Didn’t Mom always tell you to play nicely? Of course she did—and of course she was right.
That’s how the riverboats do on these European river cruises, too. They share space, passengers are obligated to periodically wave and we all float up or down our respective rivers happily.
But space is at a premium at some docking areas and that means sharing space can affect us as passengers. “Rafting” is the term passengers use (I’m not sure what the crew calls it) when your ship is docked right alongside—and I mean, really, really close—another cruise ship. There are only so many docking areas and, with the increasing popularity of river cruising, sharing is a necessity.
Before the trip, I’d been warned by experienced river cruisers that this happens. Some folks make the best of it (“Hi, where are you from? Where are you going?”). Others blushingly shared how they enthusiastically opened their windows in the early morning only to find themselves looking into another boat’s window; and the other boat’s passengers shockingly/laughingly/disgustedly (pick your adverb) looking into theirs.
Hmmm…our room was to be a Veranda A type of stateroom, on the third floor (starboard side). Part of the appeal of paying the extra money for that room was having a clear view of the river when sleeping and awaking. How many times would the Atla be rafted to another ship and disturb that view?
When we boarded the Atla at Amsterdam, it was rafted to one of those river cruise boats with the roses on them (you’ll see a lot of them on these rivers, but I don’t recall the line). Passengers going on board the rose ship had to walk through the Atla lobby, so I guess I’d say that the Atla had the “primary” dock space.
It didn’t really matter to me because a) it was on the port side (!) and, b) we were so busy exploring our new digs that it was more of a curiosity than an inconvenience. Quickly, however, the rose-logo ship left the dock and the Atla was alone at its docking space.
This occurrence was typical along the river, in my experience. The ship staying longer at a dock was always positioned in the primary space with the short-term visitor rafted to it. In 15 days on the rivers we cruised, I never saw three ships rafted together; ‘not saying it doesn’t happen but it didn’t happen to us.
We were never rafted in a secondary position but there were three additional docks where we rafted with another ship; only once were we beside a Viking ship. The few times we were rafted, it gave us the opportunity to look over the other ship with a critical eye and then rejoice that we were on the Viking Atla. Mom and a fellow passenger tried to walk through a rafted ship one afternoon from the Atla’s lobby but were rejected by that ship’s crew. She’s gutsy. And curious (frankly a lot of us were about that ship; it had a hot tub on the top deck and a sauna-looking thing down one level).
We definitely saw more rafting as we neared the end of our cruise and, in Budapest there were many Viking ships at one city sharing the limited dock space. For our sailing it was never the issue I’d imagined it might be. Your mileage may vary…
More frequently than rafting, though, was waking up in a lock. Either down at the bottom—rising or having fallen—or at the top, staring into an office of the lock officials. Consider yourself warned.
The Atla did much of its traveling at night while we slept. Since Mom and I opted to keep our drapes fully open all night long, I’d often awake to a halide dock lamp shining in, tinging our room in orange. Other nights the moon cascaded into the room, also reflected in the smooth wake splitting out sideways from the ship’s fore.
Our captain evidently is well-known for arriving at ports ahead of schedule—even with delays at locks. That meant we often docked in the very early morning hours. Mom or I would wake up well before our usual arriving time (which got later as the cruise continued; I’m thinking it’s because, as each day went by, we became more and more relaxed), check outside to see if we were “parked” anywhere that would provide a riverside walker/rider/worker a view that we didn’t want them to have, and then close the drapes if that was the case. It usually wasn’t.
Among us river cruisers, there seemed to be a real camaraderie, both towards others on the Atla (it quickly became “our” ship and we passengers were a loyal bunch) as well as towards others exploring the rivers this way. We’d wave happily when passing or being passed. We’d also wave to children, fishermen, bicyclists and others we saw on the shores and bridges. I know, it sounds silly, doesn’t it? Waving our arms in big wide arcs to total strangers, people we’d never see again and could, frankly, only see because they, too, were waving their arms.
But we did it. From Amsterdam to Budapest.
Passenger tip: Try to tone up those flappy upper arm muscles before your river cruise. Those tricep toners will definitely come in handy on your trip when those body parts become especially visible as you wave and wave.