What is European river cruising and is it right for me?

After 21 years in the travel business, I have come to build friendships with many loyal, well-traveled people who I am fortunate enough to call my clients. These clients have seen the world… From dining with Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World, to sailing the waters of Mexico and lounging by the Caribbean, to posing for pictures beneath the Eiffel Tower, they’ve done it all. My job, then, is to find a new way for my friends to see these places for a deeper, more personal experience.

While ocean and large ship cruising has long been a staple in this business, the largest and fastest-growing segment has become European river cruising. In a recent interview, Laura Urban, business development manager with the Globus family of brands, which includes the river cruising company Avalon Waterways, shared that ambiance is often the most common question she gets about river cruising.

“Being on a river cruise feels intimate,” she says. “You won’t be disembarking a ship with 3,000 other guests, but stepping on shore with as few as 130 other people—to meet a local guide to show you through the city.”

The “feel” of the cruise can also be attributed to the amenities. While the initial cost is higher than a traditional large-ship ocean cruise, it covers all meals and beverages, including local beer and wines. In addition, with river cruising, all of your shore excursions and tours in port are included, which helps eliminate unplanned costs.

“The European waterways used to be the ‘highways’ of Europe,” says Urban. “They have incredible historic value in cruising alongside them. My advice is to work with someone who is familiar with the itineraries and can give advice and answer your questions.”

When it comes to booking a vacation, it’s important that you book one that suits who you are and what you want to get out of it. Take a look at these commonly asked questions, with answers from Laura Urban and me, to help determine if river cruising is right for your next trip.

When is the best time to travel, and what is the weather like?
Cook:
European temperatures typically mirror (or are very close to) our temperatures in central Illinois. September has been the most popular month to take a river cruise.
Urban: The best availability is usually in the spring around April, May or June, or in the fall around October and November. High season for European travel is in the summer because kids are out of school and airfare prices are typically high.

What age groups are most common?
Cook:
While a few honeymooners book river cruises, the most common age group is 40 to 70.

Are they “kid-friendly?”
Urban:
Generally, no. River cruise ship cabins are built for double occupancy only, and there are no activities for kids on board the ship—but there will be times of year or exceptions when you will see a few children.

We want to do a river cruise, but would like to spend more time seeing some of the cities. Is it common to add time to the trip?
Cook:
Absolutely! Many travelers add a land package, which includes arriving early to their starting port city or departing later from their end port city, as well as booking a hotel stay to explore, shop and enjoy local cuisine.

What are the most popular river cruises?
Urban:
The Rhine River cruise—or as I call it, the “castle cruise”—is the most popular. Cruisers sail by 52 different castles in seven nights! Our second most popular is the Danube River cruises, which see the wonderful cities of Prague and Budapest. Paris, Normandy, Burgundy and Provence are also popular. Remember though, what is right for many may not be right for all, but there is something for everyone! a&s