Avignon, one of the few French cities to have entirely preserved ancient town walls, we were 5 minutes from them from the dock. The historic center, which includes the Palais des Papes, the cathedral, and the Pont d’Avignon, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. We were but a ten-minute stroll from the Papal Palace.
CAVEAT: sometimes, if the dock is busy, they “park” the riverboats parallel with each other. In those situations, one has to climb to the top deck of your boat, cross over the top deck of the next boat, and even the next, and then down stairs to the gangplank. Not too much of an inconvenience, but tricky if you are stairs-averse.
Disembarking a river cruise in Vienne, France / Photo by Carol Moore-Ede
Disembarking a river cruise in Vienne, France / Photo by Jim (WCK-JST), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
4. There ia a choice of excursions
With the cruise line we chose, there were many choices of excursions every day, and they accommodated everyone- early risers, late risers, high-energy walkers, slow walkers. In fact, every level of capability or interest of their guests was taken care of.
We visited the medieval hilltop town of Oingt and a neighboring winery, took an antique steam train up the Gorge du Doux, visited the breathtaking miracle of Roman engineering, the 2000-years old Pont du Gard, saw the Son et Lumiere show projected on the walls of a giant stone quarry, and visited the Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum where Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted some of his most famous paintings such as Starry Night. My sister opted to go to the Camargue to photograph the wild flamingoes, black bulls, and white horses.
Not all river cruise companies offer the same advantages. Another company I sailed with offered less choice of tours, they usually started at 7 or 8 am. and their cost was not included in the original package.
Looking for day trips or activities? Check Viator for endless things to do here!
5. The food is excellent with many options
Meals were uniformly excellent, and wine flowed freely. If one was vegan or vegetarian, there were plenty of options, and kitchen staff even prepared special requests. One of our group wanted fresh salsa with her scrambled eggs, and they made it just for her every morning.
6. The scenery is exquisite
It was gorgeous, especially on the Rhone sailing south through the center of France. On some cruises, much of the actual sailing is done at night, so you will have free time during the day for excursions, so if you want those days floating along between two banks of exquisite scenery, pick your route carefully and check your itinerary before you book.
Grape fields near Oingt, France / Photo provided by Carol Moore-Ede
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7. Shopping is less-crowded
For those who like to purchase things along the way, with river cruises, one does not have to fight the crowds or the vendors at the large ports where the cruise liners stop. You can shop at the local stores! While wandering around Vienne one evening, I purchased two lovely scarves at a small dress shop. In Avignon, I bought a small original painting for my collection of watercolor memories.
CAVEAT: Sadly, climate change is playing havoc with the water level of Europe’s rivers. The boats cannot go under the bridges if the water is too high. If too low, they cannot sail either, and you have no choice but to be content with being bussed to and from the next destination and the accompanying tours.
So if you want a relaxing tour, solo or with friends or family, choose to sail down one of Europe’s (or North America’s) great waterways and see life at a slower pace, up close and personal.
Tips on choosing a river cruise
“I river cruise alone often. I am very outgoing and can carry on a conversation with just about anyone…Pick an itinerary that interests you and book it …you won’t regret it.” — Wendy C
“River cruises rarely have single rooms. Mayflower lets you get an unknown roommate. That was a mistake.” — Sarah G.
“I have gone solo on two French River Cruises with Uniworld. They have several single cabins, and have waived single supplement offers. Both the crew members and fellow passengers were very inclusive , so very comfortable being one of the few singles onboard. Went on cruises in 2018 and 2019. Planning another river cruise in 2022.” — Louise
“One thing I did notice about anyone with mobility issues – sometimes the boats park side by side, so in order to get ashore, one has to get off our boat, cross the boat next to the dock, to get ashore – difficult for people with a mobility issue. Overall river cruising is better than ocean cruising, as you always see land and it is a smoother ride, good food and entertainment from each country you visit .” — Joy F.
“Two pieces of advice – Look at water levels. When you least expect it, due to drought and climate change, many routes become part river, part land trips! Also, if you’ve been on ocean liners before, don’t think a river cruise is anything like a typical ocean-faring cruise.” — Nancy S.
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