Choose Your European River Cruise
Find the best company and cruise
There are many
variables to consider when selecting a European river cruise.
Most cruises are good.
But some are better than others.
Part 2 of a series on river cruising.
Please also see
All About European River Cruising
2. How to Choose Your
European River Cruise
3. How to Choose Your River Cruise
When you've decided to treat
yourself to a European river cruise, you will then need to
choose the cruise that best meets your requirements.
The right cruise will be a mix
of the right cruise line, the right ship, the right time of
year, and the right itinerary.
Here are the various things to
keep in mind to help you make the right decision.
Choosing the Best Cruise
The good news - most of the
major European river cruising companies are of high standard.
There are a few things to
keep in mind when selecting your preferred cruising company
Itinerary and availability
Of course, the first issue
is to determine which companies offer the itinerary you want.
A related issue is to check if the sailing you wish to take has
remaining availability in the cabin category you wish.
Popular cabin categories sell out early - sometimes nine months
or more before the cruise departure.
Check to see which tours are
included and which are extra. Historically, river cruises
have tended to include all touring in the upfront-price, but
some cruise operators (eg Uniworld) are now experimenting with
lower priced cruises that have fewer inclusions.
Having fewer inclusions is
not necessarily a bad thing, but make sure you understand what
is included when you're comparing products from different cruise
companies when doing cost comparisons.
What with the growing ubiquity
of Facebook, and email replacing regular mail, most people want
convenient access to the internet, even when on vacation.
Some cruise lines offer
in-room computers that are connected to the internet, others offer
Wi-Fi throughout the ship, and some offer Wi-Fi only in restricted
parts of the public areas. Clearly it is massively more
convenient to have Wi-Fi access in your cabin rather than to need
to go into one of the lounges.
The internet service is
sometimes free and sometimes charged for. If it is charged
for, the fees can sometimes be huge - be very careful and keep a
close eye on how much you are spending.
Internet access is often very
poor, for two reasons. First, when the ship goes through
locks it often loses sight of the satellite or terrestrial
internet station it is connected to, causing the internet to be
lost for a period of time. Indeed, sometimes when going
through an area with low bridges, the captain will retract the
internet dome and turn it off for hours at a time.
Secondly, think about what
happens when everyone gets back from a day of touring. They
go to their cabins, and then, in many cases, log on to check
email, update their Facebook status, send pictures of what they
did and saw that day to friends, and so on. The meager
internet bandwidth is quickly and massively overloaded.
So, the bottom line about
internet on a ship? Understand if it is free or not, and
understand where in the ship you can connect, and anticipate that
the connection will be intermittent and usually slow.
Some cruise lines offer free
drinks with dinner. In some cases, this is defined as 'one
small glass of house wine', in other cases it is defined as
'unlimited refills' and in some cases, the free drinks includes
beer as well as wine.
At least one cruise line
(Scenic) now offers free drinks with lunch, too.
If you like to have a glass of
something with your meal, the ability to have it provided for free
can save you an appreciable amount of money on the cruise - even
more if you, ahem, like to have two glasses of wine with
Most of the boats have a
no-smoking indoors policy (including no smoking in your personal
cabin), but allow smoking on the outside decks.
If the ability to smoke is
important, or if the freedom from smoke, everywhere, is
important, then check with the cruise company you are
considering to see what their policy is.
Most of the US cruise
companies market their cruises primarily to the US and Canada,
perhaps with a bit of overflow sales into other English speaking
countries, and as a result, they operate their boats with
English as the official onboard language, and when they are
arranging for shore touring, English is again the sole language
of the group.
If you've ever been on a
multi-lingual ship, you'll know how tiring it is to be forced to
listen to every announcement in four or six different languages.
And when you're on a shore tour, if the guide is having to talk
in multiple languages, that reduces the amount of commentary
given in English and detracts from the interest and experience.
Another subtle element of
this issue is that not only is the language English, but the
food style is also English (ie American) in terms of type of
menu items offered and style of food presentation.
Most of the companies have
similar brochure costs, so this isn't as large a differentiator
as you might think.
However, there can be some
'fine print' tricks and traps. Are port charges included
(as with Viking River Cruises) or not (as with most other
companies)? And are there any other surcharges (eg a fuel
surcharge with Uniworld) or not (as with most other companies)?
