AROUND THE WORLD BY SHIP
Travelers turn to river cruising for a number of reasons. As the world’s original highways, rivers pass through cities, towns and countryside rich in history, as they have for centuries. Applying a similar level of inclusivity as with ocean cruising, travelers are familiar with and like the basic concept. The notion of unpacking once to seeing multiple places is equally appealing if not moreso on a river cruise itinerary. But how to go about booking that first river cruise? Few river cruise lines offer a click-to-buy option, requiring travelers to do their homework and book through a travel agent, either one at the cruise line or an independent travel professional. As daunting as the task may seem, it is entirely possible to go about river cruise booking by focusing on three topics.
Decide On The Destination-
Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the process is deciding where and when that first river cruise should take place. Like other travel options, the places to be visited need to be of interest. On a European river cruise, a popular option is a sailing on the Rhine and/or Danube rivers. Viking River Cruises Grand European Tour sails from Budapest to Amsterdam, or the reverse, in all but the coldest of winter months. Other factors to consider when deciding on the destination when booking your river cruise:
- Weather- A sailing on the Rhine river is going to look and feel entirely different at various times of the year. Extremes vary between lush green vineyards in July where city centers feature fruit and vegetable markets to barren vines in December for a Christmas Markets sailing. Your tolerance for either extreme is an important consideration.
- Budget- The exact same ship and itinerary will cost more or less depending when the sailing occurs. That same Viking Grand European Tour in 2017 has prices beginning at $3999 per person in November to $4899 per person in the more popular Spring and Summer. Still, local events happening at destinations at specific times of the year may resonate with individual travelers more than others. Summer festivals along the river are common and good reason to pick a more expensive sailing at that time of the year.
- Value- Much like the world of ocean cruises, it is inportant to consider not just the price but what is included in the price. River cruising, by nature, is a more inclusive experience than ocean cruising. Still, promotions for those who book far in advance can add up to even better value. Back to that Viking Grand European Tour, through the end of the month they are throwing in Free International Air from 30 cities in the United States. That’s huge and actually quite typical. Frankly, I don’t know anyone who has booked one of these sailings in the last year or so that has not received a great deal on airfare.
Contact Your Travel Agent-
As noted, click-to-buy options are not really a viable way to go. Even if they were, and they probably will be soon, the extreme destination focus of a river cruise requires working with an experienced travel professional to match the right sailing with the right traveler. Helpful agents at the cruise line seem to be a logical choice for many travelers, but a local agent who we have established a long term business relationship is a far better one. The very nature of a river cruise opens that mode of travel to more unpredictable variations than on an ocean cruise. Consider these factors when deciding to book directly with the cruise line or with an outside travel professional:
- Your Tolerance For Travel Disruptions- If all goes well on a river cruise, travelers are in for some surprises along the way. On an ocean cruises, unless a hurricane swings by or the ship has mechanical issues, we visit port after port, one each day, as advertised. On a river cruise, travelers commonly get off the ship in the morning then return later in the day to find the ship has moved to a different place. While passengers were on tour, the ship moved to where that tour ended in order to efficiently cover more ground. Also affecting the exact timing of where a river cruise ship will be at any particular time are river levels. High or low water can change itineraries. Traffic on the river can affect itineraries as well, causing a backup at the locks all ships must pass through. That might translate to modifications of planned tours or stops along the way as river cruise ship Captains consider the overall experience they want to be sure we enjoy. Frankly, if everything going exactly according to the advertised itinerary must happen to be be considered a good travel experience, river cruising might not be for you. These and other qualifying factors are important considerations that your dedicated travel professional will tell you based on their history of booking you on other travel products.
- Only A Phone Call Away- When actually experiencing the lion’s share of travel disruptions noted above in real time, your travel agent will be of little value to you. Like travel by air, you are in the hands of the travel service provider when actually traveling. That company has the best chance of fixing something that has gone wrong at the time it happens. Still, your travel professional who is only a phone call, text or email away can confirm that the cruise line response to a travel disruption is appropriate. That confirmation can go a long way toward our handling of the unexpected when in a different part of the world than we have visited before. For example, if your cruise history includes a number of Caribbean sailings that stopped in Key West, odds are you already know your way around and could manage on your own. Not so in a European embarkation port or stop on the itinerary where the locals might not speak your language.
Study Study Study
Unlike a swing through the Caribbean or some other sailing that begins and ends in a U.S. port, European river cruising takes us up close and personal with iconic destinations. Frankly, the topic of UNESCO World Heritage Sites is one probably not one of interest to travelers who have not made the jump to international travel. If a European river cruise is on the travel dream list to see places depicted in films, history books and on television, knowing more about them before arrival is critical. Some travelers have specific reasons for choosing an itinerary. Maybe they had a relative that fought in a World War and want to see the places they might had seen. Perhaps ancestors came from a geographic region of the world we have not visited and want to before we end our time here. Regardless of the reason, being prepared absolutely will bring a more enriched travel experience. Some other factors to consider in your study efforts before a river cruise:
- Cruise Line Resources- Some do a better job in this area than others. It’s one of the reasons we so commonly refer to Viking River Cruises who have a very nice library of information available online that can be used a number of ways. Prior to booking, the Viking video library accurately depicts what traveler will experience.
- Your Interest In Studying- Some people just don’t like to study. I get that. Yes, they can still sail on a river cruise and enjoy it. Where I get concerned for travelers who do not do their homework is in their lack of knowledge about how a river cruise actually plays out in real life. The rather typical travel disruptions noted above are inherent to river cruising. River levels rise and fall, union-like lock workers go on strike, flights get delayed and itineraries don’t always go exactly as planned. Unfortunately, these are also the most commonly reported “problems I had on my river cruise”. That’s too bad as that attitude could have gone in an entirely different direction if those travelers were adequately prepared to travel.
Obviously the three topics of focus involved in river cruise booking are broad and could be a story in and of themselves. We’ll break down each in greater detail in the near future. River cruise booking is done best when plenty of time exists between deciding to do it and actually traveling. Look for more river cruise booking posts shortly. For now, check these other very current and relevant resources:
- Viking River Cruises Exploring More website- Features a wide selection of award-winning Viking short films with insights into world cultures.
- River Cruise Radio– from the creator of Cruise Radio, River Cruise Radio focuses exclusively on the world of river cruising as seen through the eyes of travel experts as well as travelers themselves.
- More to come…