Most Asked Questions About River Cruises

Most Asked Questions About River Cruises

Most Asked Questions About River Cruises

I am asked a lot of questions on different cruise related topics during my livestreams, so I decided to start gathering these together to form a ‘Most Asked Questions’ series. Many of the questions below have been asked by numerous people, so these are the ones I have chosen to highlight in this post regarding river cruises. I’ll have more soon on other topics, including cruise lines, excursions, insurance, safety and much more – so keep checking back regularly to see what’s new.

Best River And Cruise Line For First Time River Cruisers?

The two rivers I would focus on is the Rhine or the Danube. Those are the two classic, most popular rivers. Personally, I like the Danube a lot because you get the chance to see some major capital cities. So, depending on the route you’ve got, you’ll have Vienna, Bratislava, you can go to Budapest. It’s quite a nice mixture of architecture, it’s not just cathedral after cathedral.

On the Rhine you get to see some amazing, particularly German cities and some Austrian cities. There’s lots of castles and stuff.

In terms of cruising the Danube, the advantage is pretty much every cruise line will cruise to the Danube. So, you have an enormous choice.

In terms of time of year, I personally like going at the beginning and the end of the season, mostly because it’s less busy, because a lot of the places you’re going to are also very popular tourist areas. Particularly if you’re doing the Danube, you’re going to  go to Venice, Bratislava, and Budapest, those places get absolutely rammed during July and August time and can be incredibly hot. I like September. I always think it’s a very nice time to be travelling in Europe because it’s warm. The days are still relatively long, but the mad tourist stuff has gone.

So that would be my suggestion.

Most Asked Questions About River Cruises


In terms of starter cruise, a lot of it depends on your budget. Whether you’re looking to splash out or budget consider the likes of Uniworld and AmaWaterways, I really like both. Then, you’ve got Avalon, Emerald, Saga, TUI, Scenic, A Rosa, Tauck and more. Which you choose just comes down to your overall budget.

Options For A First No-Fly River Cruise

So, if you’re heading out of the UK, one option is Eurostar. However, be check that the Eurostar is going to Amsterdam because they’re expanding, and reworking the railway station in Amsterdam which is affecting some schedules. An alternative is to get the train into Paris and get river cruises down the Seine.

I’ve done that before. Got Eurostar to Paris and went down the Seine, which is quite a nice river cruise. You could then head down and go down to the Normandy beach landings in Honfleur and places like that. So, those would be the key ones.

Best Month For European River Cruises To Minimise The Chance Of Low Water?

This is something I’m asked frequently, and I’ll always start by saying the same thing – it’s not that easy to predict. A lot of it will depend on whether you’ve had good snow or whether you’ve had good rain. What happens is – the way it was explained to me anyway by the people working the rivers – is that at the beginning of the season the river’s fed by melting ice. So, if there’s been a lot of snow up in the mountains, you can generally have good levels. Obviously if you have too much snow it’s too high. Then into the summer, it then is dependent on the rains and the water from that working their way down the river. As you can see, there’s no clear answer because it depends on the weather each year. Personally, I feel like going earlier in the season where you’re relying more on the snow seems to be safer. That’s why I tend to look more at the beginning than at the end of the season. But that’s only because I’ve had poorer experiences at the end of the season – they’ve always been more erratic.

Most Asked Questions About River Cruises

Best Options For Christmas Markets River Cruises

What Itinerary And River Would You Recommend For A Christmas Market River Cruise?

River cruising generally used to stop at the end of summer and then they started doing the Christmas market cruises, particularly on the Rhine and on the Danube. Personally, I also tend to lean towards the Rhine, mostly because Germany is renowned for Christmas markets. However, of course on the Danube there are some amazing Christmas markets. Vienna, for example, has the most phenomenal Christmas markets. So, I would do either, I always feel like the Rhine is a little more traditional, but I do think of Germany more for Christmas markets. But either the Rhine or the Danube would be ideal choices.

