In Germany on the Rhine, my riverboat, the Viking Hild, stopped in the historic city of Mainz. The vessel’s basic complimentary walking tour included monuments to art and history, markets, churches, and the fascinating museum of Johannes Gutenberg where travelers may see two of the 29 remaining copies of the Gutenberg bible.
All good, except what I wanted to see in this port, on this visit, were Marc Chagall’s nine stained glass windows in St. Stephen’s Church. Chagall viewed these amazing church windows as a sign of post-World War II goodwill between the Jewish and Christian faiths, finishing the final window just before his death in France in 1985. He declined ever to return to Germany after the war so he never saw his windows in place. They did not exist when last I visited Mainz in the 1970s.
St. Stephen’s was not on the basic tour, which most passengers on the ship chose, but I had noticed that earlier and picked a different guided walk. How did I know about the windows? I had read a story about them while doing pre-trip research.
Even in this world where everything in organized travel seems to be handed to you on a silver platter — especially on river cruise tours — you need to know what you want to see and do.
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If you want to have the best experience, such questions should be part of your pre-trip thought progress. You may be surprised at what research will dig up, such as early morning mountain biking off the SeaDream cruise ship in the Caribbean; canoeing on the Danube, a jogging tour or a painting class in Amsterdam on Active Discovery trips with Avalon Waterways; or a 20-minute walk with a guide to visit the Chagall windows in Mainz on a voyage with Viking River Cruises.
For most of these experiences you will need to book or prepare before your trip. Contact your cruise line, travel agent, and check out websites such as CruiseCritic.com , where you will be able to read what other cruisers have to say.
Much of the world now is open to exploration. Choices of travel companies, vessels, guides, itineraries, tours, active adventures, and cultural discoveries abound. They present amazing opportunities and thus challenges for you and/or your travel agent to find and book the experience that fits your needs.
Ocean and river cruise lines continue to expand their fleets and excursions. Dozens of new ships will slide from factories into waters around the world during the next few years. Announcements at the recent Seatrade Cruise Global conference in Fort Lauderdale indicate that more than 100 new ships are on order, to debut between now and 2027.
To encourage demand to meet supply, the cruise industry is busier than ever in its quest for new customers — enticing to sea each year as many as one million passengers who never have cruised before.
While the operators of big ships tout their impressive and innovative onboard accoutrements that keep passengers busy and entertained at sea, cruise lines with smaller vessels tend to concentrate on what happens off the ship. The small ship business, both on rivers and at sea, is booming.
Cruise lines are appealing to prospective cruise travelers who are looking for experiences that are immersive, cultural, and physically active. They are offering more adventurous activities ashore, such as biking, walking, kayaking and canoeing.
Many of the ocean cruise lines — from the smaller ships of Azamara Club Cruises and Windstar Cruises to bigger ships of Celebrity, Holland America and Viking Ocean — are staying overnight occasionally in ports, so passengers may enjoy the nightlife, special evening performances, or the pleasure of getting to know a town as it celebrates the end of a workday.
All of these additional travel choices require more decision-making, which works best with additional research on the Internet or through your cruise travel agent.
David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com