River Cruising in Your 30s is Unexpectedly Awesome

So…you know you’re…umm…a bit younger than the typical demographic, right?

That’s my 60-something mom speaking, giving me a gentle warning over Facetime that my husband and I quite possibly just signed up for an 11-day float down the lower Danube with a boatful of octogenarians.

When I went on mine, even I was on the younger side of things, she adds helpfully.

I’d just told her we’d booked our first European river cruise, the 11-day Passage to Eastern Europe cruise from Budapest to Bucharest with Viking. And among her first reactions was the not-so-subtle message that, at 36 and 40, we’re too young to be river cruising.

It was a message we heard over and over again in the lead up to our Danube river cruise with Viking, and we couldn’t help but wonder: are we too young for river cruises?

The nice thing about river cruising, is you don’t have to do everything with the group. In Belgrade, Serbia, we took off on our own to explore the city.

But when it comes to doing something that’s associated with people older than you? In our experience, people are a bit quicker to ‘warn’ you off the experience.

Here’s the thing though. Just as people older than us warned us about our river cruise likely being filled with people far beyond our age bracket, people in their 30s started streaming like ants out of the woodwork when we announced our cruise.

Thirty-somethings, it seems, are seriously curious about river cruising.

The view of the lower Danube outside our stateroom on the first morning of our river cruise.

There was the Whatsapp from my best friend mid-way through the 11-day itinerary: So…should we be planning group river cruises now?

There were the conversations we had at a 30-something friend’s birthday dinner, where everyone admitted they were intrigued by the concept of visiting multiple countries, in luxury accommodation, all the while enjoying great food, and then proceeded to ask us a million questions.

We started to think about discussing river cruising around 30-somethings in the same terms of discussing something really awesome that people enjoy, but for whatever reason are a bit embarrassed to admit. Think: drinking beer in the shower (liberating!) or dipping french fries in a chocolate milkshake (delicious!).

For whatever reason, it seems Millennials are genuinely intrigued by river cruising, but aren’t really exploring it as a serious vacation option.

I think that’s a mistake, and here’s why.

Checking out Belogradchik Fortress, Bulgaria, on an included excursion.

We Made Real Connections and Friendships on Board

First, let’s cover the elephant in the room: we weren’t the youngest people on board the ship, but we were pretty darn close.

Other than the seven-year-old who was living her best life with mom, grandma and grandpa, we were two of about six people in our general age range.

While that may seem like a deal-breaker for some Millennials, if every 30-something who said they were interested in river cruising would just go ahead and try it,  it wouldn’t really be an issue anymore.

Add to that, we made some genuine connections with the people we met on board, and quickly formed a tight-knit cruise gang with the people we most related to.

Were there some octogenarians and nonagenarians on board? Absolutely. But there were also plenty of 40- and 50-somethings, and adventurous people right around early retirement age. Those were the people we gravitated to, and we had a lot of fun with our cruise gang.

Most evenings, we hug out with our cruise gang on the sundeck after dinner to enjoy a glass of wine and views like this.

It Is Awesome To Enjoy A Bit of Luxury On Your Travels

Like a lot of 30-something Millennials who travel, we spent vacations in our twenties as backpackers, staying in hostels, taking cheap buses, and trying to have as much fun as possible for the least amount of money.

While that was fun, now that we’re a bit older and more financially stable, it’s nice to enjoy a bit of luxury on our holidays. While we can’t speak about the other river cruise lines, we found Viking strikes a great balance between luxurious and comfortable.

We’re not particularly fancy people, so we enjoyed the smart elegant dress code for dinner, and didn’t feel too much pressure to dress up. That said, some people did dress up, and they didn’t look out of place.

We were also really surprised by the quality of the food. I’m not sure why, but I figured it would be of similar quality to an all inclusive resort. Instead, it was restaurant quality, every day, with excellent variety. We enjoyed local specialties as we cruised through different countries, as well as the favorites we’d find back in North America: steak, grilled chicken, pasta, fajitas.