Note also that some
companies offer early booking discounts. These can
sometimes be very generous, and expire at different times.
Today (2 Feb 06) most companies no longer have 2006 early
booking discounts, with the discounts having expired anytime
from September last year through the end of January this year,
but one company is still offering discounts for 2006 (Avalon).
Although you may qualify for
an early booking discount, we haven't
seen any 'last minute discounts' on river cruises, so it does
pay to book in advance and to take advantage of any early
Most companies also offer a
returning passenger discount, so if you've been on one cruise
with a company, be sure to ask about discounts when you consider
booking with them again. Indeed, chances are you won't
have to ask - chances are you'll be getting regular promotional
mailings from the company for many years after you return home!
Costs can also vary when you
move from the 'lead price' (lowest cabin price) to the price of
the actual cabin you'll be paying for, and can also vary if the
cabin type you want to buy isn't available and you instead have
to pay more for a more expensive cabin category.
If you're traveling as a
single passenger, some companies charge 150% of the per
person (share twin) rate for a single person in a cabin (eg Amadeus) while
most other companies charge double the per person rate.
This can make a big difference in cost.
Some companies have a
guaranteed singles share scheme which can be helpful if you'd
like to keep your costs down and/or would enjoy having some
companionship on the cruise.
Many travelers choose to
purchase some form of travel insurance prior to going on an
international vacation, and the cruise companies all offer an
Coverages vary from company
to company, and so too
do the prices, by as much as $100/person, for similar sorts of
The cruise company policies
will probably only cover the travel items you buy from the
cruise company. If you arrange your own air, and/or an
extension of your time doing other things in Europe, these extra
costs may not be included if you buy the insurance from the
Many policies will allow
more generous terms for cancellation protection if you buy your
insurance at the same time you pay your deposit.
You'll often find the cruise
company policies are more expensive than policies you can get
from third party insurance companies, but there is clear
advantage and convenience to having your insurance provided by
the company who is also providing your arrangements.
insurance in detail in this two part article, and in
the second part of the article, provide links to a couple of helpful
insurance shopping websites that cost out the best
deals on your insurance.
Leading Cruise Companies
The following cruise
companies appear to operate good quality European river cruises
and have good reputations.
This company is relatively
new, having been founded in 2003. It has gone through
several name changes - Amadeus Waterways, AMA, and now
Amawaterways - its original name being too confusingly similar
to other competing companies and to other travel companies in
It is headed by an industry veteran, and they
are quickly rolling out excellent ships and itineraries and now
(2010) have something like 8 ships (it being a bit confusing
which of their ships they own, which they lease, and which they
own but then charter out entirely to third parties). If they
offer a cruise in an area you want to travel, you'd be well
advised to closely consider them.
Their US staff are all
competent, knowledgeable, and helpful, and their policies and
application of them are all very fair.
TTheir values are good and
they even include free wine with dinners (a policy now largely
copied by most other cruise lines too. Speaking from
personal experience, this can be a considerable saving!
Amadeus Waterways website
This is an Australian owned
company that made a name for itself in the second half of the
1990s, offering excellent quality coach touring, and at
appreciably better values than their established competitors.
TThey have now extended to
offering European river cruises as well, with four (growing to
five in 2011) lovely new 'super-sized' ships (135 m long, rather
than the traditional 110m length) including many cabins with
outside balconies, two different dining venues, and the usual
range of itineraries, with heavy emphasis on coach touring
before/after the cruise, revealing their coach touring
Their rates include all
tips, and, besting Amawaterways, they offer free drinks with
both lunch and dinner.
(2013 Update) : Scenic
has continued to innovate with its fine river cruising products.
This year they even offer not just regular bicycles but electric
power assisted bicycles, as well as a huge number of additional
amenities and innovations.
While their cruises are
appreciably more expensive, and also generally of longer duration,
we increasingly feel that for people wanting the most polished
cruise experience with the broadest range of extras, this is the
company to choose.
Viking River Cruises
I enjoyed a Viking cruise in
Nov/Dec 2004. The ship was of a very high standard, the
food was good, the itinerary excellent (what a shame they no
longer offer the same itinerary), and the crew ranged from
average to good.
The company has a good
reputation and a wide range of vessels and cruising itineraries,
but over the years, their ships have aged compared to the influx
of newer ships being launched by companies such as Amawaterways.
