Do you wonder whether river cruising is for you?
River cruising in Europe has had an image problem for a while. Quite a few prejudices that you hear about river cruising are that it is for retired people and (disabled) seniors, river boats are worn down and decorated in an old fashioned way, cabins are mediocre and tiny, you pay a lot of extras for everything.
What for some people is a pro to travel on a river cruise, for others it might be a downside.
Let’s see what river cruising is really all about and why it is a fantastic way to travel.
Is river cruising a good way to see Europe?
The abundance of rivers in Europe makes it the perfect continent for river cruising.
Think of popular river cruise itineraries on the Rhine, Danube, Rhone, Douro, Seine and so on. France, Germany, The Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, Portugal. You can visit them all with very little effort. Lots of travel choices also mean that there are quite a few companies to choose from and for all budgets.
River cruise ships are small, especially if you compare them with ocean cruises.
Most river cruise ships can only accommodate up until 200 passengers. Their size is the reason why these ships are able to navigate on smaller rivers. River cruise ships usually have 3 to 4 decks.
Which brings us to the next point.
On board entertainment
Because of the size of river cruise ships, there is not an abundance of pools, shops, bars, restaurants, cinemas, fitness centres, spas and casinos on board. Most river cruise ships have only one large bar and lounge area and one restaurant.
Expect very little entertainment on a river cruise. There might be some modest live music in the bar right before and after dinner while you enjoy a drink, like a piano player. Only on special occasions such as a Christmas and New Year river cruise can you expect a more active program with music, dancing and live performances.
River cruising passengers are mainly couples with an average age between 50 and 75.
Because of the more modest onboard activities you won’t often find families with children and younger couples here.
River cruising allows you to do several city trips in a short period of time.
River cruising in Europe also means that you can often visit several countries during your trip. Hassle free traveling without driving there by (rental) car, public transport, flights to catch and hotels to book beforehand.
And you only have to unpack once!
Another advantage of small river cruise ships is the fact that they can get very close to cities.
Large ocean cruise ships are often docked in a harbour far away from major cities which forces you to travel by bus or train to see something. This is not the case with river cruise ships. It often only takes a short walk to get to a city centre. Some river cruise companies have bikes on board that you can rent per day or even for free.
If you travel with AmaWaterways you can bring your own bikes on certain river cruising trips.
On the move
River cruise ships will mainly be on the move during the night depending on the schedule, especially if there is nothing really interesting to see going from one city to another. Which allows you to spend as much of your time during the day to visit and enjoy cities.
However river cruising in Europe also comes with spectacular landscapes and breathtaking views. And for that reason river cruising will also happen during the day. A moving ship is part of the entire river cruising experience. It allows you to relax and admire the views around you on the top deck while sipping a coffee in the afternoon.
Another spectacular event during the day is when a river cruise ship is raised or lowered before going through a lock.
Are prices all inclusive?
The price you pay for your cabin includes 3 meals a day.
Check before you book whether (alcoholic) drinks during meals are included or come at an extra cost. Some companies also offer free happy hour drinks and tea, coffee and cakes in the afternoon. All other drinks in between meals are usually not included.
Find out what is included before you book to avoid surprises. Think of flights, excursions, wifi, drinks in between meals, bike rental, gratuities and tips.
Quite a few river cruising companies will charge a single occupancy cabin supplement if you travel solo.
At the end of your trip you will get a reminder that tips for the crew are not included.
The question is, how much should you tip? On river cruising trips in Europe an average tip is about €12 per day per passenger. For a 7 day river cruise with your partner that is €168.
There are 2 ways to leave a tip.
Housekeeping will leave a letter and an envelop in your room the day before you disembark in which you can put cash. You can put your envelop in a tipping box at the reception area on the day you check out. No enough cash on you? You can also pay a tip directly by card at the reception when checking out.
Is river cruising suitable for disabled people?
Newer river cruise boats often have an elevator to connect cabin decks with the lounge and bar area and restaurant area. However elevators don’t go up to the top deck.
What is the best month to take a European river cruise?
There are 2 things to consider: the weather and school holidays.
Of course weather something you can’t book of course. River cruising in Europe usually starts in March and April in springtime up until the end of December. School holidays in Europe are during July and August. Cities can be highly crowded then.
Keeping that and the weather in mind, river cruising in Europe is best in May, June and September.
Is there a dress code on river cruises?
Check before you book. Quite a few river cruise companies ask to be dressed casual smart for dinner.
Is it worth getting a balcony on a river cruise ship?
In our opinion, yes.
A balcony is your private little outside corner where you can read and enjoy the landscape when the ship is one the move. However when your cruise ship is docked, you will often be facing a concrete wall depending on how the ship is positioned.
So why would you pay more?
The pandemic has shown that cruise ships, small and large, are not the greatest places to be if there is a virus outbreak on board. There is nothing fun about quarantining on a (river) cruise ship when passengers are not allowed to leave their cabins. Being able to open a window to get some fresh air can really help to keep you sane.
Even a French balcony is better than being confined on the bottom deck.
What is the best company for a river cruise in Europe?
We recommend AmaWaterways.
Our 10 day Rhine river cruise from Antwerp to Strasbourg and back on the beautiful AmaKristina was absolutely perfect. We booked another river cruising trip on the AmaLucia in a couple of months.
How do I get the best deal on a river cruise?
Sign up with travel agencies specialised in river cruises to receive their newsletter.
It often announces great deals, exclusive offers and upcoming interesting river cruises. Some travel agencies give you a discount if you book early. Or get you a discount for being a loyal client if you book with them again.
Also follow river cruise companies on social media for news, discounts and special offers.
Are river cruises safer than ocean cruises?
Rivers are much calmer than oceans and open seas.
The intricate system of locks that connects European rivers also controls the water flow. Your river cruise is not the only ship on the river of course. You will see other river cruise ships along your way.
Inland shipping is also big business on European rivers. However accidents or collisions between ships rarely happen.
Do you get seasick on river cruises?
Significantly less than on ocean cruises.
River cruise ships are long and usually not higher than 4 decks which also reduces the risk of feeling movement when the ship is on the move.