Having been on three cruises myself, I understand the attraction. It’s a fantastic experience, an easy and relaxed way to travel. Unpack and pack once, the captain does the driving, wake up refreshed and ready to explore a new town. Tours and free time included. Great food and drink. Making new friends. Need I say more?
I rave about river cruising and and I believe the overall experience is a great value for all that is included. But it’s not for everyone.
Following are several points you should know before booking any river cruise for the first time. Better to be armed with knowledge than being unpleasantly surprised.
- Ships on the same river are all basically the same size. Ships do have different drafts, but the main difference you see is on the inside. Things like the number of people and cabins, facilities, the décor, the level of service, the brand personality.
- Ships are limited in size which means limited facilities and amenities. They do not have the variety a bigger ocean ship might have.
- Itineraries are pretty similar, however there are nuances. Walking tours will be similar, but the variety of included, exclusive and additional tours will differ.
- Similar to ocean cruising, itineraries can change. Cruise lines do everything possible to keep to their promised schedule, however Mother Nature will occasionally wreak havoc, most notably with water levels (too high, too low). In ocean cruising a change means a skipped port, a different port, an extra day at sea. In river cruising, this may mean a change in ship, added bus tours and on a rare occasion hotel stays. Some cruise lines minimize these issues with ships that have shallower drafts.
- Don’t be surprised if you are docked next to another ship. Towns quite often only have docking space for one or two ships. So when additional ships arrive, they simply tie up next to another ship (we call this rafting). To disembark one must go through the other ship's lobby or up and over a couple of sun decks.
- River cruising can be fairly regimented. Meals and tours are generally at set times. Of course you do not have to join the scheduled excursions, free time is always built in and a few lines have implemented a version of “anytime dining” at dinner (versus one set time). But expect a fairly set schedule every day.
- Dining is good but limited. Space is limited, so ships have one main dining venue and usually a small bistro for light meals and snacks, which becomes a small specialty restaurant at night. Premium lines may have an additional venue, but overall, choices are limited.
- Evening programs are limited. You may be treated to an on board pianist, local musicians or dancers or a port talk, but you will not have any Broadway type productions, at least not on board the ship.
- River cruises are sold as "all-inclusive", and for the most part, they are. Fares include the cabin, fees and port taxes, wi-fi and meals. Be aware that the definition of "all-inclusive" differs between cruise lines. For example, premium lines will include beverages (soda, beer and wine) at lunch and dinner, some include beverages all day, while others you pay by the drink. This is similar with excursions as well.
- Ideally you are fairly fit and active. River cruises, for the most part, are not for the mobility challenged. Many of the tours include several hours of walking over cobblestone streets. Most ships do have an elevator between the bottom and mid floors, but usually not to the sun deck, which at times needs to be accessed to disembark. Can you use a wheelchair? Are there other exceptions? Yes, but please talk to your travel advisor.
- In general, river cruising attracts the boomer generation - age wise 50+. This is not because a river cruise is just for older travelers, “boring” or “slow”, but more because of time and budget. There are family programs during the summer months and holidays, perfect for multi-generational families with children as young as 8, and a number of cruise lines have a younger demographic with more active excursions like hiking, biking, canoeing and wellness programs.
I am very much an independent traveler - I like flexibility when traveling. But there are times when it is so nice not having to make all the decisions, to drive (the driver never gets to fully enjoy the country side), find parking, find my hotel, find great restaurants, schedule my own tours, etc. River cruising offers a great compromise.
Traveling with "older" guests? Not having evening entertainment? Limited dining venues? Not a problem. Most of the guests I have been with on these cruises have more energy than younger people on ocean cruises. And the places they have been! Makes for spectacular conversations. Who needs evening entertainment when you have that? Besides, in all honesty, after being out about all day exploring, I'm tired anyway and retire to the cabin after dinner. And I've never had a lame meal.
However, this is NOT about me. It's about what is important to you. Only you can determine if this is the right experience for you.
Call Laurie, your river cruise specialist,
at 602.540.7338 or email to get the process started.