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Are River Cruises Worth It

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New Modern Ships And A Relaxed Vibe Make These American Vacations More Popular Than Ever

River Cruising Wasn’t What I Expected. Heres Why

by Christina Ianzito, AARP, February 3, 2020

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Indeed, most passengers I meet on my October cruise are 70 or older. On American river cruises, more than on European ones, it’s hard to find people under 60, notes Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of cruise-review site Cruise Critic. These cruises, she adds, draw people who can no longer or don’t want to travel overseas. For one thing, the ships are easy to navigate even if you use a wheelchair or have other mobility issues .

They also entice vacationers who aren’t interested in mega cruise ships on the ocean. The river journeys feel much less crowded many U.S. riverboats accommodate only 200 or fewer passengers. And, like all cruise ships, river vessels are essentially mobile hotels, which makes for a very easy getaway. You unpack and you’re there, says Jane Hollar, 72, a waitress from Indianapolis who’s on my Columbia River cruise, her fourth U.S. trip with ACL. That’s it until you go home.

Plus, of course, the main reason river cruises attract older customers is that such travelers tend to possess two key things they might not have had at an earlier stage of life: money and time.

On my cruise, Sandy Skwirut Hart, 71, from Frankfort, Illinois, tells me that she’s on her third river journey and that she and her husband of one year, Jim Hart, 76, see them as deserved splurges. We call these SKI trips spend the kids inheritance, she jokes.

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With additional reporting by Andrea Barbalich

A Typical Rhine Getaway Cruise Itinerary On Viking River Cruise

Heres what a typical daily itinerary with Viking River Cruises for the Rhine Getaway looks like:

Day 1

Go here for a complete itinerary and day-by-day listings of my Viking River Cruise.

I bet Norways Vikings didnt have as much fun as we had on our Viking Longship!

At first, Viking Cruises invited me to go on the:

Passage to Eastern Europe

Waterways of the Tsars

Both sounded incredible and I spent a few days looking at their website and at my calendar. But unfortunately for me, the dates just didnt work, as my October and November were full of trips to Savannah, St Simons Island Beach, St Augustine, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

But my month of December was wide open, other than a Christmas/New Years trip to Telluride, Colorado with the family. I countered their email with something I had always wanted to do and that was The Christmas Markets on the Rhine River! After taking this Viking River Cruise, I can tell you, it was perfect for me and I think you will enjoy it too!

Suggested reading before taking a Viking Cruise:

SOUTHERN FRANCE VIKING RIVER CRUISES:

Disclosure: As you know, Viking Cruises invited me on this trip, but the amazing time I had at the Christmas Markets and on their ship was complete of my own doing! There may be affiliate links in this post.

Whats The Cheapest Room On A River Cruise

On a river cruise, though, the least expensive cabin can be really tight170 square feet or lesswith small windows that dont open. Its usually worth the several hundred dollars more to get a French balcony. The aforementioned Avalon Panorama Suite cabins cost about $100 more per person per day than the ships lowest-category rooms.

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Viking River Cruise Provides Awesome Service

One night, I had so much work to do on my laptop, that I decided to skip dinner. Did they notice? Well, yes, of course, they did! Soon I had a phone call from them wanting to know if I would like dinner in my room!?! Now I know this doesnt happen every night, but they sure do try to take care of you! And I can tell you from talking to other cruisers who have been on other Viking River Cruises, all of the staff eventually figure out who you are and take good care of each of their guests. They do notice if you are not at dinner!

They even encourage you to bring local wines onboard and they will uncork and serve with no corkage fees. I also heard an incident of someone that was sick and they also got room service. Im just saying that they try to keep tabs on you and try to make sure you are happy on board their ship. However, I did want to mention that there is NO official room service.

One last mention about the room, the maids were also very attentive and left more than enough towels, bath products, and extra water bottles in my room whenever I needed it, so you feel like the supply is never-ending instead of skimping . I love this as a smart luxury traveler. They frequently left fruit and other goodies in my room for snacking.

What are Viking River Cruises like?

What are Viking River Cruises like? Germany

Best And Worst River Cruise Lines

Win A Loire River Cruise, Worth £6,000

Our river cruise ratings reveal a gulf in quality between the best and worst companies, so if you’re thinking of booking a river cruise for later in 2021 or beyond, it’s essential you do your research.

Offering a smaller, more intimate proposition than best and worst cruise lines, its important to know which river ships have cramped decks and which give you space to enjoy the view. And its vital that you choose the river cruise company offering the best value for money, with no hidden costs.

To help you find the best river cruise line for your budget we ask hundreds of customers about their booking and on-board experiences in our annual survey. That way, we can be sure that Which? Recommended Providers are the very best river cruise lines on water.

Our survey doesnt just uncover the companies offering great cuisine, varied facilities and good value for money. It also highlights the brands with lacklustre cabins, unimaginative excursions and overpriced packages. Based on real experiences we can reveal what customers really think of each river cruise brand.

