The Best Way to See Europe: Cruises vs Hotels
by Tina Boomerina (Christina Gregoire)
All of us Baby Boomers should find a way to get to Europe at least once in our lives.
But, when mapping out our desires, we all have to decide whether to travel by cruise ship or to journey by train and stay in hotels. I don't recommend renting a car, because parking is insane in major European cities, and it’s difficult to navigate those disorienting traffic circles.
So which type of travel will you like better: sightseeing by cruise ship or traveling on your own? Well, they both rock in their own ways.
Europe on the Cheap
In this wicked economy, the best way to see Europe is by sailing on a discounted cruise or by crashing in cheap, but friendly, hotels. And, if you're a serious budgeteer, you should try to take your trip in the off-season, because travel is usually cheaper in early spring, in late fall, or even in the dead of winter. Also, Europeans are friendlier and less hurried when they aren’t being bombarded by unsophisticated, demanding tourists.
European Cruise or Rail Travel?
Most of us are done raising our kids and now it’s time to travel. Yes, even if you are a single Boomerina, you can probably afford Europe if you know the tricks. But, first of all, which one of these descriptions sounds like you?
- You like preplanned, well-scheduled itineraries. You like to visit a lot of different places, but you don’t want to hassle with the planning. (Take a cruise.)
- You're into serendipitous, freewheeling adventure. You’re the type of chick who says to herself, “As long as I’ve got my credit card, I’m ready for anything.” (Travel by train.)
- You want to see the big cities and the best castles, and you want to see a little bit of everything. (Take a European River Cruise. Note: River cruises are often more expensive than sailing the open seas.)
No matter what you’ve heard, it’s not terribly expensive to travel around Europe these days, either by ship (inside cabin) or by train (2nd class). You just need to be flexible and creative. However, if you’re retired or you can work from your laptop, you should make sure your passport is stamped and you’re ready to rock and roll.
Cheap European Cruises
The bad economy, combined with a glut of cruise ships, forces most cruise lines to shower you with amazingly good deals. The key to finding a great deal is to be:
- Flexible about the timing of your trip.
- Flexible about your itinerary. (Every corner of Europe is fascinating.)
- Willing to book a last-minute cruise.
Empty cabins on cruise ships represent major losses in revenue for cruise lines, so the cruise companies are wiling to eat a loss on your stateroom and try to get you to spend, spend, spend on their shore excursions, alcohol, gambling, shopping, art auctions, spa massages, and other miscellaneous stuff.
If you can control yourself, you can afford to see Europe and the rest of the world. And, that is why cruising is the favorite vacation of Baby Boomers, because many of us have lost large chunks of our nest eggs and some of us have interest incomes that are close to zero. So, sign up for email alerts from cruise websites and be ready to jump when you see a wonderful deal.
Three Stars - Cheap European Hotels
Don’t misunderstand me. Europe can be extraordinarily expensive, but you can get around this by traveling second class and staying at inexpensive hotels. Your best bet is to get a Rick Steves’ travel book (try your library) and follow Steves’ recommendations. Also, talk to a travel agent to decide if you need a Eurail Pass or if you should pay (for the train) as you go.
And, if you haven’t been to Europe since your post-college backpacking adventure around the continent, you will be amazed to see that all Western European signs are in English, as well as in the local language. So, you shouldn’t be afraid to barnstorm across Europe without a guide. Traveling in Europe is as easy as vacationing in Oklahoma, but the scenery is more photogenic.
Are You in Good Shape?
You must be in reasonably good shape to travel according to the Rick Steves philosophy. And, that's because you'll have to lug your own suitcase from the train station to the hotel, you’ll have to tramp up and down a zillion stairs to use the Paris Metro, and you’ll be forced to forgo those tony London cabs and hoof it instead. On the other hand, you don’t have to be a marathon girl. (I’m not in great shape and I recently hiked all around Paris with my two twenty-something girls.)
If you cannot walk a mile, you should consider seeing the Baltic or the Mediterranean by cruise ship, because most ship excursions are designed for oldsters with limited mobility. Or, you might want to pick just one city and ramble around at a leisurely pace while pretending to be a local. Europe is fabulous. It’s all good. It’s all fun.
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Do you prefer land or sea? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page.