Insider Tips: 9 Things To Know About River Cruises

A river cruise offers the convenience and luxury of an ocean cruise combined with the in-depth experience of a land tour, plus the personal freedom of a river cruise. Step aboard. Unpack once. Explore, and enjoy.

For many travelers, a journey along the river is just the right pace for getting the lay of the land. Sitting on the top deck of a ship under brilliant blue skies, you gaze on fabled landscapes dotted with castles, villages, vineyards, lush forests and historic sites. A flight of stairs down, and you have all the amenities of a modern hotel — restaurants, bars, lounges, fitness facilities, spas, internet access and comfortable staterooms.

Some river cruises overnight in ports and cruise during the day; others cruise during the night and tie up in port during the day. Both approaches allow for dinners ashore and late-evening strolls into town. Prepare to step ashore in fairy tale towns and fabled cities, immerse yourself in contemporary culture, and learn something about the history of the towns along the world's greatest rivers.

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New to river cruising? Want to make the most of your next river voyage? Not sure what cruise line or itinerary is right for you? We can help.

Here are some Insider tips guaranteed to maximize your next river cruise adventure. For even more tips, additional advice and expert insight from travel professionals who've actually been where you want to go, speak to a Cruise Insider advisor at 1 (877) 734-6858.

1) When To Book

Itineraries range from three to thirty days in length. Book one year in advance, if possible, and consider cruising March through May or September through December, when the crowds are thinner and airfares may be more reasonably priced than during peak periods. If you're interested in specially themed voyages or specific destinations like Christmas Markets, Wine Regions, Tulips & Windmill sailings or other popular itineraries, you'll need to plan even further out and possibly be flexible with your dates. Let us help ensure you get the best price available to the most beautiful places on earth.

2) Which River Is Right For You?

The biggest appeal of river cruising is that you're truly in the heart of it all - stunning views just steps away from your cabin, absorbing the history and life of a region from a locals' perspective and immersing yourself in the culture of villages and towns most never experience. Are you a history buff? A foodie? An art lover? A wine aficionado? An architecture fan? Let our Cruise Insider experts help you craft the perfect journey on the right river - one that hits all the places and passions you're interested in. (And when you're onboard, ask the cruise director at what times you’ll be passing through the most picturesque or interesting parts, so you can position yourself on the open-air top deck or in the observation lounge to make the most of the astounding views.)

3) Understand Life On Board

While most first-time river cruisers are drawn to the experience because of the itinerary, and the opportunity to conveniently explore the interior of a country, it's the on board experience that transforms them into avid river cruisers. But each cruise line and ship is very different - from decor to dining, service to special events, accommodations to amenities, there are a variety of options to understand in order to plan the perfect river cruise. Because the ships are small, you will enjoy getting to know the on board staff and crew, all of whom take pride in offering guests truly personalized, gracious, and consistently exceptional service and hospitality, but matching your personal tastes with the perfect river cruise is imperative - that's what we do at Cruise Insider.

4) Know What's Happening In Port

One of the most exciting parts of a river cruise is that when you dock, you are literally steps away from city centers with no need for transfers or taxis. Whether you opt for an official shore excursion or choose to discover the port on your own - which is easy to do in European river towns - it helps to know if any colorful local festivals, fun events or farmers markets are happening that day or, conversely, if any major sites, museums or monuments are closed, under repair or not accessible. That's where Cruise Insider experts can help. We're destination specialists and know what's going on and where to go when you’re in port so you're not surprised when you arrive.

5) What to Pack?

River ships are smaller, more intimate than their seafaring siblings, so knowing what to pack (and what to leave home) will make all the difference. Each voyage is different depending on the season, the sites and the ship itself, but comfortable shoes are always a must - after all you'll be walking through towns, wandering through cobblestone streets or winding through hidden alleys. Since you can’t plan around the weather and are only in port for a day, you'll still want to explore rain or shine. Therefore, pack waterproof pants and jacket (the ship provides umbrellas), so that nothing will stop you from enjoying each port of call. And always pack a swimsuit - most river ships have at least a small pool on the top deck and perhaps a jacuzzi, but after a long day of exploring, that's all you'll need to relax. For a more in-depth understanding of what to pack, talk to a Cruise Insider expert so you stay in the know.

6) What To Do About Wi-Fi?

The internet access and related technology varies greatly from ship to ship. Knowing ahead of time what to expect saves you frustration and allows you to find alternatives so you can stay connected while traveling. In many cases, Internet access is free, but there are stretches of the river where you can’t get online - especially when you’re going through rural areas or locks - and other times when your connection is slow because everyone else onboard is sucking up the bandwidth. Our experts know the ins and outs of each ship, each port and how to take advantage of technology throughout your trip so you can search towns by day and search the web at night.

7) Find Some Friends

Dining options and seating assignments varies by ship. For some meals, be prepared to sit alone and for others, be ready to share a table with others. On many river cruises there are no seat assignments, so unless you love making small talk, it’s in your best interest to find some friends on day one. Look for like-minded travelers - if you're outgoing than look for happy, chatty people. More of an introvert? Find some friends who are comfortable being quiet or prefer intimate conversations. Who you sit with can make a meal more enjoyable or a major inconvenience, so keep your eyes open for people who you'll enjoy spending time with - many of our clients tell us they regularly find friends onboard that they end up traveling with or they become lifelong friends!

8) Extend Your Trip

Many guests wonder if they should take the opportunity to arrive a few days early or stay a few days late, and the answer is: both! What a waste to travel to faraway places like Europe, Asia or South America and not see as much of it as possible. With connections to thousands of hotel partners, tour operators and destination specialists across the globe, our travel experts can help you plan a pre-cruise or post-cruise extension to maximize your vacation value and spend more time immersed in the culture, cuisine and customs of your favorite ports-of-call. With the right planning and personal touch, the actual river cruise might not even be the true highlight of your grand adventure!

9) Get Exclusive Pricing & Extra Perks!

As a preferred partner and top producer of the world’s foremost travel brands and a proud member of the prestigious Signature Travel Network, we’ve built trusted relationships with the major river cruise lines to ensure you always get Insider access to the best deals and biggest discounts available. Working with a Cruise Insider expert means you get savings, service and support you won't find anywhere else...every single time. And the best part, since we get paid by our travel partners, you never pay more for our services or expertise - you only get more! We're at your service, on your side and with you all the way.

Speak to one of our friendly experts at 1 (877) 734-6858 to help plan and perfect your ideal river cruise vacation today!

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