With spring just around the corner, many European river cruise companies — from established lines such as Viking and Uniworld, to upstart players such as Teeming River Cruises — are busy preparing their fleets for the very first cruises of the season.
Although you may equate river cruising with summer and fall, early springtime sailings (from mid-March until late-April) offer some of the region’s best values, along with quite a few memorable experiences. Here are six reasons to take a European river cruise in March or April.
1. Early season prices offer great value, but you’ll either need to book in advance or be spontaneous.
If saving $500 to $1,000 per person outweighs your desire to sit on the top deck of the ship during balmy weather, you may want to consider booking a March or April sailing. Plan a year or more ahead to score some great deals on spring cruises. For example, on Viking’s seven-night Danube Waltz itinerary, you’ll find rates from $2,499 per person — $700 less than summer fares. However, if you don't like to plan too far in advance, perhaps you may be intrigued by some last-minute offers. Act fast to score major savings on Uniworld’s seven-night Holland & Belgium at Tulip Time itinerary, which embarks on March 24, 2019 (from $2,199 per person; you’ll find that this itinerary is $1,000 per person less than than it is for spring 2020). Additionally, Teeming River Cruises still has availability on their Windmills & Tulips in Olde Netherlands itinerary, which embarks on March 28, 2019 (five nights from $699 per person). To find the best deals, browse a variety of cruise websites and compare different rates.
2. Your cruise is less likely to be interrupted or canceled.
Rivers may seem gentle and lazy, but they’re actually quite unpredictable. Water levels tend to be highest in spring, which is (mostly) a positive, as it’s less likely to impact your itinerary. On the other hand, low water levels have been an ongoing issue over the past few years (especially during the peak heat and drought of summer), specifically on the Rhine, Elbe, and Danube rivers. As a result, cruise itineraries are often deterred as soon as a river becomes too shallow to navigate. Fortunately, this is all less likely to happen in the spring. While high water may cause the captain and crew some aggravation, your vessel should be able to dock in most scheduled ports. The only caveat: high water levels mean that the ship ramps may be steep when you dock.
3. It's one of the best times to visit for garden-lovers and floral fanatics.
It's no secret that Europe is home to many legendary gardens. “Tulip time” itineraries through Belgium and The Netherlands are an early spring river cruising staple in Europe — and with good reason. From the Floralia Brussels at Groot-Bijgaarten Castle (early April to early May), to the magnificent tulips at Keukenhof Gardens right outside of Amsterdam (mid-March to mid-May), you’ll be wowed by mosaics of vibrant color that transform the grounds. Additionally, April is a wonderful time for a Seine river cruise. These itineraries almost always call on Vernon, which is where you’ll find the legendary gardens of Giverny (where Claude Monet's estate is located). Here, expect to find delicate irises, sculptural lilies, and other breathtakingly beautiful blooms.
4. Airfare may be several hundred dollars cheaper.
Looking to visit Europe in early spring? Good news: you'll likely score a good deal on airfare. Expect to find discounted flights to major European cities, including Amsterdam, Paris, and Frankfurt. However, before you book, be sure to use an airfare comparison tool (we love Google’s Matrix Airfare Search) to help you find the best deals. You can also search for flights using ShermansTravel's TravelSearch.
5. You’ll encounter fewer crowds.
By mid-May, Europe’s rivers will begin to jam up with ships — and with them come large crowds. If you visit in early spring, though, you’ll notice shorter lines, fewer crowds, and less congestion. Note: The one exception is Easter week (April 15-21, 2019 and April 6-12, 2020), when tourists and locals alike converge in droves.
6. There's beautiful, lush, greenery all around
If you sail aboard an early spring European river cruise, expect to see lots of lush, bright greenery all around you: from the delicate buds of Belgium’s willows, to the terraced hillside vineyards of Portugal’s Douro Valley, to the leafy slopes along the Rhine and Danube. And while all that green is certainly captivating, it’s generally caused by April showers — so be sure to pack an umbrella and a raincoat. When the sun shines, expect a mix of rays and raindrops, which makes for postcard-worthy snapshots of some of Europe’s most enthralling landscapes.