When Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection CEO Ellen Bettridge asked me what my favorite part of our sailing on the Bon Voyage was, I surprised myself by responding -- without hesitation -- the Great Dune of Pyla.
It's not that it wasn't true. It's just that at the time, as we sat huddled strategically below the tip of Europe's tallest sand dune, shivering and wrapped in the towels that the crew had thoughtfully packed for us to sit on, the only thing going through my head was "what the heck was I thinking?"
But even with a hazy sunrise, as the daylight broke it became clear that getting up for a 5 a.m. bus ride from Bordeaux to the Atlantic for the challenging climb would end up being one of those little adventures I would never forget.
Still chilled, we made quick work of the sunrise viewing and the walk down to the shore for breakfast in the seaside town La Teste-de-Buch.
One of the stops on a pub crawl in the ruins district of Budapest. Photo Credit: TW photo by Jeri Clausing
Passengers have more options
The dune outing, part of Uniworld's new Masterpiece collection of small-group excursions, was just one of a growing list of nontraditional tours that are quickly becoming not only a mainstay but one of my favorite parts of river cruising.
Just a few days earlier, while on the christening sailing of Avalon Waterways' 15th panorama-style ship, the Envision, I'd taken Hungarian cooking lessons, gone on a pub crawl in the ruins district of Budapest and canoed five miles on the Danube.
In fact, in two weeks of back-to-back, four-day sailings with Uniworld, Avalon and Amadeus, I'd taken just two of the classic excursions normally associated with European river cruising: an always pleasant covered-boat ride through the canals of Amsterdam and a wine tasting in Bordeaux. I'd also hopped a ride to the center of Amsterdam on the first leg of a city tour and joined the final leg of a city tour of Budapest to see the inside of its famed Parliament.
The choices and flexibility highlight the new focus across the industry on not only providing different excursions but also helping guests venture out on their own.
Uniworld introduced its limited-space Masterpiece tours, which have an upcharge, last year. But it continues to expand on those, and this year it made Masterpiece excursions bookable in advance.
Likewise, Avalon is expanding its number of nontraditional options across all of its cruises, with a guaranteed daily election between classic, adventure and discovery excursions on select cruises.