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Reason #: Long Days In Port

One reason why I believe that guests dont get bored on river cruises is that river cruise ships are usually docked for longer than ocean cruise ships. On most rivers, you can expect a full day in port almost every day. Of course, there are some exceptions to this but the majority of the time the days in port are long.

Before Shopping For A River Cruise Consider Creating A Checklist

“Price is clearly a part of it, but within that price are a lot of things that can add value,” observes Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways. “I would look at the age of the ship, the size of the cabin. A lot of prices starting at the lowest category look very similar, but on a newer ship you may be getting 35 percent more space in your cabin.”

Other questions to tick off: Are there nice bathroom amenities? What is storage like? Can you fit luggage under your bed? What are the optional tours, and how much do they cost?

“If you don’t have a list of things to ask about,” Clark adds, “you may get a similar price at two operators, but one of them may be giving you a lot more in terms of value.”

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Asia River Cruise Prices

The biggest difference in river cruising in places like China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar is that the trip also includes a land component that’s often longer than the cruise itself. For instance, a typical three- or four-night Yangtze cruise is generally wrapped in a tour that lasts 10 or more nights. There are additional costs associated with Asian travel that the passenger should consider, as well. Unlike in Europe, visas are required for entry to places like Southeast Asia and China. Visa services generally range from $60 per person up to several hundred dollars, but tend to be easier to acquire now that many countries are issuing electronic visas.

Depending on where you reside, airfare to Asia may also be more expensive, though for those residing on the west coast of North America, fares to Asia may actually be more affordable than European airfare.

However, there are “value” seasons associated with the weather and, consequently, limited demand periods. The most affordable time to cruise the rivers of Asia is between June and August. Yangtze and Mekong river cruise tours can be had for as low as $300 per person, per night, during the low season, climbing to $350 during peak travel times. Trips on the Irrawaddy in Myanmar runs about 20 percent more.

Excursions Available On Viking River Cruises

The One Prague River Cruise Worth Doing

Viking River Cruises is the closest thing to an all-inclusive cruise you will ever get! Every night in the lounge and right before dinner, the ships Program Director will go over the next days options and let you know what is included and what is extra. Honestly, there is enough included that could keep you plenty busy, but they even offer different optional excursions for an additional charge . The excursions primarily were done by local guides in each port who had excellent knowledge of the area. They also understand how Viking River Cruises works, so they kept us on schedule.

On your arrival day in your room, you will have a plugged-in hearing device base with brand new earbuds where you will be connected to the group and the guide. As a side note: I only got lost once, but that was because I wasnt paying much attention to the group because I was photographing something and I missed the turn. I could still hear the guide talking for over 30 minutes, but never could figure out where they were, so I just headed back towards where they dropped us off, so dont be like me and be a wanderer. I think I am the only one who has ever mentioned getting lost on a Viking River Cruise, so I think this is quite unusual. But I am a road warrior and tend to wander, so it wasnt their fault at all.

What are Viking River Cruises like? Germany

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A Nile Cruise Really Is The Best Bang For Your Buck

As I mentioned above there were a million Nile cruises to choose from.The one we went on wasnt the fanciest Nile cruise on the market, but it was definitely one of the nicer ones and much more upscale than a basic felucca . We did a 5 day, 4-night cruise from Luxor to Aswan on a nice ship with all meals included . The main reason we picked this tour was good reviews, the timing worked, and our package included a private guide. One professional Egyptologist just for my brother and I. Which sounded a bit crazy but also awesome because we are both ancient Egypt nerds.

Sounds pretty swank, doesnt it? Especially for someone trying to see Egypt on a budget. But guess what? We paid $395CAD*, taxes included , each for the whole package. Thats $79CAD per day for accommodation, transportation, 3 meals, tour entry, and a private guided tour of 2-4 sites each day. If thats not a deal, then I dont know what is. Especially because, in the end, our Nile river cruise actually ended up being cheaper than doing it all on our own. Not to mention it was a much more enjoyable experience.

*We did end up adding on a couple of extra sites, such as Abu Simbel, the light show at Karnak Temple, and the Nubian Village which bumped the prices up a couple hundred each. Totally worth it though!

Tour The Bridge And The Galley

Courtesy of Viking Cruises

If youre on an ocean cruise, you can actually take a tour of the bridge and galley, but youll need to act quickly in order to get a spot.

At least once during your sailing, the ship will offer behind-the-scenes tours of the bridge, where the captain and crew manage the direction and speed of the ship, and the galley, the kitchen, a Viking representative says.

These are limited capacity and can only be booked once onboard, so talk to the guest services team once you arrive and watch your Viking Daily newsletter to make sure you can secure your spot.

That might not interest every traveler, but if youre interested in the inner workings of a major cruise vessel, its well worth the time.

