Tag Archives: tips

rainbow umbrellas hover over a street of shops and restaurants in Istanbul turkey

Winter Is Europe’s Secret Season

Savvy travelers love Europe in winter and not just because they can avoid the sticker shock and tourist crowds of peak season. It’s easier in winter to feel connected to local life, as it’s easier to meet the local people and see how they really live. More time may be spent indoors, but museums feel like your own private galleries, and it’s easier to get into the most in-demand restaurants for fabulous meals. Insider experiences, charming scenery, and great food are all accessible and available, as the travelers below discovered, if you just know the right trip designers who can help you make the most of this cozy time of year. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.


NORWAY: “We were in the middle of a herd of hundreds of reindeer, watching them and admiring their beauty inside an Arctic wonderland.”

Traveler Julie Silbermann feeding reindeer in Norway.

Julie Silbermann spent a day with Sami people and got to help feed their reindeer.

“WOW! What a trip we had to Finnmark in northern Norway! We can’t thank Wendy enough for connecting us with Jan and Miriam for our trip March 7-15. They crafted an exciting trip of one adventure after another. We flew to Alta, which is 400 miles inside the Arctic Circle, and stayed at the Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge. It is remote and incredibly beautiful. We stayed in a room overlooking the river and mountains with floor-to-ceiling windows. We went dog sledding, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. We even caught Arctic char, which our guide, Kalle, expertly cooked for us inside our warming tent for lunch! We were very lucky to see the Northern Lights on three out of four nights, and Helle knew just where to bring us to see the spectacular light show.

One of our most special expeditions was spending the day with the Sami people, helping them herd and feed their reindeer! We were in the middle of a herd of hundreds of reindeer, watching them and admiring their beauty inside an Arctic wonderland. Just an amazing experience. Big thanks to Trygve Nygard, Kalle, Helle, and Emilie for their special care on our expeditions. Everything was taken care of for us—there wasn’t a detail left to chance.” —Julie Silbermann

Read more reviews of Norway trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


PORTUGAL: “In the Alentejo region we experienced an outstanding lunch with a wine pairing, horseback ride, cork factory and hikes…”

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola. Alentejo Region. Portugal

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola im Alentejo Region, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was our first trip using a recommended Wendy Perrin trip planner. We travelled to Portugal March 8th—March 15th, 2024. It was a special trip to celebrate our son’s graduation from college. Our trip was planned by Goncalo and Joanna. WOW! What an amazing trip they planned for us. The accommodations that they chose for us were fantastic! Very unique and customer oriented. The destinations and route they planned—from Lisbon to the Alentejo region and the West Region—were perfect. Our driver, Sandru, was amazing and he made sure everything was taken care of when we reached our destinations. (He also knew our itinerary and was always able to answer questions.) Sandru went above and beyond to make our trip very special.

We had a wonderful cooking class and gastronomic tour with Lara in Lisbon and even attended a Benefica Football game. In the Alentejo region we experienced an outstanding lunch with a wine pairing, horseback ride, cork factory and hikes. In the West Region, a full day tour which included Obidos, Nazre, and Alcobaca. The details were taken care of for us, from tours to restaurant reservations, it was the best trip I have ever been on. I can’t wait to plan our next trip with a Wendy Perrin recommended trip planner.” —Lori Bentley

Read more reviews of Portugal trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


PARIS: “A fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up-and-coming Parisian designers…”

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“This was a trip for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food and the Louvre.

Let’s start by how incredibly smooth our airport arrival was! Upon exiting the aircraft, we were whisked away by Mohammad, who led us through customs, helped us with our luggage and delivered us to our driver. This alone was worth using Wendy Perrin! I bet we saved 2 hours not having to wait in the line at customs.

Jennifer, our trip planner, did a great job planning our tours and making our dining reservations! We were very impressed with each tour guide—private 1/2-day tour of the Louvre could not have been better! We loved our croissant-making class and our chef was fabulous. We were pleasantly surprised with our tour of the Dior museum—so unexpected and maybe one of our most favorite things. We had the museum to ourselves and our guide was fantastic! Jennifer secured a fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up-and-coming Parisian designers and this was a real treat! We loved meeting the shop owners and we felt like locals shopping for the afternoon.

Each and every restaurant reservation that Jennifer procured provided the best table in the restaurant with amazing views of the Eiffel Tower. One of the restaurants surprised us with a sparkler in my daughter’s dessert, which was so fun.

