River Cruise couple - bucketlisttraveladvisors.com

First time river cruiser's most Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between river and ocean cruising?

Ocean cruises can take you around the world on the seven seas on itineraries that will span hundreds and possibly thousands of miles including transatlantic itineraries. 

River cruises are more focused on regions that are along the commercial rivers of Europe. River cruising can take you along the rivers of a single country or across borders to many countries depending on the itinerary.

Where the most popular ocean ships are built today to accommodate as many passengers as possible with even the smallest of ocean ships providing for 600 passengers. River ships which are aptly designed to fit under bridges and inside of locks, max out at 250 passengers with most ships hosting on average 165 guests. 

Ocean cruising is centered around the ship amenities, the onboard activities, and the ports you visit for 4 – 6 hours. River ships are all-inclusive floating hotels that take you through countries focused on maximizing time spent in the locations you visit, anywhere from 8 – 24 hours.

When is the best time of year for a river cruise?

With the exception of January through mid-March when European rivers are in winter hiatus, river travel is pretty much year-round. 

The most popular months for travel are September, followed by May, late April, and early October. Summer is a key time for all travel in Europe when the cities are filled with the most travelers arriving by the rivers and by land.

The best time to visit varies depending on itinerary, local experiences, and time of year.

One of the least crowded times to enjoy the rivers is during the holiday season when the European Christmas Markets are in full festivities. 

Do I need to be concerned about the water levels of the rivers?

What you might not know is that water levels are constantly changing and varying levels of low and high water is common as the ebb and flow of the rivers are impacted by the annual levels of rain and snowfall.

The safety of passengers and crew aboard is always key to all decisions relating to itineraries. River cruise lines are always prepared to circumvent Mother Nature with contingency plans in place should local authorities temporarily stop river traffic on portions of the rivers.

Modern river ships are built with a lower draft to accommodate low water levels. Alternately, for high water, the pilot house, railings, and furniture can be lowered for passing under bridges or through locks. 

In extreme circumstances, plans may include alternative docking locations, revised routes,  modified  excursions, or ship swaps. Ship swaps are the most common where your belongings magically appear in the same cabin on a similar ship on the other side of where the river is impassable while you are off touring. 

Every effort is made to ensure that guests have the most enjoyable vacation possible with the least amount of inconvenience.

Where is the best location for a cabin onboard if I get motion sickness?

Inland rivers have minimal movement compared to an ocean or sea. Without waves, there is no rocking motion which causes seasickness. The ships travel at a slow pace and land can be seen on both sides of the river.

Even with the intimate size of the ship compared to large ocean liners, the majority of the time you won’t even notice that the ship is moving. Because of this you can stay anywhere onboard on any deck and comfortably enjoy a river cruise experience without taking extra precautions.

Do they speak English on the ship and in the regions we would be visiting?

English is the primary language spoken on board by the crew. All announcements and discussions will be in English and local guides speak fluent English. 

Cruises have both English-speaking hotel managers and cruise managers to assist and guide you throughout your travels. They are always available to assist you with directions or scheduling off ship experiences for touring and dining. 

Is there a dress code onboard?

The most important thing to remember while touring is comfort. Depending on the time of year and altitudes you are traveling through, you may want layered clothing during the day. Comfortable walking shoes and even workout clothes are acceptable for daytime activities and active tours. Europe can be warm during the summer months, short sleeves, shorts, sundresses, and hats are all appropriate for touring. 

In the evening and for nights onboard casual elegance is the recommended attire. Country club casual as we like to call it. Plus something a little dressier, but not formal, for special onboard evenings.

Weather is unpredictable, always be prepared for rain and chilly evenings during the spring and fall and warm clothing and heavier coats for holiday travel periods.

What is dining like onboard?

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included and served daily in the main dining space. On most ships, similar to a local restaurant, you are seated randomly, upon your arrival, at a table that will accommodate your party. 

During meals, a choice of items is served a la carte. A daily menu of regionally-inspired cuisine among Western favorites is typically what you will find offered. All meals are prepared by European chefs with a wide variety of choices including vegetarian and gluten-free options. The chefs will do their best to accommodate other food allergies and sensitivities.

The seating arrangements provide you flexibility in meeting other guests onboard. However, if you make new friends and would like to dine together, that can be arranged when you arrive for your next meal. 

Many ships also offer additional dining venues for early or quick breakfasts, lighter lunches, and specialty dining experiences. Snacks are available throughout the day in the lounges and can be requested for relaxing on the sun deck while scenically cruising the waterways. 

Can I explore ports we visit on my own or do I have to stay with the ship’s program?

During your vacation, you are free to explore as part of the cruise program or on your own. 

Maps of the ports are available and the reception desk is happy to assist you in reaching designated locations that you are interested in. 

They can also recommend local attractions, restaurants, shopping and taverns as well as guide you on special “bucket list” experiences that may interest you. 

From ship arrival until departure, you are free to roam the towns, villages and shores as long as the ship is ported. You will want to make sure you are back on board well before the ship departs for the next port. It is not uncommon for passengers to get off in one location and re-board later that day at another for a specially arranged day of private touring. 

As you can see, river cruising is not a one size fits all travel experience. There are many options for enjoyable and unique experiences while traveling the inland waterways. A highlight is the opportunity river cruising offers to explore the towns and villages of countries from a boutique floating hotel. 

For additional information or questions, please contact Sandee at Bucketlist Travel Advisors, your European River Cruise specialist.