5 Reasons to Get On Board with River Cruising

Aug 17, 2020

If you’ve never taken a river cruise, you might think they’re not for you — too expensive, perhaps, or too risky in the era of COVID-19.

But as Travelzoo discussed in a recent Facebook Live event, river cruises are surprisingly appealing and affordable, now more than ever. Here are the top five reasons to get on board with river cruising.

1) A river cruise is an all-inclusive experience

The cost of a river cruise might seem high (though that’s less true now, with trips priced as low as $2699, including airfare), but unlike other trips or cruises, the upfront price covers virtually everything.

Sanjay Goel, president of Cruise Connections, Canada’s largest cruise retailer, points out that river cruises typically include shore excursions in every port, wine and beer with lunch and dinner, fine dining and Wi-Fi. Many Cruise Connections packages also include gratuities, insurance and flights. “You could get off the ship and not have another dollar on your bill,” says Goel.  If you’ve ever been stuck paying off holiday expenses long after your trip has ended, you’ll know what a relief it is to travel without worrying about extra costs and punishing exchange rates.  

2) Smaller ships make for a more intimate experience

Forget the typical mega-ships that fit thousands of people; river cruise ships typically host just 100-150 passengers per trip. “It’s very intimate compared to an oceangoing vessel,” says Goel. “By the end of the cruise, it’s like you’re with a group of friends.” Indeed, many of his clients report forging long-term friendships with their fellow guests. Smaller size doesn’t mean a lack of amenities, however. Today’s modern vessels are packed with features like pools, hot tubs, spa, gym, putting greens, outdoor lounge areas and even herb gardens.

3) River cruises visit a wider range of big and small ports

Here’s another reason to love smaller ships: They can go where the mega-ships can’t. “From iconic cities like Budapest or Amsterdam, and then smaller places along the way like Passau or Melk — that kind of combination just isn’t available other than on a river cruise,” Goel points out. River cruises also tend to dock in the heart of the city, so you can walk right off the ship and start exploring. Between the central location and the lack of line-ups at disembarkment, you’ll have more time in port than you would on an ocean cruise — all the better to enjoy the included shore excursion or borrow a (free) ship bicycle and head out on your own.

4) Every stateroom is an outside cabin

River cruising came to life in the 1990s, when the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal opened, creating new possibilities for barge-like passenger vessels. Since then, growth has been dramatic — and cruise lines have kept developing better ships, with more space and luxurious amenities.

“In the old days, these ships were much smaller; they used to joke that you had to leave the cabin to change your mind,” says Goel. “But now, it’s better to think of it as a luxury boutique hotel that happens to float and move between these destinations.”

Modern ships have larger rooms and no “inside” staterooms — every room faces out toward the amazing views. “There are ships where the entire room wall is a window,” says Goel. “You can pull down the window and you’ve turned your entire suite into an open-air balcony.”

5) New protocols and flexible policies mean you can book with confidence

COVID-19 hit the cruise industry especially hard, but companies have responded by amping up health protection and offering more flexible policies around refunds and credits. On European cruises, ships adhere to a 50-page EU document with protocols for everything from social distancing to cleaning protocol, reduced passenger numbers and procedures for shore excursions.

And if you’re worried about committing money now to a trip you may or may not be able to take in the future, you can relax. “Virtually every cruise line has introduced very flexible policies as it relates to your deposit, being able to get a refund or a future credit,” says Goel.

You can lock in low prices now for trips in 2021 or even 2022 — and it’s a smart idea to do so, because the lowered capacity on each ship means last-minute cabins will be in short supply.

So that’s the scoop: between all-inclusive pricing, smaller ships, varied itineraries, modern accommodations and flexible refund policies, it’s worth getting on board with river cruising. For more detail, watch our Facebook Live event, visit Travelzoo.ca or check out all the river cruise deals at Cruise Connections.


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