European River Cruise Watch Outs. 14 Things Brochures Don’t Warn You About!

European River Cruise Watch Outs. 14 Things Brochures Don’t Warn You About!

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I’m going to tell you 14 things that I
think you need to know about river cruising that are watch outs or things
you need to know before you go that the cruise lines probably won’t tell you, and
certainly the brochures won’t warn you about. Hi, I’m Gary Bembridge and this is
another of my tips for travellers. The goal of this is not to put you off river
cruising, but it is a very different way of travelling and there’s a whole bunch
of things that I think you need to know to make sure that if you decide to go you’re
going to you make the most of it. First of all, you can only cruise a
relatively limited part of the year. The season runs normally from
April through to October in Europe, and although there might be some Christmas
cruises or New Year’s cruises like Christmas market cruises, the ships are
normally put into harbour and basically retired for at least the first three
months of the year. So, there’s only a relatively limited period of time that
you can go cruising. The second, and really important thing to note, is that
it’s very possible (and sometimes almost likely) that your itineraries will get
adjusted because of water levels – so either to high water levels or too low
water levels. You might often find on a cruise that quite close at the time
you booked to go that the itinerary might get changed, or even when you’re
on the cruise you might find that you end up staying in one place and getting
bused to excursions. What’s very important on river cruises is you don’t
actually travel that far, so you might only be traveling maybe 20 miles or 30
miles, so it is relatively easy for the river cruise lines to then just bus you
on the different excursions. In some seasons that can be pretty bad, so for
example, in 2018 there were big problems particularly on the Danube and
itineraries were constantly being changed. River cruising ships are basically all
the same, because they have to be a certain length, width and height to be able to cruise the rivers of Europe, so seen from the
outside you’ll find that all river cruising ships look the same. Therefore,
if you really want to understand the differences you need to look inside and so
that’s why video sites are really important so you get a chance to look
inside the ship. When you’re going to go on a river cruise you can’t really tell
by the outside of the ship, you need to really look inside. Also it’s very
important to note that river cruise ships have relatively limited facilities. You normally find there’s a large lounge area with a bar, you might
find at the rear of the ship there’s either another lounge or special dining restaurant, there’s a main dining room there’s maybe a small fitness centre, maybe a small hairdresser and massage area and a Sun Deck. So, facilities are very limited and
choice is very limited. You don’t have a lot of choice of dining options,
so you normally find for dinner you have to eat in the main
restaurant and there’s no room service or no alternative. That is really
important to know because it tends to be a sit-down dinner with multiple courses,
so you’re going to find in the evening you have to commit to going to dinner which
is going to take several hours. If you one of those people that like some
evenings just to have a relatively easy evening, like if you’re an ocean cruise
you might just go to the buffet restaurant, that’s not an option on river
cruise boats. You have to go for a full sit-down dinner on most ships. Another
thing, which is a big surprise to a lot of people on river cruises, is that the
ships will normally park parallel to each other, sometimes three or four deep.
You’ll often find that you are surrounded on all sides by another ship.
So, if you’re in your cabin for example you’re basically looking straight into
another cabin and can be quite dark, and to get onto land you either
have to go through or climb up and over the sun deck. On the big busy
rivers you’re going to be docking in many places multiple deep. The places and
excursions you call on are extremely similar across all river cruise lines. You’ll find they tend to stop at the same places. They’ll often the same
excursions. Historically the excursions have tended to be much
more historical and you’re going to see lots of cathedrals on walking tours of the
town. Now more cruise lines are trying to diversify
that and you’ll find a lot of them will start to have a more active hiking
or a bicycle tours, but you’ll find wherever you go to they are stopping at
the same places and doing pretty much the same excursions. There’s no real
big difference in excursions. Importantly most cruise lines include at least one
excursion in every port of call. That’s true across most cruise lines. There are one
or two exceptions to that but generally speaking cruise lines include an
excursion and they will be very similar across cruise lines. Another thing
that surprised me a lot when I started going river cruising is just how
regimented it is. Having been used to ocean cruising where you have much more flexibility. You can get up when you want, dine when you want as lots of
different choices. River cruising is very regimented. You’ll find that there
are announcements waking you up at a certain time to have breakfast because you need to get out on excursions a certain time. You need to be
back because the ship might be moving a along the river and then
going to more excursions. Lunches at the same time with very tight narrow set time, again with limited choices, and as I mentioned earlier dinner will be at a
certain time and will be a multi-course dinner. In the evenings there will
be port briefings or talks, maybe some local entertainment.
It’s a very regimented and set experience. Of course you can decide
not to go on the excursions and basically build in more flexibility that
way, but bear in mind that most of the time you will have paid for the
excursions within your fare so by not going on them you are paying for
something that you’re not using. A lot of the river cruising
lines developed out of escorted tour companies and a lot of the people
who go on river cruising are people who enjoy escorted tours and that
more regimented way of traveling. It is quite a regimented and strict way
of experiencing a region. The other thing you need to know is that River cruising
is quite an expensive travel option, certainly versus ocean cruising. So,
