The first thing to know about river cruising is this: It’s not ocean cruising. That seems like an obvious statement, but many would-be travellers don’t realize that despite the fact that the two kinds of ships both float on water, booking your river cruise is a very different process from hopping aboard a weeklong jaunt to the Caribbean.
There are a lot of factors at play here, not least of which is the travelling public’s insatiable desire for river cruises. But even experienced ocean cruisers can be caught off-guard; after all, it’s a Thursday as I write this – I can still find and book a Caribbean cruise leaving this Saturday. Try to find a river cruise that departs this Saturday – if you can even make it overseas in time.
So why can you hop onboard a last-minute Royal Caribbean cruise but not a last-minute Viking River Cruise, generally-speaking? For one, a massive oceangoing cruise ship has exponentially more staterooms and suites that need to be filled; a 100-plus-guest river cruise ship has decidedly less so. Couple that with supply and demand, and there’s just less need overall for last-minute sales and promotions simply because, in most instances, river cruise ships are sailing at or very near capacity.
Still, there are some excellent reasons why booking your river cruise sooner than later is a great idea in the long run:
1. Better Stateroom Selection
Booking a river cruise early is a great idea if you want one of the few top-of-the-line suites that are on most river cruise ships. But did you know it’s also a good idea if you’re budget-minded? Some of the first staterooms to sell out on many river cruises are the oh-so-economical “river view” staterooms that are the typical price leaders on many river cruise advertisements. Like suites, these affordable windowed staterooms are few and far between on river cruise ships, and demand frequently outstrips supply.
2. Better Departure Dates
Booking early guarantees you get the departure date you’re looking for – and you’d be surprised how quickly certain sailing dates sell out, particularly for itineraries that have a relatively short timeframe, like the springtime “Tulip Time” cruises or the winter “Christmas Markets” sailings that take place between November 24 and December 24.
3. Better Airfare Prices
Of course, the earlier you book, the more time you have to secure affordable flights, which can be particularly important for exotic river cruise destinations. The earlier you book your river cruise, the more flights you have to choose from. That means better direct flight availability, fewer connections, better times, and first dibs at those coveted bulkhead and exit row seats that can make all the difference on a nine-plus hour journey to Europe. Did we mention that airfare prices are typically better too?
4. More Time To Save
This last point is more of a practical tip than anything: Putting down a deposit early for a cruise allows you to secure your stateroom, tour, and sometimes even hotel reservations for a relatively small fee. You then have until final payment date (typically 90 to 60 days before sailing) to save up the rest. If you book last-minute? Cruise lines are going to want all that money up-front – and they’re charging just a bit more than your average Caribbean cruise!
Planning ahead always has its advantages with any kind of travel, but booking your river cruise well in advance makes more and more sense as river cruising surges in popularity. Take it from us – we’re booking at least six months out for our own trips.
Do you have tips and tricks for booking your favorite river cruise? Let us know.