However, they are now (2012) going through a period of
aggressive fleet renewal and expansion, with new state of the
art ships as good as anyone else's.
Viking seems to typically
price their itineraries high to start with, and then offers
regular discounting off this high price in an attempt to make it
seem like a great value.
Recommended, especially if
you can get a good deal on one of their new ships.
Viking River Cruises website
Uniworld River Cruises
A long established large
operator with a wide range of cruises in Europe and elsewhere,
but one which has struggled to keep up with the times.
They have a few new ships and also some very old (by river ship
standards) ships too.
This is another company we feel comfortable recommending
but be careful of the ship you'll be on.
River Cruises website
Peter Deilmann Cruises
This is another well
established company (formed in 1983), and with a high reputation
for quality. Their cabins, on some boats, are as large as
204 sq ft - the largest of all boats on the European rivers.
Note that shore excursions
are generally not included in their cruise rates, and the ships
are bilingual, with everything being in both German and English.
Prices are high.
Deilmann Cruises website
This company - a one time leader in the industry, has ceased
These two companies sell the
same cruises in partnership; Avalon is relatively new, while
Globus has been around for a long time.
Their ships are generally
new and of good quality, with large cabins. Prices seem
Air Fare Issues
The cruise lines typically
give you the option of buying an airfare from them, or of
arranging your own airfare.
Which is best? We
suggest checking all your options - seeing if you can cash in
frequent flier miles, seeing what the best value fare is on your
own, and comparing these options to what the cruise line offers.
If you have a preference for
a particular airline (due to frequent flier affiliations) or are
seeking to vary your travel dates and cities, you'll probably
end up arranging your own air.
Most cruise lines will quote
you their fare, and even hold space for you and allow you to
cancel without penalty anytime between when you make your
confirming deposit and when you make your final payment.
This allows you to secure their fare and then try and improve on
it in the months between when you make your booking and have to
actually make the full payment.
If you buy the standard
airfare on the day of arrival and departure of the cruise
through the cruise line, they will often include 'free'
transfers to and from the airport.
This is a nice convenience,
for sure, particularly if you're less confident at making your
way in a foreign non-English speaking city to the cruise ship.
And it can also save you money, so needs to be factored in to
the overall costs.
But if you're flying on
other days, or to other cities, the free transfers are no longer
Carefully choose the cities
you fly in and out of
Some cities in Europe have
much better air service than other nearby cities. For
example, your cruise might terminate in Nuremberg, but
quite possibly your preferred airline either doesn't fly to that
city, or - if it does - the flights are infrequent and the
This might seem like an
obvious issue, but remember Europe is very small and so if
you can't get convenient flights (or fares) on your preferred
airlines to and from the obvious cities at the start and end of
your tour, consider flying in or out of nearby airports and then
using a train to get between that airport and the city you need
to be in.
For example, if you are
returning home from Nuremberg, consider taking a short 1¾ hour
train ride from Nuremberg to Munich, and then connect at the
rail station to the suburban rail line that travels directly out
to Munich's much larger airport.
Similarly, if you are
thinking of perhaps arriving into Europe a day or two before the
cruise begins, maybe fly in to a nearby city rather than the
city you depart from, and enjoy the extra city and experience of
traveling to where you start your cruise.
Open Jaws Travel
If you're on a one-way
cruise, in theory you need to fly into a different city than the
city you return back from. This arrangement - flying into
one city and out of a different one, is termed an open-jaw
Most airfares these days
usually allow for open-jaw travel without penalty, you simply
add one half of the fare for one city to one half of the fare to
the other city. And most frequent flier awards also allow
for open-jaw itineraries.
However, if you find a
special fare that doesn't allow open-jaw travel, or if your
preferred airline doesn't serve both cities, then the chances
are there's not too much distance between the cities your cruise
starts and finishes in, and you can easily bridge the gap with a
one way train ticket, either prior to your cruise, or subsequent
to its finish.
Another strategy would be to
fly into a midway city and then travel from there to where your
cruise starts and back there from where your cruise ends.
RRead more in Parts 1 and
the first part, we talk about the
different types and styles of European river cruising and
why you might enjoy a river cruise.
In the third part, we discuss
the implications of how to choose the
best cabin on your river cruise. This of course will
have a major impact on your budget and cruise experience.
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3 Feb 2006, last update
09 Jan 2013
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