But selecting the right river cruise doesn't need to be any of this.
Following these steps will help narrow down your choices on finding a good match.
I always ask my clients why they are thinking "rivers" and what attracted them to this experience.
The answers are especially important when they are experienced ocean cruisers. An ocean cruise experience is very different from a river cruise. The size of ship alone tells you that certain amenities will not be available on a river cruise. These are important to know to manage one's expectations. For example, if active nightlife options or Broadway style entertainment is a must have, river cruising may not be for you.
Not sure? I suggest looking at your hobbies and special interests. Do you like museums? Are you a foodie, love wine or beer? An art lover? A US History buff? Interested in in visiting iconic cities or castles and chateaus? Prefer active vacations? Hobbies and interests are a great way to narrow down itineraries for their unique experiences. Not all cruise lines cater to every type of interest, so this will naturally narrow down the options as well.
Do you want to avoid the heat, rainy season, crowds? This will help determine whether you travel during peak, shoulder or low seasons. TIP: When you travel will have an impact on your overall budget.
What you want to see, how immersive you want to get and how active you want to be will help narrow down the best cruise line for you. TIP: Take note of the excursions being offered. Some offer one in each port. Others offer multiple options to choose from. Others offer exclusive experiences.
What is the amount you can realistically invest on your vacation? Cruises come in various price points, so your budget will narrow down which lines to review.
Most fares include accommodation, on-board meals, certain beverages during lunch and dinner and standard tour excursions. Airfare, travel insurance, drinks (outside of meals and on some cruise lines all alcoholic beverages), gratuities, premium excursions, pre/post cruise stays, meals off the ship, transfers, souvenirs and incidentals all need to be considered in the total budget. Other considerations that impact your budget: when you travel and type of cabin you choose.
Luxury lines like Crystal, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld offer more inclusive pricing and exclusive experiences - thus a higher base fare than the premium or budget lines (who have more of an "a la carte" approach).
While not a perfect process, answering the above questions will help you discover the differences and what is important to you. Each cruise brand has a unique personality and the differences are "What they offer on the inside." Some differences are very noticeable, others more nuanced. But as they say, the little things add up.
The best choice? What ever is most important to you and your style.
Want more details on river and barge cruising?
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Here to help you understand the differences and make the best choice.