European River Cruise Pros and Cons: Should You Do One?

What are the biggest pros
and cons, the good and bad, of European river cruising? I’m Gary Bembridge, this is another of my cruising tips for travellers. I want to take another look
at European river cruising, and I want to talk about
the five biggest pros, the good things about it,
and the five biggest cons, perhaps the downsides of river cruising. So let’s start by taking a look
at the positives, the pros. Probably one of the biggest
pros of European river cruising is the amount of choice. There is enormous amount of choice. So first of all you
have a choice of rivers. There are loads and loads of rivers. Pretty much any of the major rivers within continental
Europe, you can cruise on. So you can cruise on the
Rhine, the Rhone, the Danube, the Loire, the Seine, the Elbe, the Douro, just goes on and on and on. And some cruise lines will
give you the choice of cruising on pretty much any of those rivers. The second great thing is
you have an enormous amount of choice in cruise lines. So certainly offhand, I could think of at least 14 or 15 cruise lines
and there are many, many more that I’ve seen on the rivers
that I just can’t remember. So you have names like
A-ROSA, AmaWaterways, Amadeus, Avalon, Crystal,
CroisiEurope, Phoenix Reisen, nicko, KD Cruises,
Scenic, APT, Viking, Tauck and just many, many more. What’s really important with that is that you have a lot of choice. So you have value lines at the one end, so you might have like the
Riviera or CroisiEurope, which are more value for money, right through to really
plush and expensive and five-, six-star
cruise lines on the rivers like Crystal or Uniworld. So you have a huge amount of choice. You also have a lot of choice in terms of the type of
experience that you want. So you’ll find some will
create a very multilingual European experience like CroisiEurope. Some will even be more
German-focused or Swiss-focused. You’ll find that some
are even more targeting the UK travellers like Riviera,
or Fred Olsen or Saga. They all offer cruises which
are very UK-traveler-focused. And then some have a more
American feel to them, so AmaWaterways, Avalon,
those kind of lines. And then you’ll find some even have a slightly more even
Australian twinge to them, like APT, Scenic, maybe even Emerald. So you’ll certainly find
there’s a huge amount of choice of rivers, of different cruise lines and of types of experience, so choice is definitely a big pro. You’re going to find
hopefully a river cruise line and a river that meets
what you’re looking for. I think the second biggest pro, is it’s a pretty
immersive and in-depth way of seeing a region. So if you’re cruising along
the Danube, for example, you’re going to get to go through a number of different countries, you’re going to be going through
lots of beautiful scenery, you’re going to be
seeing lots of big towns, you’re going to be seeing
lots of little towns, and you’re going to get really,
really close to the culture. I think what’s great
about a river cruise is, first of all, you normally will
go to some big iconic town. So again using the example of the Danube, you’re probably going to to go to things like Bratislava, Budapest, Vienna. On the Rhine, you’re going
through big major cities as well. So you’re going to go and
see the big iconic cities. You’re also probably going
to go and see therefore some of the big iconic and famous sites. But also because of
the nature of the river and cruising through,
you’re also going to stop at very out-of-the-way little villages, or perhaps places that were
really big in the mediaeval times and they have a historic castle there, or you’re going to stop because there’s some significant
agricultural wine making, or some chateaus. So you definitely get a huge
cross section of big, iconic, big, bustling towns down
to sleepy little villages. So it’s a very immersive way of seeing a particular part of the world. Also what the cruise lines try to do to make it more immersive is you’ll find they cater
the onboard experience to give you a more immersive experience. You’ll find that the food, for example, on a European river cruise, as you cruise the different countries will
serve traditional dishes. They’ll also have wine from
that particular country. They’ll also bring onboard
perhaps dancers or singers, musicians or speakers to
give you more of an immersion into the culture and the history
of that particular region. So it’s quite an immersive experience. So I really like that, that
you see a part of the world in a pretty in-depth way. That for me is a big pro. Another big pro is, unlike ocean cruising where often you have the fare and you have lots and
lots and lots of add-ons, what’s great about European
river cruising is pretty much all of the cruise lines
on the European rivers have largely all-inclusive fares. So there’s very little, or very few extras that you’re going to have
once you’re on the ship. The key inclusions
normally are, of course, your accommodation, all
your dining is included, also your excursions are included. So depending on the cruise line, you’ll either get one set
excursion every place you stop, or sometimes you’ll
have a choice of those. Some of them might be more active, some of them might be more cultural. And you will normally
then have, of course, all your onboard entertainment. Wi-Fi is normally included. And most cruise lines
will include some drinks. So it might be just drinks
with lunch and dinner, some will include all of
your drinks all of the time. So very all-inclusive fares. The extras that you have, some cruise lines will have gratuities, obviously they’re optional, as extras, some will include it. Drinks depending on
whether they’ve included it all the time or not. And depending on the cruise
line and where you booked, transfers, so flights
obviously into Europe, and getting to and from the ship. Now many cruise lines will, depending on where you’re buying, will sell the whole package. Some of those you have to buy the cruise and then work with your
