Travels with Bob

Choosing the Right European River Cruise


Authentic Travel Experiences along the Rhine River

River Cruises continue to be the fastest growing leisure travel segment this decade because river ships generally offer an outstanding vacation experience that takes guests to the very heart of Europe’s foremost cities as they navigate the major waterways of the continent.

To meet such surging demand, river cruise companies have been launching dozens of new ship builds each year. At last count, more than 450 river ships now ply Europe’s primary rivers, not counting the river barges exploring smaller rivers and canals. And therein lies the problem when it comes to choosing the right river cruise: too many choices.

Finding just the right river cruise experience can feel like a daunting task especially if you don’t have a plan to narrow those choices. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Start by selecting a river itinerary that includes the cities you wish to visit and have a good idea of when you will be free to travel. Plan well in advance — 12 to 18 months is not too early.
  • Look for river cruises catering primarily to English-speaking guests (Americans, Canadians, Brits and Australians). You will be more comfortable traveling with people who speak your language and the ship’s language will be English as well.
  • Understand the value proposition offered by each of the major cruise lines. Look at what’s included in the cruise fare and what’s not included. You may find a premium or even a luxury cruise costing slightly more than mass-market travel products. Pricing will depend upon the accommodations you desire.
  • Study deck plans to learn stateroom categories and the differences in the onboard cruise experience. Most newer ships have essentially the same hull: 443 feet long and 37-1/2 feet wide (the maximize allowable size to clear river locks). What differentiates cruise lines and their ships is what’s inside that footprint. Understand cabin sizes and the use of common areas throughout the ship. Also, look for the number of guests that each ship accommodates. The greater number of guests onboard usually equates to smaller staterooms and tighter common areas.
  • Disregard advertising claims and promotional literature; they all probably promise to offer the best onboard experience. Instead understand what’s important to you, whether its cuisine, the onboard experience, enriching cultural excursions, themed cruises or something else.

With a little research and planning, you cannot go wrong because most of the major European river cruise lines offer a good vacation experience. Yet, with guidance from a travel professional who understands the subtle differences among ships and cruise line products and who matches you with the right itinerary and the right ship, you will enjoy a fabulous European river cruise experience.