What To Expect On Your River Cruise
If you haven’t had the pleasure of river cruising before, this is a great place to find out some insider tips to help make your journey more successful by knowing just what to expect when you decide to explore an amazing destination by river cruise. Avoid surprises by understanding some of the details that will help make your river cruise more enjoyable. Find out how the dining works, what to do on embarkation day, how port excursions work, and what extras you might find onboard – both included and not included in your river cruise price. Our expert River Cruise Artists are always available to answer any questions you may have before, during and after your river cruise vacation. Explore below to learn more or call River Cruise Your Way today and we will be happy to answer all of your questions.
Explore River Cruising
Click the Plus ‘+’ Sign to Read About Each Section
Before your river cruise, you should expect a high level of service and assistance from the team at River Cruise Your Way. Starting with expert advice, an easy booking process, consistent communication, complimentary customization and best price guarantee – our River Cruise Artists are here to make the pre-vacation journey the very best it can be!
We help you find the perfect river to cruise, the best river cruise operator that meets your expectations, the most exciting itinerary, and the right fit ship – by learning about you, first, and doing all the research to match you with the river cruise you have been dreaming of.
After we get you booked and confirmed, our work is not over. We work with you to ensure you entire vacation is planned and implemented perfectly – from the time you leave for the airport, until your return home safe and sound. We take care of air travel planning, setting up transfers, planning group or custom self-guided pre- and post-cruise extensions, private shore excursions, specialty dining, and more!
Once everything is planned, your River Cruise Artist will remain in contact through the entire process, keeping you informed of all the details you may need to know. We also are available while you are on your journey, to offer assistance in case the unforeseen occurs, or if you decide to change something along the way. We also touch base after your vacation to check in, make sure everything went well, and to help rectify any issues that came up.
Our objective is to offer you, our valued river cruise travelers, the very best in End-to-End Customer Service from the first time you contact us, until after your river cruise vacation is over.
You will typically have to fly, most times internationally, to get to your river cruise destination. Often times, the river cruise will be departing from the city to which you fly into, making for easy airport to river cruise transfers – often provided by the river cruise operator. But sometimes, you will have a longer coach transfer from an arrival city airport to your smaller river port to embark your river cruise. Again, these transfers are often provided as included or for an extra fee by most river cruise operators.
Of course, since most international river cruises are about 7 nights long, you may want to extend your vacation by adding a pre- or post-cruise extension – either offered as a pre-packaged option or fully customized by your River Cruise Artist. In this case, your River Cruise Artist will help you by arranging all the transportation you need to ensure you reach your ship on embarkation day – on time and ready to cruise!
If you are traveling overseas, and don’t like to leave the flying experience to chance, we recommend at least considering one hotel night upon arrival, prior to joining your river cruise, just to allow for any flight delays, cancellations or luggage challenges. By doing this you slow the pace of your arrival experience, allow yourself to recover from a typically long flight, and enjoy one night in destination before your river cruise begins.
Our team of expert and passionate River Cruise Artists are here to help you along the way – with complimentary planning of all your transportation needs to ensure your successful and stress-free journey.
The simplicity of river cruise embarkation is truly one of it’s biggest differences from ocean cruising – and one of the many benefits. When you arrive at your ship, you can typically be dropped off just a few steps from the dock. You will step right on to your river ship into the lobby from the dock, and be welcomed by a highly trained and efficient service-oriented staff at the front desk.
You will show your passports and any travel documents that you have from River Cruise Your Way, and you will be quickly checked-in like a hotel and receive your key or cabin card to access your cabin. If your cabin is not yet ready, staff will show you to the lounge or dining room to relax and enjoy a drink and snack.
Don’t worry about your luggage – on most river cruises your luggage will be kept outside in a secured area – so you don’t have to lug it onboard with you to check-in. Once you have your cabin assigned, your luggage will be brought to your cabin by one of the ship’s crew. This is also a chance for you to ask questions about your cabin to ensure you understand lighting, amenities, etc.
One thing most river cruises do on embarkation day is the life vest drill – where you will don your live vest that is located in your cabin, and get a quick review from staff offering assistance. This is an easy and painless process that usually lasts just a few minutes.