if you take a look at say July on the Rhine even on a budget line you’re probably paying about $200 – $250 dollars per person per day (
that’s about £190 pounds and about the same in Euros). The premium lines you’re
probably spending $300 – £400 dollars per person per day (so about £300 pounds
per person per day). It’s a relatively expensive option certainly when you
compare to versus ocean cruising. Thats is partly because the ships
are much smaller so, of course, they can’t amortize the costs across as many people,
and also because a lot of things are included within the fare. One thing
you’ll notice in river cruising is that pretty much all of the cruise lines will
say that they’re all-inclusive. However, you need to understand what that means
because every cruise line has a different definition of what
all-inclusive means. Generally of course your accommodations
included, your meals are included, maybe things like afternoon tea. Some
Cruise Lines, particular more premium lines, will include all of your drinks
and premium drinks at all times of the day. For example Uniworld will do that.
Others will include beer, wine and soft drinks at lunch and dinner only. All the
river cruise lines will offer free Wi-Fi. Most of them will offer one excursion in all the places that you call on, an
exception for example is CroisiEurope which is a more value line where you can buy a package of excursions, and your fare
doesn’t include excursions. Also what’s important is when you’re looking at
all-inclusive is it will differ based on where you’re coming from! So for
example using the CroisiEurope example, if you’re booking to cruise Europe from the United States you’ll find that excursions are included. So, it depends a
lot on where you’re travelling from. Gratuities are included on some lines and
not in others. It’s important when you’re looking at a
river cruise line and it says it’s all-inclusive that you understand
what that really means, because it is different pretty much across every single
cruise line. Another thing which is important river cruising is river
cruising in my mind is it is not suitable for people with accessibility issues,
particularly those in a wheelchair. River cruising is something that is not likely
to work because first of all you’ll find most of the cabins on ships don’t have
facilities for people in wheelchairs or with limited mobility. Some of them will
have elevators which go between some or all of the floors. But what’s very
challenging is when you’re docking in some of these small towns, particularly
on the Danube and the Rhine, there may be very narrow ramps which you have to go up
and there’ll be cobbled streets and steep inclines. So, it’s not
really suitable for people with wheelchairs and there’s not that many
cruise lines that have accessibility cabins. If you are in a wheelchair or
you have accessibility issues, check very carefully with the cruise line.
Linked to that is you do need to be relatively active and fit because
most of the excursions are walking tours on cobblestones and up steps. Although
most cruise lines will have a gentle walking option and they may have a
little mini bus which moves you around, it is a quite an active way of travelling
and there’s lots of walking involved. River cruising has an image of being for
an older traveler and, in practice, it still is mostly an older traveler who
goes on river cruising – people in their 50s, 60s and 70s and above.
River cruise lines are trying to attract more families and you’ll find in the key
school holiday periods some cruise lines have more family or
multi-generational cruises, where they try and build in more activities and
features for kids. In my view, river cruising is much more of a baby
boomer product and a much more of a baby boomer way of traveling, because those
are who most of the people on board are going to be and a lot of the tours and
excursions are going to historical places or have a historical
or sightseeing bend to them. The whole structure, the facilities and the way of
dining is a more adult experience and certainly a slightly
older adult experience. Solo travelers are one of the traveler groups that are
very drawn to river cruising. However it can be a very expensive way for solo
travelers to cruise because you’ll find most cruise lines, certainly in the peak
season, will charge double to occupy a cabin. Increasingly cruise
lines are offering in the shoulder periods out of season is
more solo deals. If you’re a solo traveller and want to
go river cruising it is a very social way to travel, because of small groups and you can get to
know people very easy, making it a
great way of traveling as a solo traveler. It is a relatively
expensive option so look at the beginning and the end of the season when Cruise Lines find it
slightly harder or more challenging to fill and will do
more solo deals. A couple of cruise lines are introducing smaller
cabins and more solo cabins but again this still tends to be a premium on those. The
other thing to bear in mind is when you’re cruising down the rivers, and
particularly on the places like the Danube, is you’re going to go through a
lot of locks and you find as you cruise along, and you might be sleeping,
there will be noise and bumping as you go through the locks. Personally I love
locks and find fascinating their technology, but it’s
one things that people don’t really think of. They think they will be
sailing up rivers for miles and miles and miles, but you will find you go
through a lot of locks. It can be slightly odd when in your cabin
because suddenly you might find you have a big concrete wall up against
your window. The other thing I would say with River Cruises is they are slightly
noisier than ocean cruising. In terms of people walking around and
talking. More noise because they’re much smaller vessels and there’s less ambient noise of the ocean. When I go on a river cruise I always take ear plugs with me as I find that much easier to
sleep. It is a little bit noisier and I have had some experiences where I can
hear the people in the room next door snoring for example or televisions or
whatever, so if your are a light sleeper take some earplugs.These are the things that I think you need to know and aren’t
going to be told about river cruising. It is not to put you off river cruising but to ensure you better understand the process of river
cruising so that when you go you know what to expect. There are some surprises and some differences. I love it if you watched
many more of my Tips For Travellers videos as I have lots about river cruising and
lots of tips, ship tours and reviews of river cruising lines

