First Time River Cruise Guidance

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#1
212 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Hopefully these questions are not too basic but ...

1. Do you deal directly with the individual river cruise lines?

2. Or do you work with a specialized river cruise travel agent?

3. Or do you use an online discount river cruise web site to book your cruise?

What about Cruise Compete - is that a good idea for river cruises? I know what to do for an ocean cruise but don't know where to start when booking a river cruise. Have plenty of time to learn since we are considering a Danube River cruise for May 2014!

When should the itineraries and dates for 2014 be available from each river cruise provider?

Any guidance and help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.
#2
Santa Paula CA
3,415 Posts
Joined Apr 2000
There are a number of River cruise companies, Viking, Tauck, Vantage, AMA come to mind. All but Vantage work through travel agents.
There is a wide variation on prices depending on how luxurious you want to be,as with ocean cruises, where the gamut runs from Carnival & NCL up through Regent, Seabourn and Silverseas.
The 2013 cruises are out now, and we have booked a cruise for September. The 2014 schedules will be out in early 2013.
There are many variables, with each company, as to accomodations, transfers, airfare, and excursions. You gave to go to each companies website to see what the cabins look like, and see what is included in the cost.
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It serves no purpose to list all the cruises I have been on chronologically. Many of the lines or ships do not exist any more, or have been renamed. I have sailed on NCL,Bermuda Star, Regency, Royal, Silverseas, Mississippi Queen, Vantage, Marco Polo, Scottish Highlander, Princess, Victoria, Hebridean Princess, Paul Gauguin, Regent, Oceania, Cunard, Rembrandt, and Lev Tolstoy.
#3
1,576 Posts
Joined Nov 2005
I book all my cruises through the same TA I've used for over 20 years. He has been on river cruises and is able to provide first-hand knowledge of the product. In addition, he has been great at giving me suggestions of "must see" sites along the rivers and places to stop for lunch or drink. In addition, he has suggested hotels and post-cruise travel options to more fully experience the culture of another country.

Do some serious research and find a good TA who can guide you in selecting a cruise that would meet your interests. Personally I would avoid one of those call center sites - most have little experience with any type of cruises. Working directly with a river cruise company may work for you, though they are probably going to push you to booktheir air package and their [costly] pre/post hotels and tours.

A river cruise is not like a traditional cruise ship experience, so you'll want to speak with someone who knows the product.

I recently did an AMACello on the Rhine. My TA told me to do my own air and transfers, and do hotels pre and post, too. Big savings!

Darcy
#4
Ontario, Canada
2,756 Posts
Joined Nov 2008
Hi there -

We use our own TA to book our river cruises. However, I do the research myself, and then ask her to complete the process. We always have travel insurance, and book it outside of the cruise line.

We usually book our own air, but our TA checks with the cruise line to see if they can match it. Usually not - be they have once. And, once air was included in the package as an incentive.

There are a few 2014 itineraries available now. I believe that Viking is one that is advertising for 2014. We actually have put a deposit down on a river cruise in the south of France for early October 2014 - with Scenic. Scenic is not marketed heavily in the US - so most passengers are Aussies, Kiwis, Brits and Canadians. We are guaranteed the 2013 price in 2014... but, if we change our mind when the brochures come out next spring, we can get our deposit back... that is rare with river cruising.

If you go on to the various websites, you can sign up for brochures. They will send you the new brochures when they are printed. If you have an idea of the itinerary you are interested in, start looking at prices for next year. Then - if a sale surfaces - you will be ready.

River cruising is, however, different than big ship cruising as far as booking and sales go. Some will give you the best price if you pay in full, some will offer referral discounts, some past passenger discounts if you have travelled with a "sister" company... (ie: Avalon give you a discount if you have travelled with Globus in the past...) And - there are very few last minute specials. If you have a particular date, itinerary and cabin category that you are looking at, it is wise to book early.

A friend was looking at a river cruise in the south of France for October 2013... She is used to big ship cruising, and so felt she had time to do in depth research. I suggested she start looking ASAP as things sell out. She was challenged to find a cabin for the dates she wanted... Almost everything is booked!!

Have fun with your research!! Please post again if you have other questions.