Typical of any cruise, the average cabin is not large like most hotel rooms, but on most river cruise ships the cabin size is quite adequate. River cruise operators have studied cabin size and guest satisfaction and continue to make strides to make their cabins welcoming and comfortable. Of course, larger cabins or suites are available on most cruise ships for an added cost if you really want room to stretch out.
Most cruise ships are just a few levels – typically three. The higher your cabin, the likely the more it will cost. The least expensive cabin options are typically on the lower level with limited windows or port-hole views – but luckily inside cabins with no windows are extremely rare on river ships.
Many cabins on the upper level or levels come with some type of balcony – either a french balcony where you can open up and lean out, or a full balcony with a sitting space. Typically the bedding on a river cruise is one large queen size or king size bed – but many operators will offer the ability to separate the beds into two twins. There are rarely river cruise cabins that accommodate more than two guests.
River cruise cabins, like hotels, come in a range of quality of furnishings and amenities, and this will depend on the price point and the cruise line you select. You can go budget – and enjoy a wonderful simple cabin, or plan to travel in luxury and enjoy the best of appointments. This will depend on your budget and your River Cruise Artist will help you find the right cabin for you.
Most cabins come with a television often with movies available. They all have bathrooms that typically feature a stand-up shower. The bathrooms are small, like most cruise cabins, but roomy enough to be comfortable. Once you select your perfect river cruise, your River Cruise Artist will inform you of all the cabin amenities and what to expect with your selected cabin category.
From breakfast to dinner and in-between, dining on a river cruise vacation is typically a much anticipated, relaxing experience. Many cruise operators have spent much effort to upgrade their dining offerings to give their travelers a truly wonderful experience.
Dining on river cruises is included in your river cruise price. This includes breakfast, lunch & dinner, select snacks, select drinks, and even the occasional off-ship meal that is associated with a shore excursion that prevents you from enjoying a meal onboard.
For breakfast, most cruise operators offer a buffet style breakfast – typically with a menu for those not wanting to explore the buffet. This is usually served early enough to allow time to prepare for your day’s port excursion, and is a window of time, typically over two hours – like from 7-9 am. Many cruises also offer an early-bird continental breakfast option for those early risers looking for coffee and a danish. Often the breakfast buffet will include many traditional American offerings, but also look for some local specialties as well.
Lunches also can be buffet or plated, but there is always a variety. Some operators offer a plated choice and a salad bar to please your palate.
Dinner is a more formal affair on most river cruise ships. Not formal as in tuxedo, but formal as in smart casual, relaxing, take your time, sit down plated multi-course meal. Enjoy a nice selection of appetizers, main courses, sides, and desserts – all with amazing service from your servers. Sometimes themed dinners or special dinner options will be available.
The river cruise chefs will typically tempt your taste buds with amazing selections of dishes using local produce, and often organically sources foods. You will get to experience your destination – not just on excursions, but in some of the dining options onboard that your local chef carefully prepares.
You may be wondering about drinks during your meals. Most cruise lines now offer complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with your lunches and dinners. You can of course order other drinks from the bar at an extra cost. Complimentary water is also typically provided in your cabin, replenished daily. There are also self-serve tea and coffee usually available all the time.
Most river ship dining rooms are open seating, offering a mix of tables from 2 to 8 or even more. This gives you the opportunity for intimate meals or a chance to mix with fellow cruisers to enjoy a meal together.
Your port excursions on a river cruise are typically included in the cruise fare you pay. So when your ship stops in port, you will be able to join an included port excursion that usually includes either a guided walking tour or a coach transfer with a guide to nearby attractions or historical sites.
Sometime, cruise lines will offer a choice in port excursions – and allow you to select from two or even three when you check-in for your cruise. Also, some cruise lines will offer the included excursion and then other excursion options that may cost additional. These are usually specialty excursions that may well be worth the additional cost.
Since river cruise ships have only usually up to 160 or 180 passengers, the excursion process is not very challenging. There will typically be a number of coaches and guides waiting at the dock area when the ship arrives and you will join your assigned guide or coach for your tour.