We would definitely use Jennifer again in the future.” —Kim Brown

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


FINLAND: “An exciting jaunt by snowmobile to learn how to ice fish on a frozen lake and then dog sledding on a snowy day…”

The cozy and warm Glass House Suite at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Finland.

Between outdoor adventures, Michael Ruma warmed up by the fire in his Glass House Suite. Photo: Traveler Michael Ruma

“My wife said she’d like to see the aurora borealis and, with Wendy’s help, we were quickly introduced to Leigh, who created a delightful week of fun in Finland.

We hopped an easy flight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, which lies directly on the latitude of the Arctic Circle. An efficient, private transfer brought us to the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel. Met with warm blueberry juice, we checked into our Glass House suite. Our room had a centrally located living room with an enclosed wood burning stove along with two bathrooms, one of which had our very own dry sauna.

Advised to download the Aurora app, we learned about the KP index which predicts the probability of witnessing the northern lights. Fortunately, after dinner at the hotel, a notification from the app informed us at 9pm the chance was high! Intent on seeing the natural phenomenon, we bundled up and hiked up a trail to a 50-foot observation tower specifically designed for viewing the lights. Finnish myths say the lights are caused when a fox runs across the Arctic landscape whipping up snow from its tail, sparking the lights in the night sky.

Regardless of the cause, we were blessed by an hour display of a gray hazy line emerging in the distance and evolving into a bright green glow right in front of our eyes. As we watched and photographed the sky, the lights blew around us along our walk back to our room.

Our next two days were filled with other Arctic adventures which included an exciting jaunt by snowmobile to learn how to ice fish on a frozen lake and then dog sledding on a snowy day in the beautiful and vast northern Finnish countryside. We concluded our trip with a train ride from Rovaniemi back to Helsinki. On our last day in Helsinki, we splurged and dined at Restaurant Savoy.

We would happily come back to Finland for a future visit either in the winter to take in the unique night sky, but this time much further north, or during the summer to take in the lively and sunny long days in Helsinki filled with so much to see, taste, and do. Delighted by its vast country, small polite population, and compact capital, its seasonally focused food, and its matter-of-fact and kind people. We had such fun in Finland.” —Michael Ruma

Read more reviews of Finland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


SICILY: “Getting to know Sicilians—over good conversations, culinary experiences, archaeology hikes, tours, food and wine—was the highlight of the entire trip.”

Sicily coastline Italy

The view of Sicily’s coastline and region, Italy. Photo: Pixabay/kirkandmimi

“We are just back from an AMAZING, perfectly planned and executed trip to Sicily. Marcello is the gold standard of travel planners. He created a perfectly curated, balanced itinerary and checked in daily to make sure all was going smoothly. We could not have covered as much as we did (in nine days) without having private drivers, who were excellent. We covered a lot of ground in Sicily with a full schedule each day, but somehow it never felt rushed.

While January might not be the ideal time to visit Sicily (with the weather less than cooperative!), we saw, learned, engaged, and met wonderful people all along the way—from Palermo and surrounding towns Monreale, Castelbuono, Cefalu to Villa Romana del Casale, Agrigento, Testa dell’Acqua, Noto, Siracusa/Ortigia to Mt Etna. More than anything, getting to know Sicilians—over good conversations, culinary experiences, archaeology hikes, tours, food and wine—was the highlight of the entire trip. Marcello’s selection of guides and hosts was superb.

Perhaps the highlight of many highlights was the final day at Mt. Etna guided by Salvo (a vulcanologist) followed by our visit to the Santa Maria La Nave Winery for a tour, wine tasting, and lunch hosted by Vera and Carmello. They epitomized the warmth, welcome and pride of purpose we found every day during this first visit to Sicily. We look forward to returning soon to this stunning, fascinating, history-filled island.” —Barbara Gross

Read more reviews of Sicily trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


ROME: “Our favorite experiences were exclusive visits to the Galleria Borghese and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj…”

charming cobblestone street with ivy in Trastevere, Rome, Italy.

Cobblestone street in Trastevere, Rome, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“Nancy and I were lucky to have spent the first week of 2022 in Rome on a trip planned by Jennifer and her team.  Jennifer arranged for us to stay at the Hotel Eden while we were in Rome. The staff at the hotel were so nice to us and looked out for us during our stay.

