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European Vacation Advice?

So, the wife and I will be hitting the big 2-0 next year, and we have been discussing a big vacation for just the two of us. She has been bugging me for years to do a cruise, but I have never been that interested - spent years on ships at sea, don’t care to pay to do it (I know it’s different, just saying). We found Viking River Cruises, and that seems like a good compromise to me - she’s never been to Europe, I’ve only ever been on my way to and from the Middle East, and it’s a cruise (of sorts). They are fairly pricey, but that’s not much of an issue (planning ahead and such).

The only issue is this: we don’t really care to just do the tourist thing. I would rather have more flexibility and time than to be tied into a set schedule and packed in with all the rest. I know package deals are typically cheaper, so neither of us is completely against just going that route.

Question here is: if we decided we would rather just choose a city (or two) to fly in/out of and then just rent a car and cruise Europe for a week or two, what’s the best way to book something like that? Looking for anyone with experience doing something like this (preferably beyond the hostel level of accommodations) who can shed some light on saving at least some money while still affording us the max flexibility and exposure.

Thanks in advance

The wife and I have been to a few countries in Europe - we do some touristy things but tend to plan it ourselves and go off the beaten path so to speak. I’ve heard good things about Viking cruises but look into each port of call and alternatives to what is being offered through the company - there tends to be alternative companies with good reviews. Also, there usually are free walking tours (they rely on tips - full disclosure) and have a variety of themes (i.e. food tours, history tours, ghost tours, political tours, etc.)

It really depends on which part of Europe y’all are going.

I am a bit skeptical regarding Viking River Cruises. Their ads seems to be exclusively filmed in Budapest. The company also seems to target an “ahem” mature clientel (and I speak as someone who turned 62 yesterday.

Your second idea about flying in, renting a car and go around sounds more appealing. For hotels, I would use hotels.com or booking.com. Both are good and the reviews are usually accurate. Airbnb could work in some places. Rule of thumb, one week, one country, two weeks, max two countries. France or Italy would be my choices but avoid Paris or Rome (better park at a suburban rail station and go in that way).

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My mother and step father took my daughter on a Baltic Sea Cruise. You might consider that. (That way your wife gets the cruise but you get to port basically every day) They flew to Denmark and then traveled back and forth across the baltic sea and stopped in helsinki, st petersberg, stockholm, etc.

They loved it and had about a day in each port to visit.

I would imagine there are mediterranean sea cruises too that visit other countries in the same fashion.

For accommodations, I’ve had good luck with VRBO and HomeAway. We’ve stayed in some really cool places for less than or comparable to a run of the mill hotel (one was actually inside an old city wall in Germany). You can also end up with some extras that make the stay easier that way, like a kitchen and laundry appliances.

I really like the driving option too, depending on where you’re staying. Relying on trains and buses is easiest, but depending on what you want to see driving really opens up your options. It all depends on what countries you want to hit though, driving in Germany was great, everyone had their act together, but I had to sign something explicitly saying I would not drive the car in Italy, if that tells you anything. Not sure if you’re looking at the UK at all, but the left side thing combined with some golf cart path width back roads can get brutal. Again, all comes back to what you want to see and what kind of rail capabilities you’re nearby.

Haven’t tries them, but Viking was just listed by WSJ as one of the top cruise lines that don’t nickel and dime you (just for some extra info).

That’s probably how my wife and I will do our first trip to Europe (eventually).

Go to France. Get a year’s subscription to France magazine, see internet for it. Truly eye opening.

If you go Viking get the booze upgrade and try to go on one of their Danube offerings. I’m told Prague is supposed to be a great side trip. Maybe just go to Prague and skip the cruise.

We did the Greek Islands last year and it was amazing. I enjoyed Lefkada as it was still a little raw and the beaches were out of this world.

Just don’t go in August and be careful of GPSs, the Venetian road layout confuses the feck out of it and some of those mountain side roads are truly terrifying.

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I went for 2 weeks a couple years ago, hit 6 cities while I was there. Flights between cities in Europe are pretty cheap, and if they’re in the EU, you don’t have to do customs at every stop so they don’t take much time.

For example, from Lisbon to Barcelona was like 3 hours total travel time, not too shabby, and I think the flight was about $50. Good way to maximize your time and it’s fairly cost effective.

I did the hostel thing so no comment on lodging.

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I travel in Europe (mainly London and Paris) many times a year for business. I would discourage a tour (or going to either city). The tourist areas are still fine, but Paris, in particular, has become increasingly unpleasant.

For a fun adult (but not old) trip, my recommendation would be Italy – Rome, Venice, and the countryside. Nice people. Things are reasonably priced. Fantastic history. If you speak Spanish (even high school Spanish) and English, you can muddle by.

It is worth it to get a guide, but not one associated with a tour group.

The Italians drive crazy, but without malice. Paris, they drive crazy, with malice.

If I was going to the UK, I would just do the highlights of London – the British Museum and the big tourist sites and then get the hell out to the country where the people are normal (and actually British).

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I’ve only been to Europe once, but it was a stellar experience. Flew into Zurich, spent 6 days using that as home base with various day trips (via train, it was really quite easy to move about the country). Moved over to Basel for another 6 days and took a few day trips into both France and Germany. If you want to see some castles and drink some wine, that’s a good way to go.

What parts of Europe do you want to see? It is kind of a bit place and very different in culture, sightseeing and nature, haha.
I live in Germany, so I can tell you about that If you like. I have also been to Denmark a lot, was in Spain, Bulgaria and Kos (a greek Island), England and Ireland. Also Czech Republic.

Thanks for the replies, really giving us more to think about.

We’re still discussing which countries to see. Rome (and possibly Venice) are definitely on the list, we would both like to go to Ireland and Scotland, and if we’re going that way I would want to hit London as well for the history. As far as anything specifically Irish or Scottish, I have no idea where to go. Outside of those, Scandinavia has always interested us both, Romania sounds cool with the castles and such, again not real sure.

We’re both into the historical side of it, but I’d like it to be an enjoyable place to visit as well, not just geeking out on history and then sitting in the hotel with nothing to do but stare at the TV.

Venice, for all it’s beauty and good food/wine, gets boring pretty quickly. I wouldn’t budget more than a couple days depending on your activity preferences.

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