There were also a lot of extra touches we came to appreciate. On hot days, we were welcomed back onto the ship with cold fruit smoothies. On rainy days, we were loaded up with umbrellas as we disembarked.

Our stateroom had a veranda from which we could enjoy the sunrise, relax with a cold beer in the evening, and just generally chill out when we wanted some quiet time.

And the bed was insanely comfortable.

View from our stateroom, looking out on the Danube. We enjoyed many a sunsets on this balcony!

We Loved Not Having to Re-Pack our Suitcases Every Time we Switched Cities and Countries

This may not seem like a big deal, but it felt so indulgent to not have to re-pack our suitcases every single day, as we often have to do on multi-city and multi-country trips.

Perhaps I’m revealing a bit too much about my total lack of basic housekeeping skills, but on a typical trip, the contents of my suitcase basically explode, spreading socks, underwear, shirts and shoes across our hotel room. Not to mention all our cords and device chargers.

On this trip, we checked into our stateroom, hung up or folded our clothes, and unpacked the toiletries bag, neatly arranging face wash and cream on the bathroom shelf.

I felt very civilized, and I liked it.

Our stateroom on the Viking Lif. Plenty of room to move around, and drawers and closet space to stay organized.

It’s Pretty Fun to Go to Five Countries in 11 Days…When You Get to Sleep in the Same Bed

A few years ago, my husband and I spent three months going overland from Bogota, Colombia, to Montevideo, Uruguay, spending about 10 days in each country before moving on to the next greatest thing.

Don’t get me wrong: we had a lot of fun. But we were also totally exhausted by the end of it, and we no longer felt the rush of excitement upon seeing new, amazing things. It’s just not possible to see that many new things in that amount of time, when you’re also arranging all the logistics, without getting burnt out.

Enter river cruising. On this river cruise, we visited five countries in 11 days, cruising from Hungary through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, before ending up in Bucharest.

When someone else has taken care of all the planning and logistics for you, and you don’t have to worry about catching the last bus or finding somewhere to sleep for the night, traveing fast is a lot more fun.

We enjoyed the chance to appreciate each destination without stressing about the next stop.

A lot of European river cruises include a few days in Budapest, Hungary.

You Go to Places you Probably Wouldn’t Visit if you were Travelling on your Own

One unexpected benefit of river cruising is the ships take you to places you probably wouldn’t go if you were arranging your own 10-day vacation.

Take Bulgaria, which turned out to be a highlight on our Passage to Eastern Europe cruise. If I was planning my own trip, I’d probably go to Sofia, Bankso, Plovdiv, Varna, and Veliko Tarnovo, at max. On our river cruise, we visited Belogradchik fortress, which was a complete highlight for me.

If you’re looking for more things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria, this is a great post for you to check out! 

In Croatia, we visited the small village of Bilje, and visited a local woman’s home for cake and elderflower juice. We were able to ask her about the war, about her life, and about that part of Croatia – something we never would have experienced on our own.

In Osijek, Croatia, we found physical reminders of the Yugoslav war.

Similarly, we spent an entire day on the ship, cruising through the beautiful Djerdap Gorge and Iron Gate Dam and Locks. Before the cruise, I’d never even heard of the place. Now, it’s one of my favorites.

While it’s a lot of fun to explore the main cities of a country, it’s also rewarding to visit the smaller places that are off the beaten path for “land travelers.”  

The Kazan Stretch of Djerdap Gorge serves as a natural border between Romania and Serbia, and was some of the most scenic sailing of our cruise.

Great Inclusions

Finally, we loved the inclusions on our river cruise. We’ve heard from so many people who’ve done ocean cruising that the cruise lines try to upsell you on pretty much everything, and the experience can add up to be a lot more expensive than expected.

On our trip, we didn’t really worry about that and knew exactly what was expected. There was a free excursion at each port (although we kept some Euros on-hand for tipping the guide and driver), and most of them were excellent. There were also additional excursions you could pay extra for if you were interested. We did three of these, but skipped a lot of them.

At lunch and dinner, beer and wine is free, and the pours were very generous. We never took advantage at lunch, but we did imbibe over dinner, and found the servers were happy to top up our glasses at last call if we wanted to take a glass of wine to the sundeck.

While alcohol isn’t included outside of lunch and dinner, you can bring your own on board, and there’s no corkage fee. We brought a 6-pack on board and kept it in the fridge in our room, enjoying it on our veranda whenever we felt like chilling out.  

And then there’s the coffee station, which has a machine for cappuccinos and hot chocolate, free tea, cookies and pastries, and still and sparkling water available throughout the day.

A traditional Hungarian cowboy show was one of the included excursions.

Should Everyone Try River Cruising?

All this reasoning aside, I don’t think river cruising is the perfect travel fit for everyone.

If you’re looking for a party-focused vacation, I’d suggest an all-inclusive resort, a trip to a known party hotspot like Ibiza, or a city trip are all better options for you. Younger Millennials — people in their early 20s — might also find the age gap to be too significant to really enjoy the experience.

However, if you’re an older Millennial or young Gen X looking for something to do as a couple, with couple friends, or with a few travel buddies, river cruising is a great option. I also think river cruising would make an awesome multigenerational trip for Millennials with young children (pre-walking) and grandparents.

We’ve taken multigenerational trips with our parents, siblings, and nephews to all-inclusive resorts, and I think a river cruise would be just as fun and relaxing, especially if you’re looking for something more active than lying beside a pool.


Katie and Geoff were guests of Viking River Cruises during this Eastern Europe river cruise, and received the experience free of charge. All opinions remain their own.

About the Author

Perpetually on the hunt for cheap flights, cold beers, and awesome terraces, Katie has been traveling the world since she was 16, when she somehow persuaded her parents to let her move abroad to learn the ways of hygge in Denmark. Picking up a Canadian husband and a Taiwanese street cat along the way, she’s now based in Budapest, where she miraculously makes a living blogging, taking so-so pictures, and creating adult coloring books. You can find her on her website, wandertooth.com, or on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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River Cruising in Your 30s is Unexpectedly Awesome

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10 thoughts on “River Cruising in Your 30s is Unexpectedly Awesome”

  1. I’ve loved cruising the Caribbean, and I think “older” people are fun (they have wisdom and provide great convos). I’d love to do a river tour.

    1. This river cruise was the first we’ve done, so I can’t compare it to an ocean cruise. But, we did have great conversations with our shipmates. We formed a little ‘cruise gang’ of people who we ate every meal with and hung out in the evenings, but there were also lots of others we met on board that we chatted to. So yeah…totally fun, despite the age gap!

  2. I follow a food blogger who shared her experience with Viking River Cruises and it looked and sounded so up my alley that I’ve been wanting to do it every since. This article just solidified that desire. I’m 31 and wouldn’t mind in the slightest being surrounded by older folks. (I’m a student of historic preservation and active in our local historical societies and the like, so I’m rather used to spending time with people much older than me. They have the best stories!)

    1. Awesome! ! think you’d really like the ‘enrichment lecture’ part of the cruise as well…it was one of the things I found most interesting. Basically, Viking invites a professor or expert on board to lead a lecture about something relevant to your itinerary. On ours, we visited Croatia on one day, which had a pretty heavy focus on the war of independence in the 1990s. Then the next day, we sailed to Serbia and heard more about it there. The professor gave a lecture on “Serbia today” but a lot of it got into the war, and also the long history behind it. Super interesting!

    1. Yes…I think in North America, as well, the river cruises are definitely regarded as something that “more mature” adults do. But we seriously had a blast, and are already planning our next destination! As I say in the post, it’s definitely not for everyone, but we really enjoyed it, and it’s definitely a great option for certain styles of younger travellers!

  3. When I went on an Alaska cruise, my now ex and I were among the youngest on the ship. But, it was sort of nice. We’d cruised before, mostly to the Caribbean, and the crowd was very, very different. There weren’t screaming kids. It was just a boat full of adults, and it was really, really great.

    1. I love this, “It was just a boat full of adults, and it was really, really, great.” Exactly how we felt on this one!!!

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