Jennifer also arranged some great experiences during our time in Rome. By far, our favorite experiences were exclusive visits to the Galleria Borghese and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj with Alessia, our favorite guide during this trip. Alessia was able to navigate both galleries so that we saw the most we could during our limited time. and her knowledge of the art in each location was outstanding. Two other experiences which were highlights during our trip were a day trip to Naples/Pompeii with our guide Liberata and driver Salvatore, as well as a lovely food tour in the Trastevere neighborhood with Luca, where we got to sample some Roman delicacies.

We always felt looked after by Jennifer and her team. They would check in daily to see if we needed anything and they would lay out the itinerary for the next day. We feel so fortunate that we have found Jennifer and know that everything will be spectacular on a tour which she has arranged.” —Kevin Haney

Read more reviews of Rome trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


HUNGARY & POLAND: “On the Danube, a private boat to see the lights of nighttime Budapest…”

HUngarian Parliament building lit up at night, viewed from the Danube River Hungary

Parliament building, Hungary. Photo: Leonhard_Niederwimmer/Pixabay

“The absolute best thing we asked Gwen to add for us was VIP arrival and departure service at the airports. When we landed in Warsaw, we were whisked off to a private lounge, and the staff took our passports and handled all the details for us as we relaxed in the lounge. No lines, no frustrations with procedures, no stress. It was worth every penny. In fact, we loved it so much, we asked Gwen to add the VIP departure service to our flight leaving Budapest at the end of the trip. Once again, we hung out in a private lounge as everybody took care of our paperwork. We were escorted through private security and then to a private transfer right to the door of the plane where we were the first to board. Fantastic!

Other highlights of our trip to Poland and Hungary included:

  • In Krakow, our private tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau was so moving and impactful. Our guide’s father was a survivor of Auschwitz, and it was humbling to have him share with us. Guides really do make or break tours.
  • In Egar, a fantastic meal at the beautiful castle restaurant, with Hungarian wines paired to our various courses—the best meal of the trip!
  • On the Danube, a private boat to see the lights of nighttime Budapest.

I appreciated Gwen being willing to make changes for us as we moved through the itinerary. It was such a relief to know the logistics were handled and we had someone on call should anything change or become difficult.” —Sarah Wade

Read more reviews of Hungary and Poland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


ITALY: “We went to a Barolo village and had the chance to visit a Barolo wine cellar for a private tasting and tour…”

Serralunga d'Alba castle, medieval village in Piedmont, north Italy

Serralunga d’Alba castle, a medieval village in Piedmont, North Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were so very fortunate to be able to experience an impromptu trip to Milan and the Piedmont region in early January 2022—and we could never have done it without Jennifer. The trip was glorious. We went to a Barolo village and had the chance to visit a Barolo wine cellar for a private tasting and tour. Our guides in Torino and Milan were excellent, and we relished the opportunity to take in The Last Supper and other masterpieces with no crowds. Like NONE. In Piedmont, the weather was mild and we were able to spend a lot of time outdoors.  We made some wonderful memories and cannot say enough about how this trip abroad gave us a much needed change to start 2022.” —Gina Melton

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


FRANCE: “We didn’t just tour this small museum; Philip arranged for the museum director to spend three hours guiding us through it…”

Leafy town square with fountain in a picturesque village in Provence, France

Saignon, Provence, France. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our two-week trip to France in December focused on Provence and the Riviera. Philip created a wonderful itinerary focused on memorable experiences and lesser-known sights. The hotels he chose were excellent; we especially liked Mas de Pierre in the hills northwest of Nice. Our rooms in all hotels were both comfortable and spacious—a combination less often found in France. Philip suggested a glassblowing class in Antibes, and my husband and I made three glass pieces each (two vases, one bowl, two perfume bottles with fancy stoppers, and my favorite, my jellyfish in a glass globe).

The Riviera has lots of museums, but Philip sent us to one of his favorites, the remarkable Museum of Classical Art in the hilltop village of Mougins. We didn’t just tour this small museum that intersperses antiquities with Old Masters and modern art; Philip arranged for the museum director to spend three hours guiding us through it. What an enlightening experience.

Philip also arranged black truffle hunting outside Salon de Provence, which was interesting and surprisingly educational. (They use dogs now, not pigs, because dogs can be trained with food to back away from a truffle it finds. Pigs don’t, which is why many truffle hunters are missing fingertips.)  We had a delightful seven-hour private cooking class in Aix-en-Provence with a former chef who emailed us all the recipes for the dishes we’d made.

