What You Need To Know Before Booking A River Cruise

  • Hi Guest, welcome to the help forum. You can get fast answers to your customer service questions here. We have a dedicated team of advocates who are ready to help. Just go to the section that matches your question and ask us!
  • If you've posted a question or issue for our advocates to assist with, please be sure to check back frequently for responses and requests for clarification.
  • Did you know you can get email notifications when something new posts to your favorite forum? It's easy. Just click the "watch" link right next to the "post new thread" button at the top of your favorite forum. The rest is easy. Now you'll never miss another conversation.
  • Want to become an expert user? Drop by the How to use this forum section and all will be revealed. We'll show you how to make the most of your experience.

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
16,126
14,724
113
New York
www.promalvacations.com
#1
A river cruise is a very different experience than an ocean cruise. You are on intimate ships- usually with less than 200 passengers- that have smaller cabins. You travel on beautiful rivers with full time scenery as you sail. You dock in small towns you can usually walk to.

But there are some drawbacks that you may not know about if you book on your own. Here is everything you need to know before you book your river cruise.

- All cruise ships are not built the same. To navigate rivers when levels are low, look for a company that purposely builds ships with low draughts. They are less apt to be interrupted by low river levels.
- River levels affect cruises. If they are too low, the ships will not be able to sail without risking damage to the ship. If that happens, your cruise line may have to bus passengers to the next port and use hotel stays if the levels don’t rise for the ship to meet you at the next port. Don’t expect a refund if this happens.
- Do your homework before booking. Some lines are more affected by low and high water levels than others. Some ships don’t have air conditioning. Check reviews before you choose or find a travel agent that specializes in river cruising.
- If River levels are too high, ships might not be able to sail under bridges on your route. Look for companies with ships with retractable bridges. The Captain can drop the bridge to fit.
- Summer sailings are more affected by low river levels than late fall/winter or spring. Book accordingly.
- Every cruise line states in the terms that changes in ports are possible as well as being transported by bus. By making your deposit you agree to these.
- Deposits for river cruises are often non-refundable. Some lines that offer specials, such as free air, might require full payment at the time you book or within 30 days of booking. If you aren’t sailing for two years- do you really want a cruise line to have your full payment for that long? Make sure you consider travel insurance because anything can happen within that time frame - you don’t want to potentially lose all that money if you develop a chronic illness or the cruise line goes out of business.
- There are many river cruise lines out there that do not advertise their products. Just because you may see ads for a particular company doesn’t mean they are the only or best option for you.
- Most river lines are almost truly all inclusive which is why they are more expensive then an ocean cruises. The only thing you may have to pay extra for is liquor, beer or wine and gratuities. But there are some that include both. Do your research before you make a deposit.
- Different lines include different “extras”. Three meals a day, a shore excursion in each town, and small ship entertainment are usually included. If you like wine or beer- look for a cruise line that offers beer and wine at lunch and dinner. Not all do. (One line offers all beer, wine and liquor as a la carte items- this keeps costs down if you aren’t a drinker). Some lines offer a choice of excursions, some only offer one. Some have alternate excursions that you need to pay extra for. Some have different activity levels for shore excursions to accommodate passengers who may need to walk slower than others. Research to make sure you know what you are getting. If you have to pay extra for any of these, the cheapest river cruise might end up costing you more then a more expensive line.
- Don’t expect over the top entertainment. Some ships convert their pools into a movie theater at night. Often ships bring local musicians onboard at night for some music. You won’t see over the top entertainment.
- Many ships have a very small pool but if river levels are very low, they empty the pools to lighten the ship.
- Unless a cruise is specific to children, a river cruise is not a fit for kids. The cabins usually can’t hold more then two people, they are not connecting, and there are no children’s programs. It’s impossible to keep kids occupied on these small ships. Adventures by Disney partners with a cruise line for kid friendly river cruises- look into them if you are interested in taking the kids.
- If you need a wheelchair - think twice about a river cruise. There may be days you can’t get off the ship. When multiple ships are stopped in the same port, they often tie up together which requires walking over the top decks from ship to ship to get disembark. Ask any line you are considering whether it can handle wheelchair guests.

A river cruise can be a wonderful way to travel. You’ll meet great people you may end up being lifelong friends with. You’ll truly be able to
immerse yourself in local culture. They are almost truly all inclusive. But do your homework to book the right line - not all are equal.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
7,680
7,485
113
San Francisco
#4
Thanks for this, Neil, it is wonderful advice. And may I add that finding a travel agent who is a cruise expert is a very good idea. A TA who has good relationships with cruise lines can make a huge difference to your trip. Not only will all your questions be answered, s/he'll be sure you are aware of everything that affects your cruise. And little extra goodies are often forthcoming.

My recent experiences have led me to be much more pro-active about shore excursions ... all the details need to be researched before the trip. Even tho river cruise excursions are usually included, you don't want to waste your time in a place you don't want to be doing something that you don't want to do.

Be sure to read all the reviews on Cruise Critic or other boards. If there aren't any, be suspicious. I didn't do much research on a holiday cruise, and it wasn't quite as enjoyable as we had hoped.
 
