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There are plenty of very good reasons to get onboard a river cruise. In fact, it’s easy to see why their popularity has exploded. We asked our Cruising General Manager Jeff Leckey to answer the most common questions we hear from first-time river cruisers.
1 | What’s all the fuss about river cruising?
Think of it as a luxury hotel on the river. All travel and excursion arrangements are made for you — and you can soak up passing scenery right from the ship! For many passengers, the real allure of river cruising is waking up each day to a brand-new city or town. You’ll only unpack once but visit half a dozen different places all in one trip. And that’s heaven. It means no worries about packing & dragging luggage from place to place, no airport or transport hassles, no concerns about language…really, no worries at all!
2 | Who takes a river cruise?
Generally river cruises seem to appeal to curious, sophisticated travellers who relish a little luxury, excellent dining and a preference for hosted style holidays. The age tends to skew slightly older on cruise lines such as Viking, Scenic or APT and slightly younger on others, like Emerald Waterways. Some cruise lines are especially good for active travellers, Avalon Waterways, which offers excursions including bike tours, jogging and even painting classes. With the introduction of U by Uniworld, millennial travellers are waking up to the appeal of river cruising too (Think onboard yoga and silent discos!).
3 | What are some of the questions to ask my consultant?
When comparing cruises and costs, it’s important to ask what is and isn’t included: As with ocean cruising, accommodation and meals are always included in your fare. Some river cruises include drinks served with meals, cocktails, shore excursions and gratuities in the up-front fare. Others include some but not all of these. There may be optional excursions or special-menu meals served in an alternate dining venue, for which a charge is made.
It’s also good to ask about stateroom options: Basic cabins often have a waterline window but for a fairly small price increase, you can book into balcony cabins and larger suites. Also ask about the best time to travel. Shoulder-season dates are often lower priced and mean fewer crowds at major sights, but remember some sights and businesses may be closed in the off season. Your consultant will be able to help with this.
4 | What should I expect onboard?
From gourmet meals to suites plusher than your average five-star hotel room, luxury is the main theme when you’re river cruising. With guests generally numbering under 200, you’ll find dining in particular to be a sociable affair. You’ll be encouraged to sit at a different table each evening and although you might find friends to dine with, it’s common for guests to mingle. Just as nice, the crew are likely to know you by your first name within 45 minutes. It’s nice to remember theirs too — name badges help with that!
Evening entertainment is low-key: You’ll usually find lectures on your destination’s history and culture, nightly movies, and a pianist filling the bar. Unless you cruise on U then you can also enjoy Silent Discos and party theme nights.
5 | What should I expect on land?
River cruises are known for their exceptional onshore excursions. So while you can certainly grab a map and set out for independent exploring, I recommend taking the cruise lines lead. They really excel. Scenic, for example, offers a special event on each cruise — an example might be a private ballet performance in a St. Petersburg palace. APT standouts include an unforgettable outing to Namedy castle where you are hosted by a genuine Princess. All excursions are led by expert English-speaking guides so you can focus only on enjoying the destination.
6 | Where can I go by river cruise?
Most of Europe opens up along its rivers. You can cruise France on the Seine, Rhône, Dordogne and Garonne. Cruise in Germany on the Elbe and the Rhine, which also flows through The Netherlands, France and Switzerland. The Danube also flows through Germany as well as Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria. In Portugal, you can cruise on the Douro; in Italy, on the Po; and in Russia on the Volga.
Culture vultures will love itineraries on the Seine, Rhine, Danube, Elbe, Po and Volga, while history buffs will find plenty to admire on the Rhine’s Gorge and all along the Danube. Witness Russia’s Old World splendour along the Volga, with river cruises that travel from Moscow to St Petersburg.
Wine lovers will find lots to toast to on the Rhône from Burgundy to Provence. And foodies are well catered for on Rhône, which flows through Lyon, France’s gastronomy capital, and the Seine, which winds through flavour-rich Normandy.
Beyond Europe, you might cruise the Nile, highway of Ancient Egypt, or many of Asia’s rivers. Even South America and Africa are opening to river cruising.
7 | What are some easy ways to choose between itineraries?
Look for a river or route that features what interests you most. Sometimes it’s easiest to list what you hope to see and do, and find an itinerary that best matches. You might also consider the implications of where the cruise departs and finishes — What will flights be like and do you want to extend your holiday with a few more days exploring? Your House of Travel consultant can really help with this part of your planning as they know all the best connections and options. Your consultant can also guide you in which is the best direction to cruise for certain times of year.
8 | How can I choose between cruise lines?
I recommend thinking about the type of experience you’re looking for, All Inclusive or more stripped back. Ask your consultant for the cruise line that will best meet your preferences within your budget and style. It’s that simple. As a general guide, here’s what to know about a few of our most popular river cruise line:
Crystal River Cruises. An über-luxurious line that offers Michelin-level dining, exceptional wines and shore excursions that skirt the tourist traps on plush customised coaches limited to an unusually intimate 15 guests.
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours. Exceptional luxury and all-inclusive, you’ll find an outdoor heated pool, wellness center with workout equipment, running/walking track, and e-bikes. Plus Scenic works with National Geographic to bring a photographer and lecturer along on some departures.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. Admirers of fine hotels adore Uniworld’s ships, which average just 130 guests and are each works of art in their own right. Even better, exclusive excursions — like golfing on France’s most prestigious courses —are included.
Viking River Cruises. You can count on this cruise line’s high quality and consistency. Your cruise includes one excursion per port, and Viking’s tend to be exceptionally immersive. Except for a walking track and putting green, you won’t find fitness facilities.
Avalon Waterways. The Kiwi favourite with the uniquely out facing beds so all veranda rooms have a fabulous view right from your bed. Avalon’s Active discovery cruises are perfect for people who enjoy a more energetic holiday.
9 | What is the dining like onboard?
Depending on the cruise line, it ranges from exceptional to Michelin-quality. Most ships offer a choice of restaurants and open-air dining. Onboard chefs excel at classic and contemporary European cuisine showcasing local ingredients. Vegetarians, vegans and the diet-minded are well looked after. Crucially, the bartenders are accomplished: In addition to premium spirits and fine wines, they pour cool cocktails inspired by your destination. For something truly unforgettable, ask about Uniworld’s intimate dinners in local host homes.
10 | Any good packing tips?
The attire on these ships tends to be stylish smart casual for dinners and excursions, so you can leave the suits and sequins at home. Comfort is key for most day excursions, whereas most guests will slip into something a little smarter for dinner. Imagine you’re going for an anniversary dinner and you’ll fit right in. I recommend comfortable walking shoes for exploring on land. You’ll want attire for the pool and fitness centre, if you’re keen to use those. I always pack one extra warm layer and a waterproof jacket, and I’ve never regretted either.
11 | Do you have a favourite river cruise?
OK, that one’s too hard! I don’t. Each cruise line has its own feel, but they’re each fantastic. I can tell you the next river cruise I’m keen to do is a Christmastime sailing through Europe, which calls into historic cities with outdoor Christmas markets. There are departures that have passengers celebrating 25 December on the ship as Christmas-card scenery drifts past — and others which cruise the festive markets along the Danube or the Rhine and have you home again in time for Christmas. I’m torn — but it’s high on my list!
If you’ve got a query we haven’t answered, come in-store and chat with one of our friendly cruising experts. That’s what we here for! We can pair you with the perfect holiday for a truly unforgettable experience.
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