Of course, not all ports require a guide to explore. You are perfectly free to do your own thing – and port excursion Your Way! Your River Cruise Artist here at River Cruise Your Way can help be your guide and help you navigate the port time the way you want to, without the group. We can arrange private guided tours, specialty tours, independent walking tours, attraction tickets, and more! Just let us know what you want to do in each port, and we will happily customize your experience.
Sailing the rivers of the world on a fabulous vacation is a wonderful experience itself. The waters are usually very calm so there is little to no feeling of movement while you cruise. This is a perfect opportunity for you to see the destination you are sailing through – view castles, quaint villages, natural beauty, and local people going about their daily routines. Sometimes the cruising part of your trip can be just as rewarding as the time in ports.
On many of the world’s rivers that are currently available to cruise on vacation, you will find yourself going through a lock system. This is a fascinating experience as your ship enters typically a relatively small confined space, stops, and then your ship will either raise or lower, depending on the direction of travel. Sometimes, these locks can change the elevation of a ship more than 100 feet!
Another aspect of your cruising experience to look for – occasionally, particularly on European rivers, the bridges your ship sails under will be too low for the ship in its normal configuration. If this happens, sometimes due to lots of rain and high-water levels, your ship’s crew will ask everyone to exit the top roof terrace deck, and the captain’s wheel house will lower into the ship making for a fully flat top. Sometimes it looks like your ship will hit the bridge, but be confident that your experienced and professional crew know what they are doing.
Tipping on your river cruise is often a enigma that needs some research prior to departure. Although there are today a few river cruise lines that include gratuities with the cruise fare, most offer an ‘expected’ tipping amount prior to disembarkation. The typical amount would be from $10-12 per person/per day, but can fluctuate. Also, keep in mind this is a recommended tipping amount and you can always tip more (or less) if you feel it is warranted.
Most cruise lines offer a ‘gratuity envelope’ the day before disembarkation for a cash tip that will be given to the ship’s captain for company approved dispersal between all crew members. Some cruise lines offer the ability to add the cruise gratuities to your bill and pay with your credit card as well – which is a convenience for those that want to carry less cash.
Keep in mind you can always tip any crew member at any time that offers above and beyond service to you – your cabin attendant, your meal server, your bar tender, and so on. But please be discreet when doing so.
One thing to consider when deciding on your gratuity is that the crew members offer exceptional service, work all day and all night, and are away from their family for months at a time in order to make your vacation dreams come true. So please be generous and show your appreciation to them all through your tipping at the end of your river cruise.
River cruise ships are smaller than the big ocean liners, so they don’t have some of the wild amenities those ships have. But don’t fear, you will enjoy the onboard amenities and activities river cruises have to offer. With port times in fabulous and iconic port destinations taking up much of your days and sometimes evenings, your time onboard will be spent in your cabin, on the top deck, or in the main common areas of the ship.
Your cabin is typically a comfortable size, sometimes a fair bit larger than the big ships cabin sizes. You will have typically a TV, room to plug in your own electronics, a nicely appointed bathroom, and usually large windows and/or a balcony for private viewing of the scenery as you cruise along the rivers. Sometimes you can order room service for some intimate in-room dining.
The top deck of many river cruise ships is a place where, during good weather, you can go to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and get some fresh air. The top deck is a great place for activities which vary by river cruise line or ship – but may include hot tub, swimming, human-sized chess, exercise areas, lounge chairs to enjoy the sun, and more! Just be aware, sometimes you will go under low bridges and the crew will let you know to temporarily go below deck until past the bridge.
The main common areas of most river cruise ships include the restaurant, the lounge and typically a reading room, library, game room area or sitting area. The restaurant typically accommodates the entire ship in one seating and is a great place to get to know your fellow cruisers and to plan your port time. The lounge is the best place to congregate after a day of spectacular touring, to talk about what you saw and learned, meet other cruisers, mingle, enjoy some wine or cocktails, and listen to live music. There are often games onboard during sailing times and the lounge is typically the epicenter of the activity! Most ships will also have a additional gathering area – library, sitting room, or other – where you can go to get out of your cabin and enjoy some quiet activities.