Any Christmas market river cruise is great. Obviously, it’s chilly and cold, but Europe really does have amazing Christmas markets. It’s a way of intensively seeing quite a few of the Christmas markets in one trip. I haven’t done a themed Christmas market cruise, but I’ve been on a river cruise in November. During which some of the Vienna River cruise markets had opened. It was great getting off the ship and seeing different things. If you really want to get into the spirit of Christmas, this is the way to do it.

Most Asked Questions About River Cruises

We Have A Christmas River Cruise On Our Bucket List. However, We Are Concerned About The Lack Of Space To Simply Walk Around The Ship – What Are Your Thoughts?

The ships are of course much smaller than anything you’re going to see on an ocean sailing. And they must be because they must be a certain width and height to get under the bridges, even when water’s high, so they can get along the river. If you are concerned about size, there is, Ama Waterways and their river ship AmaMagna, which is basically a double-sized ship. It’s the equivalent of two river cruise ships together, and they have more choice for dining options. There are several Christmas-focussed itineraries on this ship along the Danube.

Normally on a river cruise ship, you’ve got the whole top deck – the sun deck – which in winter you’re not really going to be using. That does decrease the space available, but you’ll still have the lounge area and dining room.

One important thing to remember, though, is that on a European river cruise, there are relatively limited times when you’re sailing for a very long period. You might only be sailing for two or three hours between places. So, honestly, I wouldn’t be too concerned about onboard space. You are right, though, you’re not going to have lots of places to hang out and chill and stuff, particularly on a Christmas cruise because that top deck where you’d often sit out on a warm day or evening might not be so appealing.

Most Asked Questions About River Cruises

River Cruise Excursions

Are All River Cruises The Same With Tours And Excursions Included Or Pre-Booked, Or Can You Go And Do Whatever You Like In Each Port? 

It used to be the case that river cruise lines did include excursions. And because of this river cruising can be costly depending on the line. A couple of lines are not including excursions, but most of them do. The premium lines, so the likes of Uniworld, Scenic, AmaWaterways, Avalon, and Emerald all include tours. There are a couple shifting away from that, but generally speaking, they’re included.

They tend to be walking tours mostly. So, you can go and do your own thing within the time that the ship sails. You need to bear in mind that sometimes a river cruise ship might be in one stop in the morning to go exploring or sail while you’re having lunch to a different stop. If you are going self-exploring, you need to really pay attention to the sailing schedule. Unlike an ocean ship, which generally arrives in the morning and leaves at night, it can be much more erratic on river cruises.

Excursion wise, as I said, it’s mostly walking tours. You see a lot of cathedrals, to be honest. But some of the lines like Avalon and AmaWaterways are starting to shift into more hiking and cycling, those kind energetic experiences.

Is The River Cruise Port In Amsterdam Located In The Centre Of The City, Close To Walking Attractions?  

Most Asked Questions About River Cruises

River cruise boats dock just behind the railway station. So, they’re right there in the centre. You can easily walk down. You’ve got the big square with the Royal Palace. But yes, it’s very easy to get down. It’s a phenomenal location, which is why, if you’re coming on a train from somewhere, it was absolutely linked to the previous question. If you were getting the Eurostar or you’re catching the train from Brussels or whatever, you come to the railway station and you get off the railway station across the road and the ships are there.

Do You Recommend The Pre- and Post-Extension To Prague Or A Separate Specific Czech Republic Tour?

I would absolutely recommend the Prague extension. It is very popular, very common for people to do that. Most of the river cruises I’ve been on along the Danube I see people doing the Prague add-on. Prague is a beautiful city. I love Prague. Originally, I used to go there for work when I was working full time. And I’ve been there on a weekend break. Then I’ve been there pre-river cruise. So, I would strongly recommend it because it is a beautiful city. It adds a lot to the tour and a lot to the trip because it is one of those iconic cities you want to see.

Would You Say A Lot Of River Cruise Excursions Seem To Be Aimed At Wine And Beer Lovers?