Fran
#5
Tulsa OK
7,561 Posts
Joined May 2006
I use my travel agent who actually specializes in high end luxury cruising (regent, silversea mostly). She also gives rebates for bookings with AmA which is the river cruise company we use. I do all the research, but she makes the final booking. I do my own air with ff miles.
#6
Virginia Beach, VA
4,759 Posts
Joined Jan 2010
I did my research for a Danube River cruise for October 2013, but when I tried to book it, it was already sold out!!! More than a year ahead of time! At least I know which line I want to use and how quickly they sell, so I've learned a valuable lesson. In doing my research, I also learned that the river levels are more likely to cause problems in late summer, so I'll avoid that time frame.
#7
3,885 Posts
Joined May 2009
It does seem that the Fall season of Sept and Oct is very popular and cruises sell out fast!! DH and I feel very fortunate to have gotten a cabin when we booked with Avalon two weeks or so ago. There were only 2 cabins left
#8
212 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Originally posted by 5326jan
I did my research for a Danube River cruise for October 2013, but when I tried to book it, it was already sold out!!! More than a year ahead of time! At least I know which line I want to use and how quickly they sell, so I've learned a valuable lesson. In doing my research, I also learned that the river levels are more likely to cause problems in late summer, so I'll avoid that time frame.
Are you willing to share what you decided on and why? Did you try to book with the cruise line? That 's my most confusing aspect... cruise line or local travel agent and what are the pros and cons. I use an online agency for ocean cruises but I don 't think they cover river cruises. Thanks for the assist.
#9
La Marque, TX
10,142 Posts
Joined May 2005
Please note the following from the Travel Agent Recommendations section in the Guidelines we all agree to follow:

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Kat
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#10
Queens, NY
2,161 Posts
Joined Mar 2008
Jeep61 ~ following Host Kat's reminder - all I say is, if you're happy with your on-line TA then check IF they also book River Cruises.

We just took our first river cruise this past October - and loved it! I did all the research, even calling the company (Viking) with questions. But for the actual book I spoke to our usual on-line TA rep. She didn't handle river cruises but passed me onto another rep who did and was fabulous!

I'll second - or third/fourth - the coments about the cruises selling out quickly. But on our cruise we met a couple who had just booked about a month before because of a cancellation. So if you find one you'd love don't give up!

We also booked our own air and pre/post hotels - cruise line packages just didn't fit into our plans. But we sailed with friends who did everything throught the cruise line. Everyone's different and there's just no right or wrong - listen to all the advice and then decide what's right for YOU!!

And you'll find a wealth of information - ans mostly good! - here on CC so just ask away and someone will jump in to help!
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Peg
Viking Forseti 10-4-2014 Bordeaux
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#11
Moreno Valley, Ca
33 Posts
Joined Oct 2012
Viking River Cruises are already up and for sale for 2014! You can get some incredible prices right now! It used to be that booking 12 to 15 months out was good, but now cruises seem to be booking 2 yrs out!
#12
Mackay Australia
786 Posts
Joined Jan 2010
Originally posted by wantabecruiser
Viking River Cruises are already up and for sale for 2014! You can get some incredible prices right now! It used to be that booking 12 to 15 months out was good, but now cruises seem to be booking 2 yrs out!
You are right about that. Here in Australia my TA sent me an offer to cruise with Scenic in 2014 at 2013 prices. Soon the rivers of Europe will look like a freeway at peak hour.
#13
Saint Simons Island, Georgia
11,797 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Originally posted by Ozjohnno
You are right about that. Here in Australia my TA sent me an offer to cruise with Scenic in 2014 at 2013 prices. Soon the rivers of Europe will look like a freeway at peak hour.
When your riverboat docks in Europe, it frequently docks with other riverboats. You open your window in the morning and look right into another boat's cabin. You get off the boat by going through the boats between your boat and the dock.
#14
Ontario, Canada
2,756 Posts
Joined Nov 2008
Originally posted by Ozjohnno
You are right about that. Here in Australia my TA sent me an offer to cruise with Scenic in 2014 at 2013 prices. Soon the rivers of Europe will look like a freeway at peak hour.
We have put a deposit on a cruise with Scenic in October 2014.... just to take advantage of the price guarantee.

We have to confirm next spring - when the brochures come out.

Fran
#15
New Jersey, the Philly end
6,980 Posts
Joined Jan 2004
Originally posted by FotoPeg
snip

I'll second - or third/fourth - the coments about the cruises selling out quickly. But on our cruise we met a couple who had just booked about a month before because of a cancellation. So if you find one you'd love don't give up!
The river cruises we have been on were with 4 days to about 3 weeks notice. Great deals when you can travel last minute . . . with that little notice, we took their air package.
#16
212 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Thanks for all the advice and pointers for a first time river cruiser. I know for sure that we need to decide on our proposed cruise for May 2014 as soon as the 2014 itineraries are available. Still not sure if it is better to go directly to the cruise line or to use a travel agent. Will dig into that once we decide on the cruise line - that we can resolve based on the 2013 itineraries.

