There is plenty of information on our website that deals with helping you make informed decisions when it comes to booking your cruise. There isn’t as much information on what you should do after you’ve booked your cruise. The good news is that while you can do a lot to prepare for your cruise, you don’t have to. Most of it is already taken care of for you.
Waiting to take a cruise is one of the hardest things for me to do. I am not a patient person by any means, and going on vacation is much more exciting than most of the things I anticipate in my daily life. So what do I do during the time leading up to my cruise? A lot.
Before we get to my list, if you are looking for a more comprehensive list that incorporates all stages from booking to preparing for a river cruise, check out Our Top Tips For A Flawless River Cruise.
Five Things I Do To Prepare For A River Cruise
1. Look at pre- and post-cruise extensions/hotel options
The first thing I do when I either find a trip that I want to go on or get invited on a river cruise is look at where I am starting and where I am finishing. You should know this already since by this point you would have booked your flights, but in case you don’t know, make sure you look. One of the top pieces of advice we give is to arrive at your cruise port a day before your journey, and I always like to tack on a day or two at the end.
This can be done in a number of ways. Cruise companies usually offer pre- and post-cruise extensions. So, if you are interested in continuing your journey with a group, this is a good way to go. Something that I appreciate about these extensions is that you are surrounded by the same group of people that you were surrounded by on board the ship. Those who do pre-cruise extensions usually have formed bonds and relationships with other passengers before the cruise starts, which can make the first day or two a little less awkward. If you choose to go after your cruise, you’ve already formed relationships with multiple passengers, and will likely be surrounded by people you know and enjoy.
Booking your own accommodations before and after the cruise is also an option. This gives you more flexibility. If you are an independent explorer, booking your own post-tour is a great idea. You are not limited to staying in your final port of call. You can always find towns and cities around you that you would like to explore.
On my last river cruise aboard AmaWaterways’ AmaMagna, my dad and I decided that we would like to go to Prague after our cruise concluded in Vilshofen, Germany. It was easy for us because the AmaWaterways’ post-cruise extension also went to Prague. Because of this, we were able to join the group on the bus transfer and get to Prague easily.
Read more about how we researched what to do in Prague.
2. Research ports of call and excursions
Researching ports of call may be something that you do in your planning process before booking a cruise, but for someone who gets invited on various itineraries, I oftentimes don’t know all the stops that I am making until after I’ve said yes. This step just allows me to be more prepared when I get on board.
When looking at ports of call, the first thing I do is look at excursions that my company offers. Some cruise companies offer only one excursion, which makes this step a little bit easier. But regardless of the number of excursions offered, you can gauge whether or not the cruise company is offering something that you would like to do each day. For the days that they are, great. You’re likely all set. For the days that you don’t want to join the group, if there are any, it is easy to find things to do simply by researching your ports of call.
Google has a feature where you can simply search, “Things to do in [fill in the blank].” The search feature not only shows the highlights of various towns, but also pulls top sights that you can categorize by interest. For example, you can look at kid-friendly sights or outdoor sights. It also gives information on various foods and drinks that are popular in the area, and an overview of certain neighborhoods. This tool has been very helpful to me in the past when it comes to planning my days, as I can simply look at one list of sights instead of trying to pull information from various places.
One of my fondest river cruise memories is visiting a museum in Linz, Austria, with a friend. She had researched the museum before we docked in Linz, and I was happy to skip an excursion to go with her. Had we not looked at things to do in Linz, we wouldn’t have had the shared, meaningful experience that visiting the museum provided.
3. Get familiar with your cruise company and your ship
This may seem like a weird one. One thing I like to do before I go on any cruise is look at the deck plan and watch videos that tour the ship. For me, it allows me to get organized. Though river cruise ships are small, it is still handy to know where everything is before you get onboard.
Another thing I like to do is familiarize myself with the cruise company. This is a good time to look up port charges and gratuities if you didn’t do so before your cruise. You can look at hours for the dining room, reception, fitness room, etc., if there are such.
4. Set up transportation in advance
Your river cruise company may provide transportation to and from your riverboat, so if that’s the case just make sure that you know when and where to meet. Also, make sure you know how to contact the ship. Most companies will provide phone numbers to the reception desk on the ship. If your river cruise does not provide transfers, it is important to look at where you fly into and where to meet your ship. Sometimes Uber may be the cheapest option, but there are certain cities in Europe where Uber is banned. In these cities, you will be able to order a taxi, but sometimes it may be more cost-effective to take a bus or train.
It is also important to look at transportation to and from the sites you would like to see in each port of call should you choose not to partake in the excursion offered by the cruise line. Try to look at modes of public transport, as they are often less expensive than taking a taxi or an Uber, as I mentioned earlier.
Google also makes this easy. You can choose directions to and from certain landmarks and it will show you the transit time and directions via car and public transportation. Should you choose to take a bus or train, Google will also tell you which line to take to ensure you get to the right place. If you plan on using data for maps and other services, it may benefit you to sign up for an international data plan. See Staying Connected While River Cruising: Google Fi vs. T-Mobile vs. Verizon.
We have written packing articles on the site from both my perspective and my dad’s perspective. While everyone packs differently, there are certain things that I recommend taking with you to ensure you are comfortable during your cruise vacation. I am also going to tell you a few things you don’t need, so you don’t waste space in your suitcase.
- Dress pants
- Sport coat
- Light jacket (if you can pack one that doubles as a raincoat, that’s a plus)
- Sneakers or walking shoes
- Casual dress shoes (think loafers or oxfords; flats for women)
- Casual options for dinner and evenings
- Clothes for daily activities
- Adapters for plugs
- Chargers for phones, laptops, iPads, etc.
This is another reason it helps to plan what you are doing before you go on your trip. If you know that you are going to be doing a lot of active excursions, you know that you will need to take athletic clothes. I don’t know about you but I don’t like riding bikes in khakis. If you know that you will be attending a formal event off the ship, then you’ll need to take appropriate clothing.
Do not pack:
- Excessive toiletries (this is always where I lose the most room in my suitcase, bringing makeup and hair products I don’t end up using)
- An umbrella (your ship should have umbrellas, and if you are in desperate need, you can buy one)
- Cameras (you can do most of what you can do with a camera on your smartphone, and it takes up a lot less room)
- Suits/gowns (unless your cruise line specifies to do so)
Implementing these tips has helped me a lot in organizing myself before I get on board. If I am able to organize everything that I need to do, I am able to maximize my time on vacation. I don’t have to worry about finding things to do, or deciding on tours. I’ve already done all of that. So instead of worrying about everything when you first get on a ship, try to organize beforehand, that way you’re able to relax. After all, it is a vacation.