agent or do it yourself to build the various packages. Pre-stays, post-stays,
transfers, that kind of thing, that tends to be extra, because you’re obviously
going to tailor that more. So the fares are largely inclusive. I found when I’ve been on river cruising, I have had bills of almost
nothing, and perhaps there’s been some cash
I’ve given for gratuities. The great thing is the fare is the fare. You’re not going to have
lots and lots of extras. Another great pro is river cruising is incredibly hassle-free. It’s even more so, I
think, more hassle-free, less stress-free than ocean cruising. On a river cruise, everything is pretty much decided for you. Once you’ve booked the
cruise and the destination, you have to worry about nothing because you arrive, you unpack, of course, it becomes your sailing hotel, you then pack at the end. But everything’s decided for you. So your meals are all set for you, your excursions are set for you, all your briefings are set for you, your transportation,
everything’s arranged for you. You literally decide the itinerary, decide where you want
to go, and you pitch up and you have to make
very, very few decisions, so it’s very hassle-free. It’s a great easy way of
travelling through Europe. So if you wanted to go through
three or four countries, which some of these river cruises do, if you were having to
get on trains or planes, there’s a lot of
downtime, a lot of hassle, a lot of stress, all of that’s gone, because it’s really,
really quite a curated and you’re kind of
shepherded and looked after, and all the decision
making is done for you. So that’s definitely a big plus. I think it’s a very
hassle-free, easy, simple way of seeing Europe. Another really great
plus, a pro, is the fact that it’s a much smaller,
intimate experience. Obviously if you’ve gone
on an ocean cruise ship, you could have up to thousands of guests. So if you’re even if you’re
on some of the smaller, you’re going to have a
couple of hundred guests. River cruise ships in Europe
are probably going to be between about 150, 200 guests, so it’s quite a small experience. Also that means that
you’re going to get to know the crew very well. You’re going to find you have
30 or 40 crew on those ships so you always get to know
the crew incredibly well. So it’s a much more intimate, much more, it’s easier to meet people, you get to know everybody on the ship, and so it’s definitely a
very different experience. Of course, if you want to be anonymous, you’re probably not going to
find that on a river cruise, because everyone’s going
to get to know you. Those for me are the big pros, the big pluses of river cruising. So what are the downsides? What are the cons of river cruising? Probably one of the cons
of river cruising in Europe is just how popular it’s becoming. So as I already mentioned, there are lots and lots
of river cruise lines and more and more people
are coming onto the rivers all the time, so the places
are getting more and more busy, because obviously there’s only
a certain amount of rivers. They all tend to go to the same places because that’s what people want to see. So you start to finding that
some ports and some itineraries are getting really busy. So you may find, for example,
that when you dock in a place you have ships either side of you, and you have to go through
or over ships to get there. Out in the places, particularly
some of the smaller places, you can find it gets really busy because you’ve got lots of
tour parties’ excursions heading out from all the different
river cruise boats there. So it’s almost a victim
of its own success. It’s getting really,
really busy, and I think one of the things that river
cruising is starting to do is to find ways of alleviating that, so you’re going to find there’s
more and more excursions which take you further afield. There’s more active excursions,
things like bicycles, heading off on bicycles,
and stuff like that, to try and disperse people much more, but I think that’s one of
the probably downsides, it’s getting really, really busy. The second possible con for some people is the ships are small and
you’re not going to have lots of choice, so if you’re
used to ocean cruising, you’re used to lots of
choice of dining venues, gyms, big production shows, lots going on. That’s not the case on
a river cruise ship. They have to be a certain
size and a certain height to be able to navigate the rivers. So you’ll find on a typical
European river cruise boat, you’re going to have one dining room, which is where you’re going
to have all of your meals. A few do have a second dining option, but generally speaking,
it’s one dining room. You can have one lounge and bar where you have your briefings, drinks, all that kind of stuff. Up on the sun deck, you might
have, depending on the ship, you just might have places to sit. Some of them might have a
little crazy golf course or they might have a plunge pool. Some of them will have
a small fitness centre or a massage room, but
it’s very, very small, so you don’t have loads
and loads of options. You don’t have lots of
shops, that kind of stuff. So certainly if you’re the person who likes lots of choice, lots of options, then river cruising is
probably a downside for you. You do, of course, within those ships have everything you need. You’ve got a place to eat,
you’ve got a place to relax. You’ve got a place to sun yourself. So there is, although
there’s not lots of choice, you do have all of the
key things that you need. Also because the ships
have to be a certain size, you’ll find generally speaking the cabins are relatively small, and will normally only have a shower room and a pretty small shower room at that. So the cabins do tend to be a little bit on the smaller side, just
because they have to be. Another possible con of
European river cruising, particularly if you’re the
sort of traveller that likes being incredibly independent
