Once a cruise-averse traveler, I fell in love with river cruising my first time out. I've since done two more sailings and have enjoyed every minute of each. The only disappointment I have had was in the land portion of one that ended in Bucharest, Romania.
Maybe I am just spoiled by the many fabulous hotels I have been lucky enough to experience as former hotels editor and now luxury editor for Travel Weekly. But after 10 days in a suite on one of the nicest European river lines, it was a letdown to end the fabulous trip in a mediocre chain hotel.
No, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. The decor could have used an update, but the beds were comfortable and the rooms clean. It was just such a dramatic change from the boutique atmosphere of the ship.
The problem is that in many port cities there just aren't a lot of options for the river cruise lines when it comes to hotels able to support groups, not only with enough rooms but with lobby space to accommodate a desk for the cruise operators' staff to help guests and round them up for their excursions.
Since the whole group experience is not really my thing, I decided after a recent river cruise to check out a boutique hotel in Amsterdam I had learned about a few months earlier at the International Luxury Travel Market North America. The moment I walked into the Sir Albert I knew I had made the right choice.
Just south of the canal loop, the property offers a nice break from the hordes of tourists. The lobby is small but cozy with big couches and chairs to relax near the fire. My room was almost river cruise small but comfortable, with floor-to-ceiling windows that opened to a small balcony. Best of all, it's just a block from a station for the central subway and just two stops to Dam Square.
A bonus: I was there on a Saturday when there was a market that seemed to go on forever just a few blocks down from the subway station. It was a perfect way to end a perfect trip, wandering the streets on my own and just enjoying the city and the great people watching.
The hotel also offers some of its own excursions and experiences, from bike tours to and an Up in Smoke experience that includes a visit to a head shop.
While many river cruisers prefer to stay with their trusted lines' guides and land packages, companies like Avanti Destinations can help agents set up individual trips for those who prefer to venture out on their own.
Abercrombie & Kent also offers an alternative, with small groups journeys of just two dozen people who sail on a larger ship but have their own guides and exclusive perks, including stays at smaller boutique properties.
Some of the operator's favorite hotels in European port cities, according to Joanne Benes, A&K's senior product specialist for Europe, are the Kimpton De Witt Hotel in Amsterdam; the Hotel Napoleon in Paris; the Hotel Le Cep in Burgundy, France; the BoHo Hotel in Prague; the Prestige Hotel Budapest; the Ring in Vienna; and the Hotel Storchen and Hotel Schweizerhof in Zurich.