We went horseback riding in La Camargue, the wetlands area south of Arles between the two branches of the Rhône River. La Camargue is famed for its white horses, bulls raised for French bullfighting (the bullfighters have to snatch a ribbon from between the bull’s horns, not kill it), and pink flamingos. We had fun riding horses through this region on the ranch of a former bullfighter and seeing the bulls and horses he and his elegant wife raise.

A don’t-miss experience was Hotel Mirande’s Table d’Haute dinner in Avignon. We dined in the hotel’s tiny cellar kitchen on a nearly all-French evening (except the chef and sommelier, who spoke English), which tested my vocabulary but engaged us with locals and Belgian tourists.” —Jan Heininger

Read more reviews of France trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


TURKEY: “Late December/early January turned out to be a great time to travel to Turkey”

garden restaurant at Four Seasons Sultanahmet Istanbul Turkey overlooking mosque

The Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Photo: Four Seasons

Karen and her team did an excellent job planning our trip to Turkey. Every transfer and tour pick-up was prompt. The drivers and guides were excellent. We loved the hotels—The Four Seasons on the Bosporus was elegant and comfortable and the view spectacular.

Late December/early January turned out to be a great time to travel to Turkey. It was chilly (although luckily for us, it was a few degrees above normal, at least in Istanbul) but the sun was shining. In addition, there weren’t large crowds even at the most frequently visited sites.

We enjoyed the restaurants that Karen recommended, and appreciate that she switched restaurants between two evenings to avoid a traffic jam due to a soccer game being played along the route from our hotel to one restaurant. The tour plan was perfect and we maximized our time sightseeing. ” —Susan Sullivan

Read more reviews of Turkey trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.



Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

smartphone taking picture ocean beach

How to Take Better Travel Photos with Your Phone

Photojournalist Tim Baker has been Wendy’s personal photographer (not to mention her husband) for decades. Not only has Tim shot emotive portraits and gorgeous landscapes all over the world, he’s also covered the action in war zones and pro football stadiums. But even with all that professional experience, Tim stands by an old saying in photography: “The best camera is the one you have with you.” And for many travelers these days—Tim included—that’s their smartphone.

So for our closing Travel Talk of WOW Week 2024, on February 9, we asked Tim to share his tips for getting great photos from your phone’s camera. Watch the full video below, and scroll down for Tim’s most important pieces of advice.

Clean your phone’s lenses. Tim cleans his before almost every shoot, especially when around salt water or sunny weather. (You might be wearing sunscreen and accidentally brush your arm up against the lenses, giving them a coating of SPF 100 and your photos an unwelcome misty quality). You can clean the lenses with anything you would use to clean your glasses.

Take action shots. Ask yourself: What is the verb in the picture? Rather than having people pose for every photo, try to capture interaction and movement. For instance, shoot your family taking part in a cooking class, interacting with local people at a market, or bobsledding down a mountain—not just standing beside the chef, the fishmonger, or the bobsled.

Instead of using the flash, use a flashlight. Since the flash on phone cameras produces horrible results, borrow someone else’s phone and use its flashlight feature to light the backlit subjects. (Watch the video above to see a few examples of the pocket-sized lights that Tim also carries.)

When shooting a food photo, light it up. Food pictures should look delicious! Use someone else’s phone in flashlight mode to light the dish. Food often looks the best with backlighting.

If a group of people is posing, take multiple photos. Often one person in the group will have their eyes closed or won’t be smiling at the exact moment when you snap the photo. Shoot several times, then choose the shot where everybody in the group has their eyes open and is smiling.

For portraits, turn the subjects away from dead center to the camera. Have them point their feet an eighth of a turn away from square to the camera. Their shoulders will naturally turn too, giving a more pleasing, less driver’s-license look.

Use the phone’s camera grid to follow the “Rule of Thirds.” The rule basically says: Don’t put a horizon line or subject in the dead center of a frame. Turn your camera’s grid on and place the subject at any of the four points where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.

Use the sun-icon slider to adjust the light. Learn to use the exposure compensation feature (which you can pull up by simply tapping your phone’s screen while in camera mode). The exposure of a subject can be “fooled” by very bright or dark scenes. Using exposure compensation can improve the photo; it’s especially useful with scenic shots.