and do your own thing, is the whole river cruising process is relatively regimented. So I see it a lot similar to perhaps going on an escorted tour, because it has a lot of
the same attributes to it. So you’ll find the days pretty laid out with relatively few options. Of course, you can just
decide not to do some things, but bear in mind, you
will have already paid for those things. So you’ll find you normally
have some sort of announcement getting up, because breakfast
is at a certain time. You’ll then head off on
your different excursions, you might have to be
back at a certain time, because the ship’s moving
a little bit further along the river to the next port. On the excursions, you’ll
find they’re pretty curated, there are only walking tours, there might be, as I
said, some active tours. You’ll come back, you’ll
have lunch at the same time, there’ll be kind of a set
time to have your meal. They might have a briefing or whatever, you’ll head off on another excursion, you might be sailing, you’ll
have the daily briefing for the next day, where you’re
told what’s going to happen, the various options. You’ll have dinner which
you have at a set time. Again, not necessarily
with lots of choices of other places to eat. And every day on a European river cruise is relatively set, curated
and there’s not necessarily lots of opportunity to flex that. Of course, you could skip
some of the excursions and go and explore yourself. On the plus side, a lot of the times you’ll find you’re
perhaps docked overnight, So you can then head out into towns. But it is a relatively regimented set day and a set way of doing things because of the nature of
European river cruising. So if you’re a very independent traveller, and you like to do things more on a whim, you might see that as more of a con. On the plus side, of course, it does mean that everything’s organised, everything’s sorted, and they do make sure that you make the most
of your day on the river and in the places you call on. The next possible con depends a little bit on the type of traveller you are. I would say river cruising
at the moment in Europe mostly caters for couples. And it does tend to be a
little bit on the older side, so 50s, 60s, 70s, and even older than that is really still the core of the traveller on European river cruising. If you’re a solo traveller, for example, you’ll find that it’s a pretty
expensive way of travelling, because you’re normally
going to have to pay for double occupancy of cabin. What a lot of cruise lines do, particularly in the shoulder seasons, is they might do some
solo traveller deals, but you won’t find lots of solo
cabins and things like that. Also if you are a person
of limited mobility, river cruising in Europe
is also a challenge, not only because the ships
don’t always have all the facilities, but the places
you call on are not great. So some of the ships
will have, for example, an elevator between the floors. Not all of them will have it. They won’t always have accessible cabins. Some will have them. But the big challenge is,
particularly if the ships are docked next to each other, moving through the ships could
be a potential challenge. But also just the nature
of the places you call on are very old, you have cobbled streets, you have steep banks, that kind of thing. So it’s not ideal. If you want to go river
cruising with your family, it’s still kind of mixed. More and more cruise lines are trying to attract more families, so for example, AmaWaterways have got more
into connecting doors, they have launched AmaMagna
which is a bigger ship. Some of the cruise lines are trying to, at school holiday time,
build in more stuff for kids, particularly to try and
attract more multigenerational. But really at its heart, it’s still very much a couples experience. Now I’ve been on quite a few river cruises as a solo traveller and, of
course, you get to meet people and, of course, you’re very welcome but it is an expensive way of cruising unless you can find
those particular deals. Another possible con of river
cruising is water levels. So if you’re on ocean cruising, of course, you could have weather, wind in particular could be the thing that
disrupts your getting in and out of ports,
swells, that kind of stuff. In Europe, it is water levels. So water being too high or too low. And it can go through
various times of the year where you have a real problem. So for example, a couple
of years ago in Europe, there wasn’t a lot of rain, it was almost a drought situation. So the rivers got very low, and that meant that the
ships were very restricted. So, for example, I was on a Danube cruise and we could only get as far as Vienna because the water was
just too low off that. In other years the water’s too high, and they can’t get under the bridges. So, of course, you need to
be flexible and understand that you may have that
as a potential downside. The same is if you go ocean cruising, you can’t predict whether
you’re going to have swells or winds or whatever and
miss port for that reason. But do bear in mind, water
levels is quite a hot topic and could be an issue within
European river cruising. On the plus side, or
the good side of that, is sometimes the distances
you travel are not that huge, so what the lines are allowed to do is they’re allowed to bus you to a place, because you might find it’s
only an hour’s drive away to get to that particular excursion and bring you back to the ship, or what they’ve even done in some cases, is they’ve moved people from
one ship up to another ship further along the river,
and then carried on. River cruising in Europe
is a great experience. It’s a great immersive
way of seeing a region. Like everything, there’s
pros and there’s cons. And for some people, some
of those cons are pros, and vice versa. I hope you found that interesting. I have loads more videos
about European river cruising, ocean cruising, so why
don’t you watch another one of those right now?