Feb 11, 2018
48
39
18
78
#5
A river cruise is a very different experience than an ocean cruise. You are on intimate ships- usually with less than 200 passengers- that have smaller cabins. You travel on beautiful rivers with full time scenery as you sail. You dock in small towns you can usually walk to.

But there are some drawbacks that you may not know about if you book on your own. Here is everything you need to know before you book your river cruise.

- All cruise ships are not built the same. To navigate rivers when levels are low, look for a company that purposely builds ships with low draughts. They are less apt to be interrupted by low river levels.
- River levels affect cruises. If they are too low, the ships will not be able to sail without risking damage to the ship. If that happens, your cruise line may have to bus passengers to the next port and use hotel stays if the levels don’t rise for the ship to meet you at the next port. Don’t expect a refund if this happens.
- Do your homework before booking. Some lines are more affected by low and high water levels than others. Some ships don’t have air conditioning. Check reviews before you choose or find a travel agent that specializes in river cruising.
- If River levels are too high, ships might not be able to sail under bridges on your route. Look for companies with ships with retractable bridges. The Captain can drop the bridge to fit.
- Summer sailings are more affected by low river levels than late fall/winter or spring. Book accordingly.
- Every cruise line states in the terms that changes in ports are possible as well as being transported by bus. By making your deposit you agree to these.
- Deposits for river cruises are often non-refundable. Some lines that offer specials, such as free air, might require full payment at the time you book or within 30 days of booking. If you aren’t sailing for two years- do you really want a cruise line to have your full payment for that long? Make sure you consider travel insurance because anything can happen within that time frame - you don’t want to potentially lose all that money if you develop a chronic illness or the cruise line goes out of business.
- There are many river cruise lines out there that do not advertise their products. Just because you may see ads for a particular company doesn’t mean they are the only or best option for you.
- Most river lines are almost truly all inclusive which is why they are more expensive then an ocean cruises. The only thing you may have to pay extra for is liquor, beer or wine and gratuities. But there are some that include both. Do your research before you make a deposit.
- Different lines include different “extras”. Three meals a day, a shore excursion in each town, and small ship entertainment are usually included. If you like wine or beer- look for a cruise line that offers beer and wine at lunch and dinner. Not all do. (One line offers all beer, wine and liquor as a la carte items- this keeps costs down if you aren’t a drinker). Some lines offer a choice of excursions, some only offer one. Some have alternate excursions that you need to pay extra for. Some have different activity levels for shore excursions to accommodate passengers who may need to walk slower than others. Research to make sure you know what you are getting. If you have to pay extra for any of these, the cheapest river cruise might end up costing you more then a more expensive line.
- Don’t expect over the top entertainment. Some ships convert their pools into a movie theater at night. Often ships bring local musicians onboard at night for some music. You won’t see over the top entertainment.
- Many ships have a very small pool but if river levels are very low, they empty the pools to lighten the ship.
- Unless a cruise is specific to children, a river cruise is not a fit for kids. The cabins usually can’t hold more then two people, they are not connecting, and there are no children’s programs. It’s impossible to keep kids occupied on these small ships. Adventures by Disney partners with a cruise line for kid friendly river cruises- look into them if you are interested in taking the kids.
- If you need a wheelchair - think twice about a river cruise. There may be days you can’t get off the ship. When multiple ships are stopped in the same port, they often tie up together which requires walking over the top decks from ship to ship to get disembark. Ask any line you are considering whether it can handle wheelchair guests.

A river cruise can be a wonderful way to travel. You’ll meet great people you may end up being lifelong friends with. You’ll truly be able to
immerse yourself in local culture. They are almost truly all inclusive. But do your homework to book the right line - not all are equal.
Excellent advice! What we especially like about river cruising are the small size of the ships, the absence of children (BTW--it's not that we don't like kids, but the parents are often the problem!), no casinos, and the quiet ambience. Add to that the fact that you're moored in town and can explore on your own...perfect!
 
Sep 6, 2015
297
316
63
#7
Like many people, I first became aware of this forum to solve a travel issue. While I was not able to resolve my original travel issue in my favor, I have gained so much more from advice like Neil has offered here (as well as the articles posted by Chris and others).I know how frustrating it can be to try to help people who can’t get out of their own way, but you need to know what a difference your efforts make to those of us who use these stories as cautionary tales, and as a result, save ourselves from making the same mistakes. You have saved me money and a lot of anxiety when planning a trip. So thanks for this post Neil. I look forward to more like it in the future.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
7,680
7,485
113
San Francisco
#8
Like many people, I first became aware of this forum to solve a travel issue. While I was not able to resolve my original travel issue in my favor, I have gained so much more from advice like Neil has offered here (as well as the articles posted by Chris and others).I know how frustrating it can be to try to help people who can’t get out of their own way, but you need to know what a difference your efforts make to those of us who use these stories as cautionary tales, and as a result, save ourselves from making the same mistakes. You have saved me money and a lot of anxiety when planning a trip. So thanks for this post Neil. I look forward to more like it in the future.
WOW, Tricia, thanks so much for this lovely post. Next time I start to read (yet another) post on some very familiar topic and roll my eyes, desperate to think of something POSITIVE to type, anything at all ... I'll remember your words and remind myself that each of our OPs is different and all deserve the same courtesy and care ... no matter how many times we've read "their story". I wish you a sky full of vivid color in Iceland!