More and more newer river cruise ships are focusing on the onboard experience and are improving all the time with new options like hair salons, massage rooms, game rooms and alternative dining locations. Explore some of the ships on the river you want to cruise to see all the onboard activities available.
Most river cruise lines offer superb onboard service with staff carefully and thoughtfully trained to appropriately deal with any guest issue that may arise. Onboard service is a key to successful river cruise vacations, and your River Cruise Artist can help you to identify those river cruise lines that are known to offer exceptional customer service, like we do here at River Cruise Your Way.
Onboard services likely include an onboard concierge to help you in planning some of the details of your time with the cruise line. They can make sure you have the correct cabin, are set up for the best excursions, and know where to go if you decide to explore a port on your own.
The restaurant staff also offers exceptional service on most river cruise lines taking into consideration guests dietary needs as they cater to your every savory desire throughout your river cruise. Just let your restaurant staff know what you like, don’t like, or can’t eat when you embark.
There are also sometimes other services onboard such as activities directors, massage therapists, hair dressers, and more! Once you board, take the time to meet your crew and learn about the ship and the services they provide. The river cruise industry is competitive and appreciates the level of service many desires when they travel.
While there are very few river cruise lines that make much noise about specific dress codes, there are some guidelines and norms that travelers should be aware of before you start packing for your river cruise vacation.
For most river cruises comfort is key! Although, by focusing your vacation wardrobe on comfort, keep in mind you are traveling with other guests on a small river ship so you will want to look your best, while still being comfortable. Casual vacation wear for the days – especially when touring in different ports – is advisable. Wear comfortable shoes, and depending on location, layer some in order to deal well with temperature differences from cool mornings to warm afternoons.
Evening wear onboard is typically also casual, but usually turned up a notch. This is where you get to don your best wearables and enjoy a nice dinner with your new friends onboard. Most dinner venues on river ships are not formal, but some cruise lines do offer basic requirements like collared shirts for men; long pants are sometimes required over shorts. But just keep in mind that your dinners are a very nice affair onboard, and you should dress for the occasion!
Another good point about dress codes to remember when river cruising is that very often there are religious sites that will be visited while on tour in different ports that require certain dress from men and women. These requirements often include no shorts or short skirts above the knee, no hats for men, no bare shoulders, no open toe shoes, etc. So please be aware of these culturally important dress codes for your river cruise vacation – your River Cruise Artist will let you know of any specific dress requirements on your itinerary.
Prior to embarking on your first or next river cruise vacation, it is a good idea to learn about the local currencies used in the countries you will be visiting. By knowing this, and by planning ahead, you can make sure you have the cash currency needed while on tour. It is a good idea to purchase some local currency prior to departing for your flight – so that you have some cash on hand when you arrive for incidental expenses and gratuities.
While you are onboard your river cruise, you will typically be placing a credit or debit card on file with the front desk upon embarkation, and will be able to charge to that card throughout your time on the ship. This can include the lounge, restaurant for drinks that are not included, room service charges if applicable, and perhaps shopping at the ships store that will typically include some travel essentials, snacks, and local artisan souvenirs.
You may also settle your river cruise tab with cash before you depart if you would like. They will typically accept United States Dollars, European Euros, as well as local currency of the country you are disembarking in.
One tip to remember – gratuities are appreciated and expected with great service. The best way to show your appreciation for your transfer drivers, tour guides, tour bus drivers, and other service industry workers that make your trip more pleasant and successful – is to tip generously. It is best to tip in local currency, so make sure to get change when you are able to and always keep smaller bills for tips as you expect to use them. So often travelers find they use up small bills in local currency and are unable to offer the gratuity they wish to someone that has shown them amazing service.
Additionally, be sure to keep your cash currency in a safe and secure spot on your person or in the safe in your river cruise cabin. There are always those out there that will take advantage of travelers, so take away their opportunity by being careful with not only your cash, but your credit cards as well.
Travelers can select the perfect river cruise itinerary on the perfect river on the best ship, but there is one thing none of us can select – perfect weather for our river cruise vacation! Although bad weather on a vacation is not an optimal situation, if you are prepared, it doesn’t have to ruin your trip completely, either.