I don’t drink alcohol, but I haven’t seen it as a massive issue, although you are right, particularly when you’re passing through very famous winery areas, particularly in Germany. Many tours may be beer or wine themed.

Some of the cruise lines will give you alternative excursions. So, you might choose to be on one which is going to a point of interest, but another one might be a walking city tour. So, it’s not massively orientated, there are plenty of other things to do. Some tours on my cruise in the Loire Valley were going to vineyards, but they would also perhaps have part of the tour that was tasting local cheeses and some including historic sites. It was varied.

Most Asked Questions About River Cruises

Best River Cruise Lines For food, Enrichment, Immersion and Entertainment

Food & Drink 

Now in reality, what I always say to people is whichever river cruise line you go on, you will get a good immersion into local food and wine. The ships are just not big enough to stock a lot of foods. They will pick it up pretty much almost every day in ports. So, by definition, as they move through the region, they’re using local produce – they have relationships with local people and local providers. You will find that whichever cruise line you’re on will reflect the region that they’re travelling through, partly because they must. They will also have local wine. So, if you go through Germany, German wines, through Austria, Austrian wines, and so on.

I think probably the best food that I’ve had on river cruises – but bear in mind I haven’t been on every single river cruise line – was on AmaWaterways, and Uniworld. AmaWaterways particularly prides themselves on food.

I also enjoyed the food on Avalon. They have shifted the menus into kind of more healthy dining options, but it was pretty good. My experience on Viking was good, but it’s not a cruise I remember because of the food. Interestingly, CroisiEurope is probably the least expensive of all the river cruises that I’ve done, and they have very French focused food, which I thought was pretty good too. Like most river cruise lines, they do buffet breakfast, buffet lunch, and then waiter-served dinners.

Limited Dining

Most cruise lines will just have the main dining room. I know on Viking they have Aquavit Terrace, which you can also book, but often you only have one dining option. There might be some little snacks or whatever in the lounge as an alternative, but it’s not 24-hour dining  because most of them don’t have room service. If you’re hungry, there’s limited places to go. Also, the other thing is that the evenings on river cruises tend to be a full sit-down meal of several courses. There’s no quick evening dining option on most river cruise lines.


In terms of enrichment, you do not really get a lot of it, specifically. But what you will have every night is a briefing from the cruise director who will give you information about the region you’re passing through, what you’re seeing, but it’s the guides who do most of that.

If you’re going on a river cruise for entertainment, you will be sorely disappointed. Entertainment at most will be a pianist, and they will occasionally bring on maybe some singers or some dancers. So, you’re not going to get a lot of entertainment.

Most Asked Questions About River Cruises


Mekong River Cruises – Would I Do Them Again?

People often ask me about the Mekong and my experience. I would like to go back to the Mekong. And I would like to go back to the Mekong at a very different time of the year because in the Mekong they have the rainy season and the dry season. And the Mekong dramatically reduces in size in the dry season.

In the rainy season, although it’s raining a lot for the tour, the river floods and all the rice paddies appear. I think it would be a very different experience. Also, you can then sail across the Ton Sap Lake when you’re heading up to Angkor Wat which you cannot do in the dry season as it is not deep enough. So, yes, I would do the Mekong again because I think it’s a very, very different experience indeed.

It was one of the best trips I have ever done. I thought it was magical, and fascinating getting to South Vietnam and South Cambodia. I’m very interested in history, learning about the Vietnam War, and then learning all about the Killing Fields. You get to see incredible places, beautiful cities, and countryside. and so on.

Most Asked Questions About River Cruises

Besides The River Cruises On The Mekong, Are There Any Other River Cruises In Asia?

There are some other popular river cruising options in India, along the Ganges. There’s also the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, Yangtze River in China, and Chao Phraya River in Thailand, just to name a few. The Kerala backwaters in India are also a popular option.

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Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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1 Response

  1. chuck hickey says:

    You didn’t mention Viking River once
    We Loved our Grand European Tour cruise?

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