When shooting close-ups, tap the screen to select the part of the image that you want to be sharpest. When shooting foods or busy scenes, the camera may pick one focus point, whereas you want another. Tapping on the specific focus point that you want tells the camera to focus on that.

Take horizontal photos. We naturally orient our phones vertically, but many shots are best composed horizontally, in what’s called “landscape.” Try both orientations—unlike in the days of film, it’s free to shoot, and you can delete what doesn’t work. (Also, if you’re planning to submit photos with your trip review to post on WendyPerrin.com, keep in mind that we can only publish horizontal images.)

Avoid using the zoom. When you zoom, all you are doing is cropping the original image, which can result in blurry photos because of their small file size. It’s better to walk in closer to your subject instead. (But if zooming is the only possible option, go ahead and try it.)

Use burst mode for shooting fast-moving action. Say your spouse is in the Tour de France and they will pedal by in a heartbeat. Using burst mode (approximately 10 photos per second) will greatly increase your chances of getting THE shot. Once you decide which shot was THE shot, you can delete the other nine to save space.

When shooting video, know that you can take still photos at the same time. Videos are great when you want to capture sound or action. Once you start recording a video, a white button will appear above the red record button; that is now the shutter button that allows you to take still photos while still recording.

Don’t oversaturate. If you’re using the in-phone editing tool, experiment with moving the various sliders around, but don’t boost the saturation too much. It can give your photo a phony Chamber-of-Commerce look.

Last but not least, overshoot and overedit. Don’t hesitate to shoot a lot of pictures, since this will give you more options when you’re ready to edit them. But then make tough editing choices, so that you show people only your very best. Everyone will think you’re a great photographer!

To see some of Tim’s work—and get inspired to shoot better photos on your next trip—click to these articles:

Farm Visits: WOW Trips That Get You Back to the Land Around the World

A Private Gulet on Turkey’s Aegean Coast: Wendy’s Family Trip

How to Know if a Barge Cruise in France Is Right for You

What the Right Local Fixer Can Do For You in Israel (or Anywhere)

Wendy’s Romania Trip Photos and Experiences

Staying Safe in a Global City: Wendy’s Trip to Istanbul

What Made Uzbekistan Special


Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

The Danube, and Austria's Wachau Valley, as viewed from Weissenkirchen on my river cruise last month.

10 Steps to a Better European River Cruise


“Hi Wendy,  I’m taking my first river cruise—along the Danube—on September 2. I’ll be on AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima from Vilshofen, Germany to Budapest, Hungary. What’s your most important advice for first-time river cruisers? Thanks! —Martha R.”


Funny, last month I sailed on AmaPrima’s identical sister ship, AmaSonata, on the same route but in the opposite direction—from Budapest to Vilshofen. And that was my sixth river cruise. So, Martha, I’ve got plenty of tips for you, as well as iPhone photos from last month’s trip to illustrate them.

1. Find out in advance which stretches of the river are most scenic.

The biggest appeal of seeing Europe by river, in my opinion, is that you get to absorb the history and life of a region from a perspective that you miss if you’re traveling by train or car. The view out your window is always changing (except when the ship is docked or passing through a lock), and you don’t want to miss the must-see stretches. So ask the cruise director at what times you’ll be passing through the most picturesque or interesting parts, so you can position yourself on the open-air top deck or in the observation lounge.  The entry into Passau, Germany, for instance, is a can’t-miss scene—it’s a charming town where three rivers converge, making for lively boat traffic—so you don’t want to choose that moment to, say, be taking a shower. (A good time for a shower is when you’re passing through a lock. On an ocean cruise, you don’t need to worry so much about missing sights because most of the time when you’re moving through water, you’re staring at ocean. On a river cruise, by contrast, most of the time when you’re moving through water, you’re passing landscape.) Martha, I can tell you that two highlights of your Danube cruise will be the stretch through Austria’s Wachau Valley between Melk and Dürnstein (27 kilometers with no bridges or locks) and the nighttime sail in Budapest.

Durnstein Austria

Dürnstein, in Austria’s Wachau Valley, is one of the prettiest towns on the Danube.


Budapest Hungarian Parliament Building

Budapest lit up at night is also unmissable. That’s the Hungarian Parliament Building.


Passau Germany

You don’t want to miss the entry into Passau, Germany—even if it’s raining.