20 thoughts on “European River Cruise Pros and Cons: Should You Do One?

  1. Hi Gary! Thanks for sharing your cruise tips! Loved this!

  2. Great information Gary we've never been on a river cruise thank you for sharing. Sincerely, Adventures of David and Aaron.⚓⚓⚓

  3. Well your 5 up an 5 down are right on the money. Been on 8 river cruises with Grand Circle River Line an you know your stuff. Hope the folks looking at this believe it’s true.

  4. Nice video! Keep it up! Would you like to be YouTube friends? 🙂

  5. Thanks for the info. My husband and I rather enjoy the intimacy of the smaller boutique vessels. For example, we recently did a river cruise on the Anawrahta in Myanmar which was phenomenal, we also did a cruise on the Zambezi Queen down the Chobe River and want to go back the next time we are in Africa.

  6. River cruise still on my to-do list, even though I have visited all the towns along the Rhine and the Mosel.
    Maybe I will do the Danube or Portugal/Spain.

  7. With regards to low water levels, would it be better to cruise early in the season during the months of May or June?

  8. Would you know if the Explorer Cabin on Viking River Cruises is noisy ? It is a suite but at the back of boat?

  9. Should I be planning a Pacific cruse with the China virus running wild. I have heard some ships are being quarantined

  10. Another informative talk. You are not obnoxious in anyway and very pleasant to listen too. Thank you.

  11. Have only been on 1 river cruise but you seemed to hit on all the particular things to consider. I too am a solo traveler and it is VERY expensive ;P

  12. Great video. I have been on 8 river cruises on 4 different cruise lines, with a ninth coming up this October. I have been very lucky in that I had only 1 water level problem and that was on my first cruise. We could not dock at Melk because of the high water lever but they did bus those who wanted to see Melk from Vienna. One other comment, you touched on the cost for a solo traveler like myself but generally speaking river cruising can be quite expensive. Also another big plus is the smooth ride. If you are prone to motion sickness you will not have a problem on a river cruise.

  13. With regard to the first con, the rivers are getting too busy, I recommend choosing the cruise line that has the most cannons.
    But seriously, a great video.

  14. Spot on! I went on a Uniworld River Cruise up the Rhine and it was outstanding. I absolutely loved it (went solo & I’m over 50). Looking forward to going on another Uniworld cruise.

  15. Great info. Been on many, many ocean cruises and now planning a river cruise in Italy with Uniworld. Would love to learn more about that line.

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