With the 2018 European river cruise season about to begin in a few weeks, we’re gearing up for a number of adventures on the rivers. How to make the most of those? Certainly, pre-planning is key to extracting the maximum enjoyment from time on the rivers. It’s important to note that pre-planning extends to both getting to the river cruise and being on the river cruise.
Like most vacations, river cruises have any number of moving parts, from flight details to your actual river cruise booking, to reservations for hotels, transfers, and maybe even private dinners out or museum appointments. Good planning is essential to make the most of your river cruise experience, but there are some things you can do during the run-up to your voyage to ensure everything goes smoothly.
On River Cruise Advisor’s sister site, Avid Cruiser, Six Tips To Extract More Joy From Your Cruise, discusses how to get the most from an ocean cruise. Some of those tips apply to river cruising, notably, for me, at 6’5″ is how to get to Europe comfortably.
If you can afford it or if you can find a creative way to make it happen, book yourself in Business Class to get to Europe. Of course, who among us can afford $6,000 for roundtrip business class tickets? I know I can’t. Yet, I do fly business class often when I travel to Europe, and I do it for about the same cost as I would pay for economy class. How do I accomplish that? I accumulate points, either by applying for credit cards with generous points offerings or by buying points outright, and this is important, when they go on sale. You can read all about my strategy in Five First Class Flying Tips, but don’t forget to return here after you’ve checked out that post on Avid Cruiser.
Here are our Six Tips for Smoother River Cruising:
1. Double Check All Your Documentation
Of all the tips for smoother river cruising, this is the most important. Double-check absolutely everything relating to your trip, from your cruise tickets to your air booking, hotel reservations, and transfer arrangements. Make sure names are spelled correctly, and that dates of birth are as they should be.
If there are any mistakes, these can be both problematic and costly. Mistakes on air tickets could even delay or cancel your trip entirely.
For travel through Russia, Egypt, India and Southeast Asia, ensure you know what your visa requirements are and, if any, that you have applied for any applicable tourist visas well in advance. This is particularly true of Russian river cruises along the Volga, which require a Russian tourist visa that oceangoing passengers who are arriving for two days in St. Petersburg aren’t required to have. Don’t assume that if you’ve been to one place on an ocean cruise and didn’t need a visa that the same information will be accurate for your river cruise.
2. Manage Your Flights Online
This could be the second-most important tip, and it is such an easy (and oft-overlooked) one. Make sure you manage your flights online in advance of your trip by using the record locator, a booking code that is usually a six-digit phrase like UVWXYZ.
Pull up your booking and ensure your flights are still on the same schedule. Frequently, airline schedules can change between the time of booking and your actual trip, and sometimes notifications aren’t provided for those changes.
Furthermore, ensure you and your traveling companions are actually seated together. If a particular seat is necessary for your journey (a window seat, or a seat in an exit row), consider pre-paying for that seat if your airline doesn’t offer complimentary seat selection. We’ve met too many couples who were split up on long-haul flights because they waited too long to check in.
3. Read Up on Your Destination
This is an important bit: Grab a guide book, or a nonfiction book, and start reading up on your destination. It will give you a better bearing and understanding about the place when you’re actually there and will dramatically improve your experience. Watching movies set in your destination isn’t a bad idea, either: The Third Man with Orson Welles (1949) is an excellent film that provides a unique look at postwar Vienna, having been shot on-location there.
On a Seine River cruise back in 2012, my son Alex and I visited the D-Day Landing Beaches and the American Cemetery. For the two-plus-hour drive from Rouen to the coast of Normandy, I had downloaded Saving Private Ryan on my iPad. Watching the movie was a fitting way to introduce a 15-year-old boy to what we would see, complementing the World War II history he had studied in school. See A Trip To The Landing Beaches & A Stunning Discovery At The American Cemetery
4. Pack Light
Resist the urge to overpack. Storage space is limited on most river cruise ships, and the more luggage you take with you, the more you’re going to have to fuss with at airports and on motorcoaches and pre-and-post hotel stays. Keep things to one case and one carry-on bag if at all possible. This is particularly important for river cruises throughout Southeast Asia and China, which can involve multiple intra-country flights and hotel stays. The more you’re lugging around, the more stressed you’re going to be. See What I Pack When I River Cruise, What About You?
5. Get Some Local Currency
Particularly in Europe, it pays to have a few Euros on you for smaller purchases. Many streetside cafes and vendors may not take credit cards (which are perfectly acceptable for larger purchases), and all but the most touristic places will turn their noses up at those who try to offer U.S. dollars. Euros are also good to have on-hand for tipping guides and drivers; tipping in U.S. dollars isn’t a great idea, as it forces your guides to go to their bank to change the money into a currency they can actually use on a day-to-day basis.
6. Be Flexible
Like most modes of travel, river cruising is an inexact science, susceptible to weather events, strikes, protests, and other unforeseen circumstances that may impact your travel. Try to be as flexible as possible, particularly during high and low water events. Your crew have absolutely no control over these matters and berating them won’t succeed in changing the issue. Understand that some delays are as tough on the crew as they are on you.
7. Bonus Tip: Insure Yourself
Thanks to a pair of Australian readers, we were reminded of the importance of having travel insurance. Credit cards may come with travel protection benefits, ranging from trip interruption to baggage loss to medical evacuation, but it’s important to have comprehensive travel insurance. Talk to your travel agent about the best choices for your travel.
River cruises are more popular than ever, and provide a remarkably good vacation experience. With the right planning, river cruising can be the ultimate vacation – particularly if any little snags are caught before they’ve even had a chance to develop.