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100 Comments

  1. I am pleased you have explained all about the river cruises, as I did not know any of the pitfalls, I am now completely put off and thank you for your advice this is not for me, it is far too regimented, I will stick to what I know.

  2. I have wanted to go one a rivercruise for years! But the thought of formal dinner that lasts for hours.. night after night with strangers is definitely offputting for me. I would enjoy watching the lock processes and the historical tours, but I do not want to be forced to socialize with others… especially every night, for hours.

  3. Very good tips. I add – triple check accessibility if you use a cane. The cruises are supposed to handle "slow walkers" but may not. Talk directly with the company – not sales. Sales lied to me. When I arrived at the ship it had only stairs to the stateroom I was sold. Ended up on a different ship from my relativ3s. Ruined the vacation for us. And if you fly home from the Nuremberg airport be advised it is no longer in use for regular flights. The distance from the bus which drops you off to the gate is more that 3 US standard blocks. Be prepared for a long walk with no electric carts. Otherwise this was an excellent trip. The food was far better than any ocean cruise iv3 taken. You can leave the excursions to explore on your own.

  4. All that lack of freedom to eat or even get up whenever just throws any idea of river cruising out the door for me. Thanks for the tip. I'll stick to ocean cruising.

  5. Great video. I have a tip I rarely see but live by. Pick your itinerary, pick your cruise company, then find the newest boat or most recently refurbished for that trip. It may mean changing your dates by a week or two but these boats are used constantly all season long and can start to show their age. A newer boat is less likely to have mechanical issues and a “fresher look”. No one wants to cruise the Danube in August with their cabin HVAC on the blink.

  6. Excellent video! We are going on our first river cruise this year. We were aware of some of the pointers but not all. Very informative video, it equips the traveler so they are more aware of what to expect. Thank you for a great video.

  7. Thanks for the heads up…I was sold on river cruising by a friend who had a great time but you have raised some important issues for me regarding mobility and the low level water issues….thx

  8. Very useful information. A note for those that go for the cheapest grade. In most cases this means you do not have floor to ceiling windows. Most probably you will have a window at head height only.ie the cabins  are just above water level.

  9. Frankly it sounds horrid! All the regimentation and limitations and tight schedules. I've traveled quite a bit in Europe, either solo or as half of a couple. I've used a combination of trains and rented cars. You can go to some town and stay as long as you like – days if you feel like it, hours if it's boring. You can pick your style of accommodation – luxury hotels, pensiones, hostels, whatever, and do them all on the same trip. Same with eating – have a grand feast at a fancy restaurant, or a beer and a slice of ham on some local bread at a cafe, depending on your mood and appetite. And if you want to get on a guided tour at some city or historical site they're not hard to arrange.

    If all that sounds hard; it isn't. I'm lazy and not very adventurous. I was perfectly happy to go on guided regimented tours in Africa, Antarctica, and Greenland. But Europe is civilised and easy.

  10. Thank you for your interpretation of river cruising, it was most informative. Your video clips are essential to either cruise virgins or alternative cruise travellers. Well done & thank you for sharing your experiences.

  11. Thank you for this! I would be fine with pretty much all of the things you talked about (even the fact that it’s an older crowd and I am a bit younger) but I took the solo traveler part to heart and would try to aim for a time with a lower price if I have to pay double.

  12. I've never been on a river cruise; thanks for informing me about so much about them. I watched one river cruise vid and it was shot during a drought year in Europe. Since the river levels were so low, much of the trip had to be done by bus, with each bus connecting one river boat to another. The vid didn't go into the logistics of the luggage; I can only imagine! Well the travelers spent time on buses where normally they would have been on the river. They didn't complain though; I would have been pretty disappointed!

