The *Coronavirus has many clients calling to request a smaller ship experience in Europe and naturally points to river cruising as a good option for travel. Because there are numerous choices in river cruise lines the following information about each may guide you in the direction that interests you in terms of pricing, accommodations, and amenities. How much you are willing to budget for your river cruise? I can give some general guidelines for you to help guide you, remember that pricing is a moving target according to demand and worldly circumstances.
When do you want to cruise? Do you want to see tulips in bloom? Christmas Markets? Grape harvest? Fall foliage? Avoid the crowds? Avoid the heat?
The main river-cruising season begins in March and continues through the end of December, beginning with “tulip time” cruises in the Benelux countries and ending with “Christmas market” cruises in Hungary, Austria, and Germany.
The summer months are decidedly high season in Europe and along with the bright and sunny days you will find longer lines and crowded attractions. Yes, the shoulder months during the “off-season”—October, November, December, and mid-to-late March—are cooler, and yes, you’ll probably need an umbrella, but I find Europe in the fall and spring to be a wonderful, relaxing place. If you are heading to Europe in the spring, you will enjoy longer days than in fall and late March-early-April is a wonderful time to tiptoe through the tulips in Holland.
The months of September and October can still be plenty warm in Europe, the fall foliage is stunning, and there is a lot of festivity in the air: farmer’s markets and wine festivals crop up in September and October. (There are also several wine-themed cruises in November, when vintners are unwinding from a busy harvest and ready to kick back enjoy the fruits of their labor with you.) After that much of Europe switch into festive Holiday mode as the Christmas Markets get set up across much of France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and other countries.
If you can budget more than $400 a day, then you will want to consider Crystal, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld. All are the most inclusive among the river cruise companies, including the all-important (to some) prepaid gratuities. You should be prepared to spend between $400 and $600 per day. As an example, Scenic’s 12-day Bordeaux sailings from May through September this year were starting at US$6,230 per person, double, and include free or reduced airfare. That’s $519 per person per day. But keep in mind that air is included or reduced. Some of these ships also include free laundry services in the higher end suites and multiple dining venues. Scenic, in particular offers all services for all guests, regardless of ship or suite. Tauck has always been one of the top choices for luxury and service as well.
More affordable luxury
If you would like to stay under $400 a day, AmaWaterways, Avalon, and Viking deserve a look. None of these lines offer 24/7 alcohol or prepaid gratuities (except as add-on packages or for some suite guests), but all are exceptionally good choices that rank high in pleasing their guests. As an example of affordability, one of the higher per diems on AmaWaterways was for its Duoro River cruises. Its eight-day Enticing Douro river cruises started at $3,099. That comes to around $387 per person, per day. Beer, wine, and soft drinks are included with lunch and dinner, sparkling wine with breakfast on these lines. AmaWaterways introduced complimentary cocktails during Happy Hour in 2018. Viking offers an optional “Silver Spirit beverage package” for an additional fee that makes drinks all-inclusive. All these lines also include airport transfers when flights are purchased as part of their package. Many times, Viking runs a reduced air fare and sometimes even a free air package with your purchase. They are famous for this offering and many of the other lines are following suit. Usually an excursion is offered complimentary at each port. They also offer optional additional choices of excursions for a fee. Occasionally, these lines offer specials that include pre-paid gratuities and shipboard credits.
For additional shipboard credits and special offers, I would highly recommend contacting your local travel agency, Classy Destinations, which has dedicated certified specialists ready to help you with these cruise lines. They do not charge a fee for booking and always know how to save you money.
Hopefully, this will help you come closer to finding the perfect destination on a ship that suits your style. And once you are on your way, keep your fingers crossed for plenty of (but not too much) water beneath the bow and the airlines playing their part in getting you and your luggage to your cruises on time (hint: Always arrive a day early for that very reason).
*Most River Cruises are cancelled through August and resuming in September of 2020.
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