~ River Cruise Tips ~
A river cruise is a wonderful way to relax, watch the world drift by at a leisurely pace and explore the towns, cities and countryside of Europe and exotic destinations around the globe.
With more than 100 river ships launched over the past four years -- and 20 more debuting this year -- along with an increasing number of river cruise lines and itineraries on offer, river cruising is the fastest-growing sector of the worldwide cruise market.
This means there's never been a better time for first-timers to get onboard. Seasoned river cruisers can expand their horizons and experience new and up-and-coming places. Where will your journey take you?
~ What to Expect ~
Whether you're in Europe, South America, Asia, the U.S. or Africa, river cruising shares similarities -- along with plenty of dissimilarities -- from ocean cruising. The first point is that ships are much smaller than ocean vessels, particularly in Europe, where they are restricted in width and length to fit into locks and sail beneath low bridges, and parts of Asia where they have to navigate shallow waters.
Unlike ocean ships, river vessels visit a new port each day, sometimes even more than one; passengers can visit up to four countries in a week. Itineraries are port-intensive with a busy program of culture-rich shore excursions -- mostly included in the fare and some fee-extra. An actual full day onboard is uncommon, though there is always cruising time, including nighttime sailing on some itineraries.
All meals are included, with many lines offering complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, plus unlimited tea and coffee. Some lines are all-inclusive and, in addition to an open bar, they also cover gratuities. There is generally an open-seating policy, so you can sit where you want. Meals can be fairly regimented due to the small size of the galley, so one sitting for breakfast, lunch and dinner is the norm (although some lines are more flexible with timings than others). Lighter meals can be enjoyed in the lounge, or outside on the deck, and some vessels have additional specialty restaurants.
The onboard experience is more laid-back than it is on oceangoing voyages, with no formal dress code. There's usually a captain's reception and gala dinner, where some people opt for smarter outfits, but it's not obligatory. The most important packing tips are to take layers to cope with unpredictable weather and comfortable shoes or sneakers, as many tours involve walking on cobblestones or uneven surfaces.
Entertainment is low-key -- with the major attraction being the passing scenery (there is always plenty to see on both banks) and ports of call. The intimate nature of riverships also means you'll soon get to know your fellow passengers, and you certainly won't get lost in the crowd.
Staterooms tend to be smaller than oceangoing vessels, but they are not short on home comforts, particularly on the newest ships. Standard amenities include hotel-style beds, bathroom with high-quality toiletries, TV and entertainment system, hair dyer, safe and ample storage space. Some cabins have French balconies and proper walkout verandas, along with stocked mini-bars, suites with butler service and four-poster beds. If you're on a budget, the lower deck cabins have fixed windows but still provide a view, albeit at water level. Because cabin configurations and facilities vary from line to line, and ship to ship within a fleet, be sure to get all the details on how your stateroom will look before you book. 1950's vintage wedding dresses
When it comes to sailing, inland waterways are very calm and flat, so seasickness is never an issue on a river cruise.
River cruises are not well suited to wheelchair users or passengers with severe mobility issues. Most modern ships have elevators, and some have adapted cabins, but gangways can be steep, depending on the level of the river water, and sometimes ships are moored side by side, necessitating walking across one or more to disembark.