  13. Thanks so much for making this video. The information is clearly stated and addressed several issues I had not considered. If I take a river cruise, I have a much better idea of what to expect.

  14. We found the Viking 14 day river cruise/Grand Euro lame at times. Activities were lack luster and boring. Music was just guitar playing and singing. Food was ok but limited selections. It was like a military boot camp at times.I know this was not a cruise ship but more of a converted small ferry boat with big windows. Ports are all for tourist driven dollars, renovated buildings to bring back the old days! Expect low water levels. Excessive marketing hype, check every detailed cost before you go.
    Average age was 70 and up. I will not be back, sorry !

  15. I've been on two river cruises through Avalon, and two of the best trips I've ever been on. Talk about luxury. We did France for one, and Switzerland and Germany for the other. Going on a third this year. They are great for people like me, who would rather kill myself than go on an ocean cruise.

  16. My wife and I went on an Avalon river cruise from Paris to Cannes (our first), and thoroughly enjoyed it. My wife gets seasick so the oceangoing trips are out of the question, she will not even attempt. We were able to mix the activities to our needs. A great choice. Looking at Danube cruises next.

  17. Ohh noooo.
    So, you end up on boring excursions to incredible castles, centuries old churches, vineyards, eating proper, healthy, 3 course meals instead of burgers and pizza. You actually have to walk using your legs (as mother nature, or God, intended you to do) is never heard of, and you go on structured and organised (regimental in your dictionary) boring excursions that all look the same. You get free wifi is terrible (comparing to ultra expensive on ocean cruise)

  18. I want job cruise 🚢 please help me. I have 8 years experience in a five stars hotels.i worked 5 years in 🇦🇪 Dubai.please assist me.

  19. Thank you SO much for this video. After years of imagining a dream river cruise, I realize that it is the ocean cruise ships that are everything I love about cruising. Will never have to yearn for a river cruise again. Great for many, but not for me I think.😉

  20. My wife and I cruised from Amsterdam to Budapest on Viking. I went into the trip without looking for pitfalls. Thank goodness things went pretty well. Just be aware that if water levels are too high, you will not be using the sun deck at all. And with Europe being so small, if it is rainy in Amsterdam, it will probably be rainy for 2-3 days of the cruise.

  21. Thank you for a very important set of notes — as you say, the brochures don't tell you everything. One comment about the general age range of river cruise passengers is that at least one of the arguably best-known river cruise companies no longer accepts passengers younger than 16; it would be nice to know which companies are trying to do more for families. Thanks again for the valuable pointers!

  22. I've been on 8 sea cruises and currently planning on a River Cruise being our next one.
    I lived in Germany 2010-2014 and have visited most of the towns on the route, but really want to have the River Cruise experience side of it.

  23. I've just don't one river cruise about four years ago, a Nile cruise, and it was fantastic. My only criticism was one member of staff, who was very homophobic and was rude to me and my partner, and ignored me at the bar whilst serving and being friendly to other guests. He had no way of knowing if we were a couple, he just assumed! It's a shame, because otherwise it was perfect.

  24. As subscriber, I’ve watched all your river cruise videos. I want to take a river. Raise that will take me to the maximum number of former iron curtain countries in 2020. I’m a solo traveler. Can you recommend the best cruise line and best month to travel. Planning now. Thanks
    U

  25. Be careful coz the tours R advertised in my country as expensive, luxury tours………A few yrs ago ( I think it was because of flooding) many river cruises were cancelled and beaten up buses were offered to the passengers once they had already flown a long distance to start their trip. NOBODY from this company said there would be no river cruises before they flew. Their pre-paid expensive trip ended up being a whole lot of broken down buses and the company refused compensation to passengers coz they said flooding couldn't be avoided. Once returning home a few rich passengers took them to court AND WON because there wasn't anything luxurious about the trip……..Just some advice.

  26. Gary, this was EXCELLENT. I am planning on going on Uniworld at Xmas. Cool. I think it will really suit me even if it is expensive. Thanks for water level/itinerary change advice.

  27. I'm a Brit living in Novi Sad Serbia 🇷🇸 and often meet other Brits, Aussies and Americans (that are from the cruise ships)and they are always amazed to meet a Brit living here lol 😆……its nice for me to hear a familiar voice sometimes and see all the ships docked along the river opposite Petrovardin Fortress .I often wondered what these tourists experience aboard the river ships hence the reason that lead me to your video
    Best regards from Novi Sad via Christchurch Dorset 😊

  28. Thanks for the tips. New subscriber here. We are heading to an Avalon River Cruise on the Rhine this week and have been on 5-6 ocean cruises so this was good information on what to expect. Thanks again.

