Jennie is planning a European river cruise – or would be if she knew where to start. Enter Kay O’Sullivan who is happy to help with the how, when, where and what of planning a river cruise.
My sister, a couple of her close friends and I are planning to go on a river cruise in Europe in 2018. We are keen to get great value for money but have no idea where to start or how to compare the different river cruise offerings. I’ve been told a veranda is important, and failing that, at least a window to save us from cabin fever along the way. So how do we know which cruise lines offer such European cruises and which are good value for first timers? We think shoulder season such as September might also be a good time to find affordable options.
A. There's a reason why cruising, river cruising, in particular, is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry. It's wonderful. Apart from all the obvious advantages – no packing and unpacking, with meals and entertainment aplenty – on a river cruise you are right smack dab in the middle of it all, which is exactly where you want to be.
Stick with the idea of the window, or if the budget can be stretched to accommodate a balcony, even if it's a tiddler, go for it. We're Aussies, we love the light – though, don't forget the sunscreen.
I thought it wouldn't matter if I didn't have a room with a view until I tried one. It was a fantastic room – beautifully fitted out, the most comfortable bed I've ever slept on, and I didn't want to spend any time in my cabin. I was desperate to see what I was missing. And while there were plenty of other places to sit on the ship – multiple lounges, outside decks, bars (yes, please) – to watch the passing parade of life on the river banks, nothing compares to waking up, pulling the curtains back and having Europe in all its glory close enough to touch. And that wasn't possible with only a tiny window positioned high above me.
On the best time to cruise, I have to disappoint you. September is still high season in Europe. That’s because it’s one of the best months for travel. It’s cooler than August, the traditional holiday month in Europe, and much less crowded as the Europeans have gone back to work.
The cooler months from then on and at the start of the river cruising season are cheaper. I’d go later rather than earlier. Spring in Europe can be brutal, especially if you are cruising in the northern half of the continent.
The river cruise industry is awash with specials practically all year round. That is competition at its best for you. I searched the best brands (see listings below) and each of them was offering substantial deals on this year’s itineraries and 2018 sailings. We’re talking airfares, two-for-one deals. So, yes, substantial.
But the best cabins and deals are snapped up by old hands post-haste, so interested parties need to sign up for the cruise lines’ newsletters to get first dibs. Or jump online today.
By the way, even with discounts, the overall price can make you blink. But I believe that when you tote up what you get on a river cruise, it’s good value for money. Again, it’s down to competition. All-inclusive is the buzzword in the industry and that means transfers, food, alcohol, excursions, wifi and tips. It’s worth noting that the companies listed below are constantly adding glamorous new ships to their fleets and are refurbishing existing craft, so wherever you go you’re travelling in style. It’s the holiday of a lifetime.
Here’s a tip: to learn the basics on European river cruising, check out this article.
Do you have a travel question for Kay? If so, email your Travel SOS to firstname.lastname@example.org
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