2. Suss out what’s going on in each port on the date you’re there.

When your ship docks, most of your fellow passengers will opt for one of the prefab group tours organized by the ship.  I explore on my own instead—which is easy to do in European river towns—and it helps to know if any colorful local festivals or events are happening that day. At the time of my cruise, for instance, the annual Spitz apricot festival was happening (a must for apricot dumpling fans), as was an outdoor exhibition in Linz, constructed above the city’s rooftops, called Höhenrausch (“Thrill of the Heights”). To find out what’s on tap when you’re in port, check out the calendar of events on the websites of the country and city tourism boards (e.g., this one for Austria), or just walk into the tourist information office when you get to town.


July/August is apricot harvesting season in Austria’s Wachau Valley. These were served on the ship.


AmaSonata apricot brandy

The ship’s hotel manager said he used 6 kilos of apricots to make this apricot champagne cocktail. (I’ve got the recipe if you want it.)


AmaSonata apricot dumpings

In case you can’t get to the Spitz apricot festival, at least you can try apricot dumplings on the ship.


AmaSonata Spitz Austria

And in case you can’t get to Spitz at all, here it is.


Hohenrausch Linz Austria

In Linz, Höhenrausch is an exhibition constructed above the city. Note the wooden walkways connecting the rooftops.


3. Pack rainwear.

On a river cruise you can’t plan around the weather. You’re in town for only a few hours, so you need to make the most of it, rain or shine. Therefore, pack waterproof pants and jacket (the ship provides umbrellas), so that nothing will stop you from exploring outdoors. As an Eskimo in Arctic Alaska once told me, “There’s no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothes.”

Passau Germany bike trip

In Passau I joined the bike tour. Good thing I packed a rain parka.


Wernstein am Inn Austria

We biked along the Inn river to Wernstein am Inn. Good thing we didn’t let the rain stop us.


4. Pack shoes you can throw on fast and sprint to the observation deck in.

Because the shoreline is always changing, as are the vessels gliding by, there’s always something new to see out your window. On many stretches of the river, even if your cabin has a balcony, you may prefer to be up on the top deck so you can see the scenery on both river banks rather than just one. (History didn’t unfold on only one side of the river, after all). So bring non-tie shoes you can race to the top deck in as soon as you spot a castle out your window. (AmaWaterways has an elevator if you need it.)

AmaSonata balcony Budapest

Having a balcony is nice, but I’d rather be up on the observation deck. (Here’s the Hungarian Parliament Building.)


Schonbuhel Castle Wachau Valley Austria

When you see a sight like this (Schönbühel Castle, in Austria), you want to see what’s on the other river bank too, right?


AmaSonata sun deck

Here’s what the top deck looks like.


AmaSonata deck

The top deck has drinks too.

By the way, most cabins on AmaSonata have two balconies—one with chairs and one without. Here’s what the “French balcony” looks like, and here’s the “outside balcony” that you can sit on.


5.  Find fellow passengers you like and suggest dining together. 

On river cruises you must dine at set times. On some ships it’s possible to grab a quick breakfast or lunch from the buffet, if you like, but dinner is a two-hour affair that cannot be rushed, since you’re dining at a table with other passengers. If you like those other passengers, dinner is fun; if you don’t, it’s dreary, and you’re stuck.  So, if you meet people onboard whom you like, ask them to dinner.

AmaSonata breakfast chef

At the breakfast buffet, the chef can whip up an omelette pretty quickly—unless there’s a line.


AmaSonata breakfast breads

There’s never a line for the breads.


AmaSonata dinner

Dinner is a four-course affair.


AmaSonata dessert

That creme brûlée in the center? Apricot-flavored, of course.


6. Don’t count on room service.

Should you feel like skipping the four-course dinner, there is no quick-meal alternative, nor is there room service. (Only in suites on a few river ships will you find room service.) Sometimes snacks are served in the lounge—there’s often tapas in the afternoons or a late-night nosh (and coffee and fruit are always available)—but not at dinner time.  On AmaSonata, I was so busy with deadlines that I could not spare the two hours for dinner on most nights of my cruise, so I picked up snacks in port to eat in my cabin. (And you thought a travel writer’s life was glamorous.)

Naschmarkt berries

I found these berries at the Naschmarkt during our port stop in Vienna.


Naschmarkt cheese sausages

Cheese and sausages from Käseland (Cheese Land) at the Naschmarkt in Vienna.


Vienna tomatoes

Tomatoes at the Naschmarkt in Vienna.