  29. I did a river cruise. It was nice but no where near as nice as a cruise ship. Not a lot to do, at times boring. It was peaceful. Entertainment was very limited

  30. I've noticed the larger ships are offering accommodations for solo travelers. It's like a dorm room set-up where there are several small bedrooms that share a large lounge.

  31. I just came back from my first river cruise three weeks ago. I enjoyed the holiday tremendously. Judging from many of the photos in your video, my cruise was very "low-end"; therefore, should I be very, very lucky to ever go on another river cruise, I will certainly look within the ship as you have suggested. The only thing further I could add to what you have said is to verify the air quality on the ship. Ours was initially very poor but after some complaints, they did fix the problem. Also, if on a biking cruise and considering using an e-bike, be aware that they are VERY heavy at present and it does not work either if your bike does not properly fit you. All in all, I would love to have another river cruising experience at some point in the future.

  32. Since all European river boats on a given river are basically the same overall size, those with fewer passenger suites will naturally have larger public areas, possibly slightly larger suites, and/or more crew members. The passenger to crew ratio is one indicator of a higher level of service. He’s right that most of the excursions are similar, but Tauck for example, may take you for dinner in a beautiful castle with live classical music that they have an exclusive arrangement with. There definitely are some upgrades in space, service, food, alcohol and excursions on some of the higher-priced River cruises.

  33. Can you tell me whether you like the Rhine or the Danube best. I know they are different, but what do you prefer?

  34. Hello.
    You forget to mention that food and service on most off the ships are not 5*,I used to work there (on most of the companies) and I can frankly say that I feel sorry for you guys. So agency will say 5* all,but be prepared for barelly 3* experience.

  35. Most cruise lines are not transparent with their pricing. How do you know if you are getting the best value? Over a frenzied booking phone call? I only know of one company that publishes pricing for each itinerary, so that is who I use exclusively. It is not the cruise company's fault if rivers are not navigable so do not expect some kind of compensation for getting bussed around instead. Do not use the hand sanitizer. it is not a good idea.

  36. You make scheduling, meals, and land tours sound frenzied. They are not at all. Plenty of time for meals and events is not 'regimented'.

  37. Thank you! It would look better if you took a step back from the screen. You are so close I can see your molars. LOL!

  38. Excellent points about River Cruises. I have no desire to take the giant sea cruises but have taken two River Cruises and they were great and worth every penny. My suggestions: Spring for the top level rooms, no noise. I'm single and went with AHI Travel on the Leuftner Cruise Line (Amadeus ships), no single supplement.

  39. Went on Uniworld – Amsterdam to Basel. First class all the way. No kids, no slot machines but outstanding cuisine, nightly entertainment, top shelf liquor (included) No endless buffet or midnight buffet, Broadway reviews, water slides, BUT it is restful, and the lock changing was incredible. Sure beats ocean cruises. And yes, when we docked, Viking walked through our reception area. Only thing to keep in mind is the cost, but it is inclusive. I would go again in a heartbeat

  40. Our river cruise with Uniworld was met with a broken lock. We ended up switching to a lesser value boat for 2 nights then eventually were bussed to Bratslavia rather than Vienna for the remainder of trip.

  41. Excellent summary. I just wish to correct one statement. My husband & I were on the Vantage River Splendor
    Amsterdam (pre stay)to the Black Sea almost a month. This ship has an optional dinner- light dining in small top deck, glass enclosed, restaurant barbecue, soups…we dined here every night then walked in towns.
    I am glad you showed locks & rafting aspects. Also, walls thinner than ocean ships, agree earplugs. We had the best cruise on River boat. (Have been on many Ocean cruises), We liked our River Cruise that were divided into groups & all tours with that group. We bonded quite well. The cultural aspects were great. Visited Croatian school in session. Dined in small group with Croatian family…

  42. I just got back from a river cruise with APT. Amsterdam to Budapest. Spent 3 days prior in Paris. I agree with what you say. None of it bothered me and had an amazing time. I could not fault the trip at all.

  43. Are there clean washrooms on board ? My Wife went to Italy and no toilet seats anywhere ! Dirty Italians very strange

  44. I am going on a Rhine cruise next week and am heartened to know that I will not have to wade through a casino just to get to the dining room. Must be even worse than passing through a gift shop to exit a visitor attraction, which seems almost obligatory nowadays.

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