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River Cruising Has Many Inclusions

If you compare river and ocean prices, you may wonder why river cruises appear to cost more. True, river ships with fewer than 200 passengers cant compete with the savings of 5000-passenger mega-ships, though they do offer a more intimate and personal experience. You also pay a single up-front cost and could do an entire river cruise without spending an additional penny. On ocean cruises, youre nearly always charged for shore excursions, table wines and wi-fi. These are included in river cruises and some companies such as APT in Europe also offer airport transfers, room service and open bars.

Whats Included In The Price Of A River Cruise

Is River Cruising Worth It? Part 1

Lets take a standard 7 night river cruise as an example – with a leading river cruise operator such as Emerald Waterways, Avalon Waterways or AmaWaterways.

Within the up-front price of the river cruise the following will be included

7 nights luxurious accommodation with excellent amenities such as bathrobes, hotel style bathroom amenities, daily bottled water, flat screen television, daily housekeeping and more! The lowest fare stateroom may be that with only a window but check with one of our cruise experts because it depends on the ship some ships have nothing less than a floor-to-ceiling window!

All meals onboard- Every river cruise will include breakfast, lunch and dinner daily!- Dining on board is superb and restaurant staff are brilliant

Complimentary drinks – usually with lunch & dinner- Most river cruise operators offer complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner- PLUS unlimited speciality coffees and tea 24 hours a day – There are some more inclusive river cruise operators who offer drinks at all times – and there are a couple of who do not include any drinks.

Shore excursions- At almost each and every port of call a complimentary shore excursion will be arranged & run by an expert/local English speaking guide- Many excursions include visits to UNESCO world heritage sites- To maximise your experience most river cruise operators also provide an audio headset which enables you to listen to your guide very easily!

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Can You Stay Entertained

Short answer: Yes. Todays cruise ships have no shortage of onboard entertainment, from comedy acts, piano bars, cooking demos, and trivia games by the pool, to figure skating, lectures, late-night movies, Cirque du Soleil performances, concerts, and even Broadway at Sea productions. A lot of these are included in the cost of your ticket, but somelike fitness classes, spa treatments, wine tastings, IMAX movies, laser tag, escape rooms , and gamblingwill cost you extra.

Whats included aside, the question isnt if youll be entertained, but how. Designed to accommodate all passengers, cruise entertainment is far from a local experience, so if youve paid all that money to see cool destinations, youll want to deboard and get the real thing. That said, entertainment is subjective, so choose activities youll actually enjoy doing, onboard or not.

INSIDER TIPLook over the list of included entertainment and activities prior to booking your cruise. If everything you like doing costs more, consider that when evaluating the cost of your trip.

Day : Rhine River Castles & Koblenz Germany

We spent our morning above deck watching the gorgeous small German towns and castles along both sides of the Rhine River. Our Viking program director gave a guided audio tour along the way, pointing out castles left and right.

Many of them are situated high above local towns and we saw lots of German camper vans parked at the base.

I recommend bringing a pair of binocularsfor this part, as some of the castles can be set a bit farther away and the detail through a zoom is incredible.

We explored Marksburg Castle and wandered a bit on our own after. This was another ruined fortress high above the river.

Interesting history, but definitely wear good shoes! The entire castle is unpaved, rocky and entirely uneven.

Note a couple others from the cruise did the optional dinner excursion on this day and raved about it.

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Compare River Cruising With A Mainstream Ocean Cruise

May I add – I am a massive fan of ocean cruising, I think they are a fantastic holiday but by comparing both river cruising and ocean cruising it shows the incredible value you receive in the price of a river cruise!

What’s included in the price of an Ocean Cruise?

First of all lets have a look at whats included in the initial price of a standard 7 night ocean cruise with a leading cruise line such as P& O Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line or Princess Cruises.

7 nights accommodation

All meals onboard which by the way are delightful & served by top class waiters!

All onboard entertainment the shows are awesome!

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

10 Reasons Everybody Should Viking River Cruises – Review

This global operator of 19 ships sails rivers across Europe, plus waterways in Cambodia, Egypt, India, Peru, and Vietnam. Among the newest in the fleet are the Bon Voyage, based in France, and the La Venezia, recently relaunched in Italy. And while readers certainly raved about the line’s ships, they saved their highest praise for the ask-and-you-shall-receive mentality of the Uniworld crews. “My experience exceeded all expectations,” said one traveler, who toured Europe on the Antoinette. “Staff consistently went above and beyond to ensure a pampered vacation. When one of our party asked if there was a guitar on board so we could sing in the parlor one evening, a staffer said he would arrange it and proceeded to purchase a guitar at our stop the next day!” Other respondents made note of Uniworld’s overall attention to detail, with excursions, meals, entertainment, and logistics expertly handled in just the right way. “It was among our most favorite vacations ever everything was perfect,” said one voter, who traveled on the Beatrice. “The best experience I have ever had on any ship,” said another. A third reader summed it up like this: “This was my first experience with Uniworld, and I cried when I had to leave. Everything wowed me.”

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