Undoubtedly, cruisers used to bargain-basement fares on mass-market mega-ship cruises to Mexico or the Caribbean might experience some initial sticker shock when first considering a European river cruise vacation. Granted, sailing the storied waterways of the European heartland – from Lorelei’s Rhine to Strauss’s Blue Danube – does indeed require a bit more of an upfront investment (7-night sailings average high-season rates of around $3,000), but when breaking down the rates in more detail, these intimate trips (rarely carrying more than 200 guests) actually deliver some terrifically comprehensive value.
Most European river cruise lines offer a nearly all-inclusive vacation, meaning that along with cruising’s standard inclusions of room and full board, transportation from place to place, and onboard entertainment and lectures (though expect considerably less bells and whistles in this department than you’d find on the big ships), you’ll typically also get guided shore excursions, ground transfers, select beverages (including wine and beer), onboard Wi-Fi, and sometimes, even gratuities bundled into the rates. And anyone who’s been on an ocean-going vessel knows that those shore excursions and frothy cocktails can really add up fast.
Read on for five great tips for saving money on a European river cruise vacation, followed up by some exceptional cruise deals that are just ripe for the pickin’.
5 Money-Saving Tips for Booking a European River Cruise
1. Book early or late. Cruise lines regularly offer early-bird booking discounts, or, if you’re up for trying your luck on last-minute inventory, late bookings can also reap hot deals.
2. Travel during low season. Early spring and late fall are the best bets for European river cruise bargains. Though you may have cooler temps, you’ll have fewer crowds to contend with – and more money to blow – in port.
3. Consider the cost of airfare. One obvious extra cost for a cruise in Europe is the cost of airfare to get there. Remember that airfare to Europe can be sky-high in summer – another reason to consider an early spring or late fall sailing. Also consider sailings that embark/disembark from ports that have access to major airports, with more economical flight choices from your home city.
4. Know what’s included in the rates. When considering your cruise line options, be sure to know what “extras” are thrown in. If you enjoy drinking wine, riding bicycles, or surfing the ‘net, for instance, make sure that you won’t have to pay out of pocket for those indulgences – effectively spiking the overall cost of your trip.
5. Skip the cabin upgrade. European river cruises are so port-intensive, that you very likely won’t use your cabin for much more than sleep. And if you do want to enjoy the passing vistas while en route, the expansive ship decks offer the best views anyhow.
Upcoming European River Cruises
3-Night “Taste of the Danube” on Avalon Waterways
Ports of Call: Sail the Danube to Austria (Vienna, Melk, Dürnstein), Slovakia (Bratislava), and Hungary (Budapest).
Sailing Dates: April 28, 2013; July 29, 2013; October 7, 2013
What’s Included: Most guided shore excursions; select beverages (including wine and beer with dinner); Wi-Fi
7-Night “Christmas Time” Cruise on AmaWaterways
Ports of Call: Sail the Danube to Germany (Nuremberg, Hilpoltstein, Regensburg, Passau), Austria (Linz, Melk, Vienna), and Hungary (Budapest).
Sailing Dates: November 17, 2012; December 24, 2012
What’s Included: Guided shore excursions; select beverages (including wine with dinner); Wi-Fi; bicycle usage
7-Night “Rhine Getaway” on Viking River Cruises
Ports of Call: Sail the Rhine to Holland (Amsterdam, Kinderdijk), Germany (Cologne, Koblenz, Rüdesheim, Heidelberg, Speyer, Breisach), France (Strasbourg), and Switzerland (Basel).
Sailing Dates: Numerous 2013 dates – March 31, April 7, April 21, June 2, June 9, June 16, June 23, June 30
What’s Included: Guided shore excursions; select beverages (including beer and wine with lunch and dinner); Wi-Fi
7-Night “Tulip Time” Sailing on Scenic Cruises
Ports of Call: Sail Rhine tributaries to Holland (Amsterdam, Arnhem, Dordrecht, Middelburg, Rotterdam, Volendam, Edam) and Belgium (Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges).
Sailing Dates: April 15, 2013
What’s Included: Guided shore excursions; select beverages (including beer and wine with lunch and dinner); Wi-Fi; bicycle usage; gratuities; ground transfers