River Cruising FAQ Answered: Getting Home, Mobility And Tours

Booking nearly two years in advance, Don and Sharon* are going on a European river cruise in the Fall of 2018.  Just past the one year out mark, they have questions not all that uncommon to anyone planning their first Euro river cruise. Actually, their questions are frequently asked by anyone planning any sort of travel from North America to Europe.  Don and Susan are thinking about their Viking River Cruise, sailing the 15-day Grand European Tour from Budapest to Amsterdam.  Let’s see if we can help.  Don asks:

  1. Do you think we could/should add at least one day to the end of our trip? If so, who makes those arrangements?
  2. Sharon has a “semi-disability.”… back pain.  She’s able to get around the ship, flat streets, including cobblestone, but I don’t think she can make some of those excursions that include steep streets. Does Viking provide transportation to the tops of those streets or do we use public/private transports?
  3. If we decide, and we will decide to take additional excursions, is it best to schedule and pay “now” or wait and pay when we are there?
15-day Grand European Tour
Another Day- Yes you can add a day at the end and if I were you: I sure would.  Otherwise, you really won’t see any of Amsterdam as they will have you off the ship and on to the airport early, like right after breakfast to get you home as quickly and efficiently as possible for the long trip home.  That can be added one of two ways. 1) Add it via the cruise line 2) Add it yourself and delay the return flight a day.  Let’s look at both:
  • Via The Cruise LIne- Viking offers one to three-day post-cruise hotel packages that include transfer from the ship to the hotel and then from the hotel to the airport.  Since your flights will be through the cruise line as well, they will adjust the return date without charge
  • On Your Own – Being adventurous will require doing more…well… on your own.  I think that’s fine in Amsterdam if you have been there before and are comfortable navigating the city.  If not, take the cruise line deal and call it a day.  You will stay in their expert care the entire time that way.  On your own will also mean paying an Air Plus fee ($50) for deviating from the original fly date agreed to plus any difference in fare…which at this point for a sailing about a year away is probably $0.  On your own is a far better idea with two, three or more days in Amsterdam and is entirely doable. With one day, covering the hot spots efficiently is a daunting task.  You’ll need to pick top attractions for this time and save the others for next time.
 River Cruisng FAQ
Mobility- #1 item on the list is to contact the airline directly when air tickets are issued (usually about 75 days prior to travel) and tell them about Susan’s mobility issue…and make a note to use that phrase “mobility issue” as that is the trigger word for airlines to pay attention to you. Disabled, handicapped, etc = no action.  The thought here is for them to make a note on the booking then you board the aircraft with others who need a little extra time to get settled in. When we get your air schedule and know who the airline is, I can offer more accurate advice there.  
#2 item on the mobility list is something you can count on: Viking’s description of the physical ability needed to do a tour is very conservative.  Stil, if rated a physically challenging tour, the ship’s program director will let you know that the night before. That might be handled one of a number of ways
  • Pick The Right Speed Tour– On about any tour that is not on totally flat, smooth ground (like city sidewalks, for example) will offer a ‘leisurely’ version for those who don’t want to rush through and take it at a slower pace.  I almost always take this option when offered but for a different reason.  It’s a great way to go if you’re there to take photos.  I kind of fell into that pattern accidentally really.  On my first Grand European Tour, I was working through a circulation issue in one of my legs and had difficulty walking at all, regardless of the surface.  An older lady was on a tour with me in Germany, on a downhill sloping cobblestone street that looked like trouble to both of us.  I took her arm and said “Hold on honey, between the two of us we’re going to make this!” and we did. 
  • Transportation Is Provided- Actually, a common comment on motorcoaches “why put us on a bus to go such a short distance” because there are stops where the star of the show is a few minutes walking distance from the ship in a lovely part of the world.  Still, there are options here as well that vary depending on the makeup of the passenger mix on the ship with you.  They might offer a speed tour that buzzes through, or a walking version if the logistics work out right.  That all kind of depends on the Program Director who you will meet the first day.
  • Yes, A Car Can Be Arranged For Some Attractions- Viking has done a good job of leveling the playing field on mobility issues by moves like using that motorcoach for what would be a rather short walk. Still, I have seen a few other passengers for whom the Viking Longship’s guest services staff has arranged a private car instead.  I think that’s really more because they don’t like motorcoaches as opposed to a logistic mobility decision though.  I would not embrace this option and see it as an emergency answer.  A private car works for someone who either booked the river cruise with absolutely no thought to the terrain (there is always someone) or had an accident just before travel or on the way to the ship, causing those issues.
Pay Now Or Later- the best answer needs the answer to a question about those extra tours. Which ones are you thinking about?  Some fill fast, others not so much.   If you pay for them in advance, get on the ship and that tour does not happen, they will refund your payment.  I would think more about this at about 120 days prior to travel because the tours and descriptions will change between now and then.  

Don and Sharon happen to be sailing Viking River Cruises, but answers to their questions will be similar on most river cruise lines in Europe.

*Don and Sharon’s names have been changed