We’ve done a number of articles featuring our best river cruise tips. Search our site and you’ll find posts such as Our Top Three Tips For Choosing Your River Cruise, Three Tips For Cruisers Going To Europe, Five Tips For Choosing Your Stateroom, Airfare Hacks: Cheap Business Class Tickets For Your River Cruise and many more articles designed to provide you with a better (and often, cheaper) river cruise experience.
This week, we turned to Emma Cakmak, owner of A Passport To Travel. Emma just returned from a river cruise in Bordeaux. That’s her in the photo above doing what we often love to do on our river cruises: exploring by bicycle.
Some of Emma’s tips echo what we’ve advised before, but it never hurts to revisit advice that can save you money and frustration. Her first tip is definitely plan to arrive the day before – even if it’s just to recover from jet lag. Unfortunately, Emma was not able to follow her own advice on her recent cruise.
“Due to parents’ weekend at my daughter’s college the weekend before my trip, I had no choice to arrive the day of embarkation in Bordeaux,” she ways. “Despite the fact that the ship was staying overnight in Bordeaux, I arrived at the ship around noon, but was not allowed access to my room until 2 p.m. I was dog-tired, and it was raining in Bordeaux, so I had no motivation to go out and explore. I sat in the lounge for two hours and literally as soon as I got access to my room at 2 p.m., closed the door and took a two-hour nap – didn’t even unpack my suitcase or anything. Total waste of day.”
When Britton traveled to Europe last week for a Rhine cruise on Riviera, I suggested she replicate something I had done back in April. I arrived in Frankfurt and arranged for an early check-in at an airport hotel.
On that trip (and on Britton’s trip last week), my transatlantic flight put me in Frankfurt at 7:30 a.m. I knew I would be tired and in need of a shower, so before leaving home I spent $95 to book a dayroom at the Frankfurt Airport Hilton. The hotel is conveniently located (you can walk there from the arrivals terminal), and the train station is within steps of the hotel entrance. To find a room, I simply Googled “day rooms at Frankfurt Airport.” I thought it would be nice to shave, shower and sleep before continuing my journey, but as it turned out my day room became an overnight room, which you can read about here, 12 Things I Did Right When Traveling To Europe Last Month & One Thing I Got Wrong.
My story (the 12 Things I Did Right) emphasizes why it is important to arrive a day early, and we know that Emma agrees. She says that she’d not only arrive the day before the cruise but also do one of two things: 1. Arrange a late check out of the hotel so you can explore the city close to your hotel before arriving at the ship; or 2) arrive at the ship early, drop your bags and go explore the area around the port area.
Emma also learned about what to bring and not to bring with her. “Unless you’re planning more time abroad than just the cruise, you might not need to bring an umbrella,” she says. “Scenic had umbrellas both in the staterooms and by the exits to use if it was raining. They also have blankets in the room you can bring up on deck if you’re traveling in the spring or fall and need some extra warmth.”
She advises bringing adapters for your phones, tablets, and computers. “Most of the ships operate on 220V and have European two-pronged outlets,” she says. You can often get by with something as simple as these adapters on Amazon.
As for tipping, Emma advises bringing small bills (or euro coins) for tipping tour guides and bus drivers. “Scenic includes all tipping, but other cruise lines do not, so you need to be aware that you’ll need bills or coins if you want to tip your bus drivers and tour guides on your excursions,” she says.
Anything goes with dress code, she says. “It’s a common practice not to wear jeans or shorts in the dining room at dinner, but you definitely don’t need a suit and tie or any formal wear,” she says. “Many of the cruise lines do have some kind of evening concert event (which would be the ‘dress-up’ day), usually in Vienna, but Scenic also has one in Bordeaux. This would be the day to wear your sports coat or cocktail dress.”
Plan your tours as far in advance as possible. But don’t be disappointed if it’s booked up or “sold out.”
“You can even change your mind (the beauty of having the tours already included in the cruise fare), but if the cruise line, like Scenic, or Avalon’s ‘Active and Discovery’ cruises, asks you to choose your tours in advance, do it so that you won’t be disappointed,” she says.
“Biking tours are very popular, and once the allotted bikes are gone, the tour is booked up,” she adds. “BUT, people tend to change their minds as they get closer to the excursions. This happened to me in Cadillac, and then the reverse in Bordeaux. I wanted to do the Cadillac bike tour, but it was booked up, so I put my name on the waitlist, as did about four or five other people, and we were all cleared to go, since other guests had opted not to do the bike tour and chose the wine-tasting instead. Then, after two days of biking, my body was not up for a Bordeaux bike tour, so I gave up my spot for someone who was on the waitlist. It can be very fluid once you’re on board.”
Download the app the cruise line provides. “I tell all my clients to download the cruise company apps before they go,” she says. “Some are better than others, but they usually have your itinerary online, the tour options for the day, as well as possible guided walking tours of each destination you can do on your own if you don’t want to take part in a organized tour – and other fun stuff. The apps are just another resource to help you maximize your port time.”
She ends with one piece of advice she received from the cruise director that she thought was ingenious: “Every morning, or each time you arrive at a new port, take a picture of your daily itinerary or something with the port name on it, so that once you start taking photos on your phone, you can distinguish one port stop from the next and they don’t blur into one another and you forget where you were when you took the photos.”
What about you? Do you have tips for helping others make the most of their river cruise experiences?