Budgeting for your River Cruise: Tips & Tricks

One of the greatest aspects of river cruising is just how truly inclusive it is. For a week or more, you can cruise throughout Europe, secure in the knowledge you get to sleep in the same bed, experience the same great service night after night, and enjoy all your meals for one price.

How much would these two glasses of Aquavit cost? It depends on your cruise line – and where you’re sailing – and when you’re enjoying this beverage. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Indeed, European river cruises often take things one step further by offering up complimentary bottled water, soft drinks, tea and coffee on a 24-hour basis. Many, but not all, also offer complimentary beer and wine at certain points throughout the day. Even internet access is provided free of charge for those who require it.

This leaves remarkably little in the way of onboard expenses.

But there are still a few things that require some pre-panning to effectively budget for your river cruise vacation, and the more you can do in advance, the more enjoyable your time may be on the waterways of Europe.

Not all drinks are created equal. While wine may flow like water during dinner, those who enjoy a refreshing martini or an evening nightcap of cognac will have to pay for it – in Euros (€). Drinks on most lines are reasonably priced compared to their on-shore counterparts, but still add up over the course of a voyage. If you enjoy a nightcap each evening, plan on spending roughly €20 per evening for two drinks; that’s €140 over 7 nights.

Plan for the extras. River cruising doesn’t burden you with many add-on charges, but some lines do offer extended excursions to more out-of-the-way attractions, like the overland tours from Linz, Austria that are offered to nearby Salzburg. While nearly all tours are included in your river cruise, plan on spending €100 per person for that one-of-a-kind excursion opportunity.

Shopping Ashore! This is the most highly subjective – and rarely budgeted-for – issue. Some people never purchase souvenirs, while others may come back to the ship with suitcases loaded to the gills. Only you know how much you want to shop, buy and bring back, but there are a few things you can do to ensure you get the maximum value out of your cash.

  • Use local currency or pay with credit: Exchange rates at many businesses can vary wildly; those Euros that are burning a hole in your pocket may not go as far in Hungary as some local Forint. Conversely, your credit card company is likely to have a better rate of exchange than most currency bureaus and allow you to save cash for other expenses.
  • Some merchants may give you the option to pay by credit card in your home currency; pay in the local currency of the country you are in. Quite often, there will be a ‘service charge’ on top of the currency conversion to charge your credit card in, say, US Dollars. It’s not a lot, nor is it predatory – but these extra charges can add up.

Purchasing some local currency before you leave home ensures you don’t spend your first days in search of an ATM machine. Photo © Aaron Saunders

One thing I do before every trip aboard is to bring some cash with me. Visit a currency exchange bureau to purchase currency that will be used by the majority of countries you’ll be visiting. Chances are, you’ll most likely be bringing Euros if you are headed to Europe. Not only does it help me to budget my cash expenses, but I can withdraw the money months in advance, allowing me to pay for expenditures occurred along the way.

Another helpful way to pre-budget: Even if you carry no balance on your credit card, you can put a lump-sum of money on your credit card for your anticipated charges.

The more you can pre-plan for the costs you might incur along the way, the more enjoyment you’ll be able to extract from your river cruise vacation.

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