River cruises are a great way to see the world. Your luxury hotel floats along with you down the world’s greatest rivers, allowing you to explore different cities by day and return to your ship each night. A river cruise allows you to unpack once, yet still see a range of different destinations during your adventure. A river cruise also means you have the same hotel and dining crew for the entire cruise. After a day or two they get to know your wants and needs, making the entire experience much more personal than hopping from hotel to hotel.
While cruises continue to increase in popularity, very few cruisers know (or care to know) how the ship actually works. Although the ships basically cruise in one direction or the other down the river, they still have someone who must control the steering and power at all times. In Europe, river cruise ships must negotiate a series of canal locks, in which the ship must be carefully positioned during the process. And these are big ships, the average European river cruise ship is 360 feet long and 37 feet wide.
On a recent river cruise down the Danube, I had a chance to chat with the captain of the M.S. Sound of Music in the wheelhouse to learn and see how he controls the ship. After taking a few river cruises, it was truly fascinating to see the technology that controls and guides the huge craft. Using radar and GPS to get a real time view of the ship and the surrounding riverbanks, the ships are propelled and steered by two, movable jet thrusters. These are augmented by two more smaller outboard thrusters to make the ship even more maneuverable. The thrusters are controlled by joysticks and by very experienced captains.
My cruise was a nine-day Gate 1 Danube cruise from Budapest, Hungary to Munich, Germany. On the seven day cruise, we sailed first through Hungary, then Slovakia, then Austria and finally Germany. Each morning we would be at a different, fascinating destination and the day usually started with a city tour, which was included as part of the cruise package. After the official tour ended, we would normally have a few hours on our own to explore, before having to return to the boat usually around dinner time. After freshening up, it was time to enjoy a wonderful, formal dinner in the dining room and a chance to connect with other cruisers about their experiences. Drinking and dancing was available after dinner and the ship would sail at night, arriving at a new destination the next morning so the process could begin again.