There’s no doubt that river cruising is exceptionally hot this year — and the vast majority of the 2013 European season has yet to begin. Across the world, river cruise lines are introducing new ships, fresh features and a broader spectrum of itineraries than in any previous year. Last week, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises even announced that it was planning to go all-inclusive beginning in 2014 — a remarkable statement, considering that river cruising is already nearly all-inclusive.
But, as anyone who’s ever worked in publishing can tell you, lead times for print brochures can range from six months to a full year out. And that means that the river cruise brochure you hold in your hand today is likely already out of date.
Last year was a prime example of how rapidly the industry was changing. Viking River Cruises, which had initially placed an order for four brand new Viking Longships, later increased that number to six — meaning their 2012 brochure was out of date before it even hit the streets. Ditto for the 2013 brochure, with an expected order of six ships increased to eight, then to ten, with eight ships set to be christened in March in a massive ceremony in Amsterdam.
What we’re getting at is this: Gone are the days when you could rely solely on the brochure.
When researching any river cruise, the first thing we always do is pick up a printed brochure; after all, it’s great to circle dates, make notes in the margins, and underline important aspects or ports of call. But for a more in-depth analysis, we always head to the river cruise line’s website.
Why? To start with, the websites for each river cruise line typically offer more information than you can fit into your standard 8.5×11 print brochure. This can include virtual tours of cabins (invaluable), destination and itinerary videos, and most importantly, current itineraries and ship sailing schedules that are updated to the minute.
Pricing is also offered on all river cruise line websites, and most will let you see which sailings, if any, are waitlist-only for specific stateroom categories. Frequently, the lowest-grade accommodations with fixed windows and top-of-the-line suites sell out well in advance. If you have your heart set on the massive Explorer’s Suites that are situated all the way aft on the new Viking Longships, get your credit card and start looking at the summer sailings.
The river cruise line’s website is a supplement to your travel agent’s advice, but make sure your agent knows a great deal about river cruising. If he/she subscribes to this website, it’s a good bet they’re river cruise specialists. It is always a good idea to ask how much of their business is composed of river cruises, or how well they know the industry. It’s simply a reflection of how quickly this segment of the travel industry is changing.
We write about it every week, and even we can barely keep up.