Be sure to pack appropriately for potential weather. If you are traveling when temperatures are not standard summer warm, be sure to pack layers so that you can go out on an early morning port excursion when temperatures are lower, and take off jackets and sweaters when the temps rise in the afternoon. The opposite goes for afternoon time, be sure to carry a jacket or sweater with you as night temps may be lower.
Rain gear is a must for pretty much any river cruise – as it is always a potential weather spoiler. Be sure to pack light weight umbrellas, rain jackets or ponchos – or a combination of the three – that you feel comfortable with to be on tour when it is raining. Be sure your shoes that you pack are also good for non-slip walking in the rain. You don’t want to have your nice open toe shoes and find yourself walking through an ancient monument area on dirt or gravel paths.
But rest assured, when you are back on your river cruise ship, the weather can be a disappointment with sight seeing, but you will be fully entertained while on board your ship. Make the best of it – enjoy the fresh smell of a rainy day, the unique appearance of the countryside as you sail through the rain, and the knowledge that rain is life. The key is to be prepared so the weather doesn’t catch you off guard. But we of course hope that your river cruise vacation will be replete with perfect weather!
Not all river cruise ships are made the same when it comes to accessibility. While most modern vessels sailing the popular rivers of the world by the top river cruise operators, offer accessible ships, cabins and tours, there may be instances where this is not the case. If you are looking for accessible travel options it is best to inform your River Cruise Artist right away so that they can do all the research for you to ensure a seamless and accessible river cruise vacation experience.
Most modern river cruise vessels come with an elevator to easily get from one deck to the other; accessible staterooms or cabins just like accessible hotel rooms; tours that are designed for those with mobility challenges, and a staff dedicated to serving your needs and helping you navigate any accessibility obstacles that may arise.
There are some river cruises on more exotic rivers around the globe that may not be fully suited for mobility challenged travelers. Again, your River Cruise Artist will guide you through the process and help to identify your very best options and arrange any assistance you may need on the river cruise you wish to take.
Smoking is not allowed on most river cruise ships except in very specific and limited locations. River ships are relatively small and this rule is in place to protect the comfort and safety of guests on board. Take a moment to learn the smoking locations and obey the restrictions on board.
Typically, smoking is not allowed in any cabins nor on any balconies. There are sometimes smoking locations outside on the top or near the top deck so that as the ship sails the river, the wind blows the smoke away from the vessel.
When that unfortunate time comes to disembark from your amazing river cruise vacation, there are a few things to know that will help you make the adjustment back to land a little easier.
The evening before your river cruise is set to dock for the final time, your crew will give you instructions on their specific process for disembarkation. Usually you will pack your suitcase the night before and leave it outside your cabin door so that the crew can remove all your luggage as soon as the ship docks in the morning.
Be sure to settle your cruise incidentals bill with the front desk prior to disembarking. This could be any additional charges like drinks in the lounge, extra tour options you selected, or perhaps hair or massage services. You will have left a credit card for incidentals on file when you embarked your cruise, and you can settle to that card or to a different card or cash as long as you notify the front desk.
On the morning of disembarkation, make sure you have transfers pre-planned giving you plenty of time to get to the airport for your departure flight or on to the next part of your vacation experience. Your River Cruise Artist will be happy to help you customize your itinerary with transfers designed to maximize your time onboard the ship, and allowing you plenty of time to arrive rested to the airport for your flight.
The average river cruise is a 7-day and 7-night vacation, or part of a vacation. But often traveling to and from the embarkation and disembarkation points of your river cruise involves expensive and long flights. Many travelers prefer to extend their vacations beyond the river cruise to include city stays, self-drive touring, escorted touring or private guided trip segments.
Your River Cruise Artist is happy to offer complimentary pre- and post-river cruise travel planning to help you maximize your travel investment and see some amazing sites beyond the rivers you sail. Your River Cruise expert can create for you the perfect extension to your river cruise including seamless transfers and travel plans leaving nothing to be concerned about.
Ask your River Cruise Artist about some amazing extension options for your specific river cruise itinerary and be ready to expand your imagination with some expert travel planning.