Photo: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
1. Prepare for an intimate experience on board a European river cruise.
Riverboats are small affairs that generally hold fewer than 150 passengers. Given the intimate size of the group, you’ll likely form bonds with your fellow travellers—and the ship’s staff—by journey’s end. There are no formal nights; the vibe is very laid-back, and you’re left to decide whether you want to explore each port on your own, join an excursion, or simply relax onboard when you’re docked. Suffer from motion sickness? That’s usually not a problem on a European river cruise. Riverboats are extremely stable and glide slowly through the waterways so you can take in the sights at a leisurely pace.
2. 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 CruiseCompete—a great first-stop in comparison shopping.
Insider tip: There are typically no hidden fees on European river cruises, but tips for the crew are not included.
Photo: Susan Campbell
3. 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.