In a previous post, I tackled Greg’s question about how to make the most of an ocean cruise with his 85-year-old father. I just received a similar question from Jill on enjoying a river cruise with an aging parent:

This is an interesting blog. I am going to be traveling down the Danube with my 88-year-old mother on a river cruise. You have a lot to offer. I guess the best advice is to relax and take it slow…enjoy the moments. Any other advice?

Enjoying a River Cruise with an Aging Parent

Mom, Eric and I went on a Yangtze River Cruise in 2008.

I’ve heard the trip down the Danube is amazing, Jill, so I’m quite jealous of your upcoming adventure with your mom! Please let me know what you think of it when you return. Mom and I took a cruise down the Yangtze River in China and it was fantastic (albeit very different from the Caribbean cruises we’ve taken together).

Even though they’re not 100 percent applicable, it’s worth taking a peek at the recommendations I offered Greg, as several ideas may be useful for your trip, as well. Here are a few suggestions specific to river cruising:

If you’ve traveled on a larger cruise ship before, one of the first things you’ll notice when your river cruise gets underway is the pace. The average riverboat travels about half as fast as a typical ocean cruise liner (and it feels even slower). That’s not a bad thing, though, and I encourage you to find a favorite spot on the boat to enjoy the beautiful sites along the shoreline. I understand the section between Linz and Dürnstein is quite spectacular, as the river is framed by low mountains covered with vineyards. The scenery around Budapest is also supposed to be particularly breathtaking.

In your email, you mention slowing down [to enjoy the vacation with your mom]. Although your boat will be slower, river cruises are notorious for way more stops than the typical ocean cruise. In fact, river cruises typically stop once or twice a day at different ports. The great thing about that? Tours are typically included with your fare and many are designed with seniors in mind. However, be sure and check with your cruise line if your mom has mobility issues. If she has trouble standing for extended periods or walking long distances, you may want to consider renting a wheelchair to ensure you and your mom can fully explore the local sights. As I’m guessing you know, riverboats have a much smaller footprint than ocean liners, and therefore you may not need a wheelchair for getting around the boat.

There will be many ports to check out, but when you’re on the boat, don’t expect to find a lot of things to do. River cruises typically have fewer activities than the larger cruise lines, although the newer ships have made some serious strides to change that. At the least, they will definitely have a bar—and the smaller number of passengers lends itself to making new friends quickly (riverboats typically carry between 50 and 250 passengers). If you and your mom are social, you’ll be right at home!

If you’re looking for things to do on the ship beyond the bar, here are a few ideas:

  • If you and your mom love to read, this is a great opportunity to catch up on any books that have been sitting around for a while. If your mom has eyesight issues, consider bringing along an audio book or two for her to enjoy (and bring standard headphones if Mom wears hearing aids, since ear buds wouldn’t work).
  • Does your mom have a favorite card game? Perhaps it’s time to learn Pinochle or other card games the two of you can play together. I also bring Jenga, an odd favorite for Mom and me. You stack square wooden pegs into a tower, then alternate pulling out the pegs until the tower falls.
  • Mom loves doing crossword puzzles. They’re not my favorite, yet I do enjoy working them with her. There is a real sense of excitement when we finish one together!
  • I bring several tour books along so we can read about the ports we’re exploring. Boats typically offer good information; however, I enjoy getting into a lot of depth (and mom tolerates my inundating her with non-stop tidbits of information).
  • Use this as an opportunity to catch up on sleep. You can’t turn on the TV today without seeing stories reporting why 8+ hours of sleep is great for you (look younger, lose weight, be more creative!) That said, how often does that happen in reality? Use this vacation to see if it’s possible to get 8 hours of sleep a night (can you shut your mind off for that amount of time?) and more importantly, what you feel like if you get 8 continuous hours a night for a week.
  • Bring journals for both you and your mom. I obviously love to write, but I do less personal journaling at home, in favor of the business writing. I love to use travel time to doodle my own thoughts and goals. Perhaps it’s something your mom will get into, as well.
  • Bring a scrapbook, glue and/or tape. Mom holds onto every piece of paper she gets pertaining to the trip, and although I do a photo scrapbook several weeks after our trips, she’s stuck with all these loose pieces of paper. Organize them for her in the scrapbook as you cruise down the river. It’s a spectacular reminder of the trip when she gets home that she can immediately share with her friends.
  • Send your mom postcards from everywhere you stop. My mom’s memory is a little less sharp at 84 (as is mine at 47!), so sending her postcards helps her remember and keeps the magic of the time you spent together alive for a longer period of time.

I guess my final piece of advice, Jill, is to use this cruise as an opportunity to get to know your mom a little more. I’m sure you know where she was born, but what if she had the opportunity to go back to being 18 again? What would she do differently with her life (besides having you, of course!)? What were her hopes and dreams as a child? Exploring new worlds is such a perfect opportunity to suspend what you know about your traveling companion—and it allows you to time to delve into new territory (just like you’re doing on the cruise). Enjoy, and send me pictures of your trip!