The thought of going on a cruise is anathema to me and it has nothing to do with the horrible stories that one occasionally hears about enormous cruise ships being stranded at sea experiencing any number of catastrophes. No, it is the thought of being held captive in a gigantic floating hotel with hundreds (thousands) of people who think that the tank-top is an acceptable wardrobe choice.
It was never really an issue, though, since my wife held the same basic position.
As in past tense.
Last year, while I was off to some god-forsaken area of the planet (I actually was in Walla Walla, Washington, which is a fantastic place to be), my wife, our two boys, and my wife’s parents embarked on an eight-day cruise through the Caribbean. By all accounts, they had a grand time, and it was not nearly as awful as my wife had envisioned: the food was pretty good, the people were nice (enough), and there was ample reasonably (enough) priced booze to numb any particular pain on a given day.
But I remained nonplussed.
I had heard enough stories about being stranded at sea, people falling overboard, and random fights that I was perfectly fine sipping Syrah in Eastern Washington, thank you very much.
Once I returned to Houston, my wife tried to convince me that it really wasn’t that bad. In fact, she rather enjoyed it. And she proceeded to try to convince me that I should join her, the boys, and my in-laws on their next cruise.
This was coming from my partner-in-crime, the aforementioned fellow hater of cruises (despite the fact that neither of us had ever done a “formal” cruise–I had been on a very large boat in the Adriatic at one point, but it was much more of a ferry than a cruise, and the storm that I encountered at sea was enough for me to swear off big boat travel altogether), the person who despite her ever-advancing age, had tacitly agreed that she would never board a vessel with hordes of retirees sporting knee-high sweat socks and “fashionable” sunglasses.
A bit later that summer, I got a call from an old friend (although we had never actually met—long story, for another time) asking if I would like to take a European river cruise as a member of the press.
I was dubious, at best.
She did her best to allay my fears:
- Since it was a river cruise, it would be close to impossible to be stranded at sea: seeing it was a river cruise (and never actually in a sea), we would never be more than a hundred meters (at most) from terra firma.
- As far as she knew, there had been very few, if any, catastrophes of any size while cruising along the rivers of Europe, and if there have been, they were quickly mitigated by a quick turn to the left or right to the never-too-far-away shore.
- Equally, she had never heard of a passenger falling overboard on a river cruise since they tend to attract a different crowd–European river cruise clientele are more inclined to sip on Chablis than swig a six-pack of Schlitz and therefore far less likely to stumble overboard.
- And, as a continuation of the previous point, very few, if any, of the passengers on European river cruises sport shirts without sleeves, and when they do, they lack slogans such as “I love Jesus, but I cuss a little” or “Spring Break Rocks! 1997 Daytona Beach.”
The trip would start in Budapest, Hungary, a city that I had only visited once, some 30 years prior, when I was a student studying in Europe. The city and country were still under communist rule, but I distinctly remember loving my brief stint there. The ship would then meander up the Danube River, up through Vienna, Austria, the Wachau Valley wine growing region, and on into Germany, ending in the tiny Bavarian town of Vilshofen an der Donau, both regions that I have visited on a couple of occasions and I found delightful.
My friend also touted the trip as a “wine cruise” which would be hosted by Ceja Vineyards, a well-respected first generation Mexican-American owned winery with vineyards in Napa and Sonoma County. There would be daily wine tastings as well as visits to wineries along the Danube.
Last, she mentioned that the trip would be with AmaWaterways, perhaps the leader in luxury river cruises in Europe. The company has a fleet of nearly two dozen ships, operates in nearly as many countries, and offers two dozen different cruises (with several embarkation dates per cruise) in Europe.
After consulting with my wife, my calendar, and my wardrobe, I made the determination that I would go on the cruise with AmaWaterways, leaving Budapest in early November. A time of year that meant few tourists, crisp nights, and therefore little chance to encounter tank-tops and tube socks.