AmaSonata lounge chefs

On one night a Bavarian buffet hit the ship’s lounge late in the evening.


7. Ask in advance about in-room computer access and entertainment.

The “infotainment” you find in your cabin varies hugely from ship to ship. Onboard AmaSonata I had a large flat screen that was both television and computer. I could use it to search Google, find out anything about the ports we were headed to, create a spreadsheet, watch a first-run movie, or listen to music. And it’s all free, including the Internet access.


AmaSonata cabin "computer"

Here’s my cabin’s Apple multimedia system, in front of the French balcony.


8. Prepare for spotty Wi-Fi.

There are stretches of the river where you can’t get Internet access—especially when you’re going through locks—and times when your connection is slow because everyone else onboard is sucking up the bandwidth. At least the Wi-Fi is free (unlike on ocean cruise ships, where it’s even slower and excruciatingly expensive).


Danube river lock Austria

There’s no Wi-Fi when you’re in a lock. I’m telling you, lock transits are a good time to take a shower: You don’t miss any of the river.


9. Plan on getting exercise off the ship rather than on it.

River-ship gyms are tiny.  It’s likely that the biggest shipboard work-out you’ll get is on the top deck’s walking/jogging track. In port your most feasible exercise options are walking and biking.  The ship carries 20 bikes (with helmets) and offers group bike tours in most ports. You can also use the bikes to explore on your own. (Bike usage is free.)


AmaSonata observation deck jogging track

Here’s the walking/jogging track.

10. Pack your swimsuit.

Most river ships of 160 passengers or more have a tiny pool on the top deck. AmaSonata’s is relatively large, is heated, and has a swim-up bar.

AmaSonata pool

My advice: Leave your deadlines at home so you actually have time to use your swimsuit.


One final photo:

Rudi Schreiner and Wendy Perrin

Here I am with AmaWaterways’ founder and president, Rudi Schreiner.

Rudi Schreiner, the cruise line’s founder and chief architect, was onboard because it was AmaSonata‘s christening cruise, July 16-23, 2014, and he mingled with passengers throughout.  Since it was a special cruise, many of the passengers had been invited as guests of the cruise line, including me, so this was a free trip. In keeping with my standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on AmaWaterways’ part, nor was anything promised on mine.  As I mentioned above, I’ve now taken six river cruises and am very familiar with the kind of services and treatment they offer; as a result, I feel confident that I can give my readers a fair evaluation of the experience.

If there are any other river-cruise questions I can answer, post them below. Or, if you’ve taken a river cruise yourself and have advice to share, please do. What do you wish you’d known beforehand that other travelers would benefit from knowing?

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Paris is one of the world's most expensive cities this summer, but there are easy ways to make your dollar go farther.

Smart Travel Strategies for Summer

As TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate, I’ve been sharing a lot of summer travel advice over on the TripAdvisor blog. In case you’ve missed my posts, here are links to the tips I think you’ll find most useful:

* Traveling Overseas? Make Your Dollar Go Farther.  Here’s a list of the world’s most expensive cities this summer (including Paris)—and six actions to take that will not only save you money but also reward you with more local color.

* How to Plan a Family Beach Vacation That Won’t Break the Bank.  Are you finding that every four- or five-star beach resort you’ve contacted has hiked its rates sky-high this summer?  Here are the tricks I’ve used for my own family’s summer getaways.

* Easy Ways to Avoid Airline Baggage Fees.  Of all the fees airlines hit us with, the one that most travelers find most annoying is the fee for checking luggage. For those of you who don’t have elite status with an airline, here are three ways to avoid getting stung.

Improve Your Trip With an Overnight Layover (No Kidding!)  Do you dread overnight layovers?  It’s time to change your attitude and use them to give your trip a fun kick-off or a grand finale.

* When to Save Money with a Vacation Rental.  You get more space and privacy than in a hotel, and you get to live like a local, but renting a home without staff or hotel infrastructure can mean spending your vacation doing household chores. If you’re looking for that perfect villa in Tuscany or farmhouse in Provence where it’s an easy walk into town for dinner and you needn’t worry about wrestling with unfamiliar appliances or taking out the garbage, feel free to shoot me an email (click on “Contact,” above) and I can connect you with the right trusted villa expert for your destination.

Happy summer travels, everyone!

Luxembourg Gardens boat pond, Paris

One of many inexpensive activities in Paris is to sail boats in the Luxembourg Gardens, as my younger son is doing here.