River cruises, especially Europe river cruises, continue to build in popularity. Every Europe river cruise line wants to attract younger clientele while still catering to their tried and true seniors. But not everyone, even experienced travelers, know what to expect and how to prepare for a Europe river cruise.
Most river cruise passengers have already taken an ocean cruise and they are ready to move inland. Knowing how to prepare for a Europe river cruise vs. a Caribbean cruise are completely different procedures.
Here are my six tips for a Europe river cruise vacation.
Not just for the airline requirements but for convenience. Without the traditional cruise ship formal nights, men need only a collared shirt and sport coat. Women can leave their long dresses and high heels at home. Attire is country club casual even at dinner. While complimentary laundry service is included with many suite-level accommodations, almost no river ships have a self-service launderette. Some don’t even do guests’ laundry. Be sure to find out before you go.
Know your limitations
Cobblestone streets, walkways and stairs can be a bit tricky to navigate if you are unsteady on your feet. Europe doesn’t subscribe to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are out of shape or have a heart condition, you might want to reconsider that 200-step climb to the top of the castle. Pace yourself accordingly. Some of the river boats do not have elevators, so make sure the boat you choose has one if you need one. Alternatively, many river cruises lines, including AMAWaterways, Avalon and Viking River offer an easy-paced walking tour option.
Wine and dine onboard
Unlike cruise ships, all meals on river ships are “open seating.” Stroll into the dining room (7am-9am) for a leisurely buffet breakfast with a few à la carte choices. Lunch is fairly relaxed, too, as it is mainly buffet-style dining. Dinner however, doesn’t operate the same. To facilitate good service and freshly prepared entrees, you are expected to arrive fairly close to when the dining room opens. Dinner times can vary based on the timing of the shore excursions, so check your daily planner. Generally, it’s 7pm.
On some river cruise lines, the complimentary wine with dinner tends to abruptly stop when your entrée plate is removed. If you like to sip wine after dinner be sure to flag down your waiter for a refill before your place is cleared. A few cruise lines have become more generous with their pours and if you like wine, you’ll get the hang of this after the first night. I keep reminding myself that wine is from grapes so I’m getting my daily fruit requirement, in liquid form.
When in “Rome”
Nothing garners a warm welcome quicker than saying hello in the local language. Learn to say “hello,” “thank you” and “excuse me” in as many of the countries’ languages as possible. Write it on a cheat sheet and put it in your pocket. Chances are that the local shopkeeper, upon hearing your broken German or Romanian will immediately speak to you in English. But you’ve made the effort and it won’t go unrewarded.
Cash is king
Make a list of the countries you will visit and find a local bank at home that sells the currency. Mainly, you’ll need Euros. But if you can get any of the other currencies (and there are quite a few on the lower Danube river ) you can avoid the high commission exchange fees. Of course, the ship’s front desk will also exchange currency, but there are some limitations. Tipping at the end of your cruise is expected to be in Euros. Some cruise lines now allow you to put the end-of-cruise gratuities on your credit card. It’ll still be in Euros.
Blend in and be prepared
If you travel on the rivers in the spring or fall, there will certainly be a variance in temperatures and precipitation. Bring that nerdy plastic poncho and a folding umbrella. Avoid taking your backpack when on a shore excursion. Why? Nothing says “American Tourist” more than an Eddie Bauer backpack. Of course you can easily be spotted as a tourist when you’re on a group excursion. But if you must carry belongings on your day tour, a tote bag is much more European. Also, when taking a motor coach tour, the bus is locked so you can leave that extra sweater or shopping bag on your seat. If you forget your tiny umbrella, your ship will have plenty on hand to lend.
Here you have it, six easy ways to make the most of your European river cruise. Bon Voyage!