Avoiding river cruise booking mistakes sounds complicated, but with the help of an experienced travel counselor to help make decisions, will not be. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Every trip is different, but this should help you get started on having a truly remarkable river cruise experience.
Docking in the city center
Ignoring the Destinations
If you have been on one of the larger ocean cruise ships, you know that there are so many venues on the ship, that going ashore sometimes seems unnecessary. On a river cruise ship, the destinations are the main focus. River ships don’t have casinos and grand stage shows. They focus on the towns and cities that have grown up on the river with their history, regional cuisines and culture. They dock mostly in the heart of the town, so you are only a gangplank away from seeing the sites.
Therefore to ensure you’ll enjoy the stops, take some time to read through the itineraries offered. Then select one that lines up with your interests and hobbies. Whether you want to take a themed cruise such as wine, golf, history and art, there is a cruise out just made for you.
Even though there are plenty of things to see and do, just relaxing on the ship can be one of the highlights of your trip. You will not be bored, but can pick and choose activities and leisure time.
Skipping an Extension
Many river cruises start and end at spectacular cities, such as Budapest, Vienna, Amsterdam or Paris. To make the most of your trip to Europe, consider arriving a few days early to the port city where your cruise begins — or stay longer at the place where your trip ends. This will give you some unstructured time to explore on your own.
All river cruise companies offer pre- or post-trips that you can easily connect to your cruise (many of these also include transfers to the ship). You can also arrange an extended stay on your own before sailing.
An added bonus: If you arrive a day or two early, you’ll have a built-in safeguard. If your initial flight to Europe is delayed and you arrive late, you won’t miss the cruise departure.
Avoid Over Packing and Packing the Wrong Gear
To pack the perfect suitcase, start by checking the average temperature for the places where you’ll travel. On many cruises, you’ll need a sweater or light jacket even during the summer months, as an evening breeze could create a chill on the boat.
River cruises are mostly casual with only one night that might require you to dress up and that’s the last night with the Captain’s farewell.
Keep in mind that all river cruise ships also have laundries so you can have a clean change of clothes overnight and this will save room in your suitcase for items you will surely bring home.
Since you’re likely to get in thousands of steps during the excursions, bring comfortable shoes that you can wear all day. Also pack a raincoat and compact umbrella so unexpected rain showers don’t catch you off guard.
As you fill up your suitcase, remind yourself that your cabin will likely be smaller than what you’d find on an ocean cruise ship. The less you bring, the less you’ll have to unpack in your space. Picking a main color will also help, since you can mix and match outfits.
To make the most of your clothing, think in layers: You might be able to dress up an outfit with a simple scarf or coat.
Power adapters are a necessity in the electronic age and you can easily find them at most stores such as Target, Walmart and Best Buy. Some even have multiple ports so that you can charge more than one device at a time. Extra batteries are also a great idea. Even if you don’t need them, I bet someone on the cruise will and you can save the day.
Not Double-checking Documents
To travel outside the United States you must have a valid passport. Most countries require a passport to be valid for at least six (6) months from the day you depart their country. Also, passports must be in good condition with no rips, tears or other issues. Make copies of your passport and keep them in separate places while you travel, so that if your passport is lost or stolen, it can be easily replaced. You should also leave a copy at home with a relative or friend.
You’ll want to make sure you have all your cruise documents in place before heading out. If you have booked your travel with a travel agent, they will have gone over them, but it never hurts to check them yourself.
Bring your driver’s license if you plan to rent a car during part of your time in Europe. Also take medical insurance cards, a copy of your prescriptions and a list of the medicines you’re taking.
A good idea is to print out an extra copy of your itinerary to leave at home so that if someone needs to contact you, they will have the information to do so. River cruise lines typically print a list of contact points with the documents you receive.
Erring On the Season
The peak cruising season for European rivers generally runs from April through October, but there are cruises on the Danube and Rhine through December for the Christmas Market cruise season.
The shoulder season months can give you the best bargains, but the weather can also be chilly. If you’re cruising Europe in April and May or October and November, make sure you pack plenty of warm layers and a rain jacket. Outdoor activities might be less fun than museum visits, so if you’re set on biking your way along the Rhine, take your cruise in the summer when you are more likely to have better weather.
Water levels can also fluctuate depending on the time of year. If you’re concerned about high water levels which can make it difficult for boats to pass through certain areas, avoid cruising in the springtime. Very low levels can happen in the heat of the summer, in August or September.
Planning for Quiet Days
As noted, river cruise ships dock for the most part in the center of the town or city you will be visiting. This gives you an opportunity to explore on your own. You can take part in a walking tour and then stay in town if you wish to do a little exploring on your own.
Also, most ships have shore excursions of varying activity levels, so you might choose a “gentle walker” shore excursion for the morning and maybe a more active one in the afternoon.
Most ships also carry bicycles so that you can ride around the area if you like. They also have bike tours led by members of the crew if you want company.
If you choose to stay one the ship, there is a library with books and games and you can relax in the lounge or the sun deck. If the weather is warm enough you can also take a dip in the pool or sit in the whirlpool. All the comforts of home.
Overlooking the Fine Print
Just like other cruises, you’ll want to read through the details before booking a river cruise.
While most cruise lines offer all-inclusive packages, it’s best to find out exactly what is covered — and what is not — in these deals.
Check to see if shore excursions, dinners and drinks, such as wine and beer are included, or if they come a la carte.
To properly plan your trip and budget, look carefully at all costs listed. Make sure the cruise offers features that appeal to you and sights you are longing to see.
After doing your homework, you’ll be ready for one of the most engaging ways to tour Europe.
One of the biggest river cruise booking mistakes, and potentially the most costly is not taking out insurance on your trip. There are several ways to protect your trip; the cruise lines have insurance plans that cover all elements you have booked with them. However, if you book a pre-cruise hotel, your own air, etc. those would not be covered.
If you choose a third-party insurance, your pricing will depend on several factors, your age, the cost of your trip and the state you live in. Your travel agent will be able to research this and give you a price.
In these uncertain times it isn’t prudent to not have insurance to protect this major investment.
NOW IS NOT TOO SOON to begin taking steps to find your next exciting river cruise. Unique Journeys is a valuable asset to make certain you get the right cruise at the right time and for the right price. Don’t go it alone and risk not having the best experience possible. Contact me at Unique Journeys so you can start planning to give you the vacation you deserve.