Travel SOS: planning a European river cruise

Jennie needs help with the how, when, where and what of planning a river cruise.

Travel SOS: planning a European river cruise

Kay O’Sullivan is no accidental tourist. More than a decade ago, she decided to combine two of her favourite things – journalism and travel – and become a travel writer. Since then, she has written about travel for numerous papers, magazines and on the internet, both here and internationally.

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.

Q. Jennie
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.

budapest river cruise

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.

Anchors away!

More information:

Do you have a travel question for Kay? If so, email your Travel SOS to



    To make a comment, please register or login
    Yer man
    18th Mar 2017
    Fantastic cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest. Stay a few days in the Pest side of Budapest. Enjoy your cruise. River cruising while dearer than ocean cruising should be on the bucket list .
    18th Mar 2017
    My husband and i have done 2 European river cruises and yes totally agree they are fantastic experiences. The cruise between Amsterdam and Budapest was our first and still in my mind the best. We travelled with APT and they exceeded our expectations with service ,food and professionalism. One plus with them is they are more casual with dress code so you don't have to dress up at night. To get the good deals you need to book at least 12 months ahead but well worth it. Just cover yourself w ith travel insurance. We didn't have a balcony which made it substantialy cheaper and didn't miss this as the weather was quite cool and the lounges are great for viewing anyway plus you get more opportunities to socialize . If money isn't an object then by all means opt for the balcony but bear in mind sometimes the boats double dock in towns and you might not be able to use it anyway as what happened to friends on our last cruise. Whatever you choose you will enjoy the is definitely wonderful
    18th Mar 2017
    Our first river cruise was with APT. We went from Budapest to Amsterdam and we did it in March. Europe is generally very cold in March and we were not disappointed. We had snow from Vienna and the river was rising with the snow. My advice go in march and with APT - you wont be disappointed.
    18th Mar 2017
    My partner and I nabbed a last minute deal to go from Budapest to Nuremberg last October. We did not have a balcony but there were tons of areas we could relax and watch the world go by. Viking cruises were terrific, free excursions daily, free and fantastic food and wine and service and met a lot of people. We have done 3 ocean cruises and while we enjoyed them as well , river cruising was different and with a lot less people on board. We are now looking for our next river cruise deal!
    19th Mar 2017
    Are there any river cruises which specialise in singles travel - i.e. no (or little) singles so-called supplement? It seems to be almost impossible to find ANY cruises out of Australia which do the right thing by singles.
    20th Mar 2017
    SCENIC CRUISES was oyr choice in 2014 from Vudapest to Amsterdam and then we went to Latvia and Estonia to visit rellie for the first time
    Fantastic trip!
    Flight Centre is good for booking arrangements and so is RACV Travel with a 5% discount if a member but National Seniors also has a similar discount if a member and I think they have APT to book through. There are others.
    Travelling woman
    21st Mar 2017
    I have done 3 river cruises with Scenic - 2010 Amsterdam to Budapest and onto Prague for 3 days. 2015 Romantic Rhine & Moselle and 2016 - South of France.
    I have done other trips with Scenic and can't recommend them highly enough.
    The first river cruise I went down the bottom of the ship with a large window and the water was lapping just under my nose. It was in June/July so the cabin was only for showers and sleeping. The next 2 we were on the top deck with balcony and it was fantastic, even in October for those trips. You can put the window up if it gets too cool but a balcony (to me) is the way to go.
    They do offer single supplement reduced and sometimes waived, depending on when you go and which cruise. The single cabins with balcony are great as a friend had one on the 2010 cruise. I don't like ocean cruising but river cruising is very addictive and there is so much food and drink tho' I am not a large eater or drinker but with your own butler to bring you iced coffee on the balcony every afternoon it is just wonderful.
    Go for it -I found the Amsterdam to Budapest or vice versa the most scenic cruise and it is the most popular too.

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles