European river cruises are booming—and it’s no wonder. Offering travellers the chance to get up-close and personal with sights and attractions, they’re an intimate alternative to mammoth cruise ships. That said, they’re not necessarily for everyone. Here’s what you need to know before booking a European river cruise for your next holiday.
1.Comparison shopping pays off.
With so many European river cruise lines to choose from, it’s wise to do research online to compare similar itineraries before you book. The best part about the riverboat boom? Now that cruise companies are competing for your business, they’ve stepped up their packages. “Package deals that include free or reduced airfare or complimentary extras on board can help reduce costs significantly,” says Lisa Norton, a vice president at Emerald Waterways. Just don’t expect the kind of bargain-priced packages you’ll find on big ocean cruises. River cruises tend to cost more per person than their super-sized counterparts, but deals can still be had if you shop around on portals like Cruise Compete—a great first-stop in comparison shopping.
2.Book a European river cruise far in advance.
“Fall is a popular time to book a European river cruise for the following year,” says Norton. “Companies are typically offering strong promotions then, and a good selection of inventory is still available.” Missed out on fall bookings? Try your luck early in the new year. According to Norton, that’s when cruise lines are announcing their itineraries for the next year. Since riverboats have limited occupancy, the best ones can sell out fast.
3.You can customize your European river cruise itinerary.
Pre- or post-cruise extensions allow you to tack on some extra days and destinations at a modest additional cost. Travel writer Irene S. Levine of More Time to Travel took Grand Circle Cruise Line through Burgundy and Provence, then opted for a “very affordable” three-night post-cruise extension in Nice. “From there, we were able to explore three additional cities by motor coach: Monaco, Antibes and Cannes,” Levine says. “All the logistics were taken care of by the company—including city tours—so we had more time to immerse ourselves in the fabulous food and culture of the region.”
4. Not all European river cruises cater to the same demographic.
European river cruises are a popular option for seniors, but active baby boomers have also begun boarding in droves. In an effort to accommodate all passengers—regardless of energy level or physical fitness—savvy cruise operators offer a variety of land excursions. Some cruise lines, like G Adventures, have even started catering to millennials. G Adventures’ Burgundy cruise includes biking, hiking and other active adventures designed to appeal to young adult travellers. Regardless of age, if you’re seeking nightlife, book a cruise that stops at cosmopolitan cities so you can disembark to bar-hop while the ship is docked overnight. (Many riverboats don’t travel in the dark, so you can get back on-board even in the wee hours!)
5.Seek out themed itineraries.
Maybe your goal is simply to see some of Europe’s most stunning scenery from the water. But if your life’s passion is history, cuisine, photography, wine or art, there are themed cruises that specifically cater to your interests. For one-of-a-kind cultural explorations, Vantage Deluxe World Travel cruises offers a program called “Cultural Connections,” with itineraries that focus on activities unique to a particular port of call. That could mean taking part in a wreath-laying ceremony in Normandy, or sharing the table in the home of an Irish family for a traditional home-cooked meal.