As a thank you I am attaching the worksheet I plan to use as I collect information during the research phase. See the PDF attached to this post.

If you see anything that should be added or changed please share your comments.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf River Cruise Comparison Chart.pdf (20.5 KB, 488 views)
#17
3,885 Posts
Joined May 2009
Jeep61 it is toooo bad in all your CC postings you have never given your contact info .... I see you have shared much with others but no way to share with you! Mistake.... Big mistake !
#18
Wht Mts, NH - Gulf Coast, FL
2,737 Posts
Joined Jun 2004
Originally posted by Jeep61
Thanks for all the advice and pointers for a first time river cruiser. I know for sure that we need to decide on our proposed cruise for May 2014 as soon as the 2014 itineraries are available. Still not sure if it is better to go directly to the cruise line or to use a travel agent. Will dig into that once we decide on the cruise line - that we can resolve based on the 2013 itineraries.

As a thank you I am attaching the worksheet I plan to use as I collect information during the research phase. See the PDF attached to this post.

If you see anything that should be added or changed please share your comments.
Great spreadsheet, wish I'd had this when I was planning. I did something similar when deciding on our cruise. You may want to add information regarding pre and post-cruise add ons, number of days and cost (unless you've already decided to DIY). We do not need to decide whether to take advantage of the packages until closer to cruising, so will decide at a later date.
Using a TA is a very personal choice, and you will get the whole range of opinions on these boards. After self- booking directly for many years, we now use an agency. We get better prices every time, frequent OBC and/or perks, the advantage of mass buying pricing, and fantastic service.. That being said, do as much research on agencies as you are doing for your cruise if you decide to go that route.
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Past Cruises:
Celebrity Reflection - Med & Greek Isles
Coral Princess - Partial Transit Panama Canal
Celebrity Silhouette - TA
Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas - Arctic Circle
Disney Fantasy - Souhern Caribbean
AMAPrima - Danube, Prague to Budapest
Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas - Southern Carib.
Carnival Imagination - Western Carib.
Carnival Valor - Southern Carib.
Norwegian Sun - Baltics, Copenhagen, St Petersburg
Royal Caribbean Brilliance - Mediterranean, Spain Italy
Celebrity Infinity - Alaska
Royal Caribbean - Voyager of the Seas, Western Carib.
Royal Caribbean Nordic Prince - Bermuda
#19
Milton On Canada
938 Posts
Joined Sep 2008
Jeeps 61: Thanks so much for the spreadsheet. We used something similar although not as extensive when deciding on our next cruise. Leave enough room to show that actual costs so that you will be able to compare apples to apples when it comes to costs. When we spreadsheet AMA, Viking, Scenic and Avalon, we did a thorough investigation into the actual ports of call, whether there was night sailing or whether we had free evenings to explore the towns, what type of activity we would be doing (i.e. just a walking tour, a vineyard tour, a day with a local family etc.) as this could be a deciding factor if costs are similar. Many of the lines charge extra for optional tours which other lines include in their cost. Another factor for us was when the full payment was due as in the case of Viking, it is due shortly after the booking is made. Have fun planning and whatever you choose, I am sure you will have fun on your cruise. It is sooooooooooooo addictive.
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Judy

Carnival Pride-Western Caribbean Feb 2015
Scenic Emerald-Paris to Barcelona Sept 2013
Freedom OTS-E. Caribbean March 2013
Scenic Emerald Amsterdam to Budapest Sept 2012
Emerald Princess-S. Caribbean Jan 2012
AMA Amalegro Prague to Paris Sept 2011
Oceania Insignia Venice -Barcelona -September 2010
Coral Princess Panama Canal FLL to LA Dec 2009
Emerald Princess Baltic Aug 2009
Caribbean Princess S. Caribbean B2B Nov 2008
#20
Virginia Beach, VA
4,759 Posts
Joined Jan 2010
Originally posted by Jeep61
Are you willing to share what you decided on and why? Did you try to book with the cruise line? That 's my most confusing aspect... cruise line or local travel agent and what are the pros and cons. I use an online agency for ocean cruises but I don 't think they cover river cruises. Thanks for the assist.
Hi Jeep61, Sorry I missed your question earlier. I decided to go with AMA because it has the most favorable reviews for the Danube River and we like that they have tours for more active passengers. I think they are categorized as "fast walkers" and "slow walkers". The Preisman's review is what really sold me. http://www.thepreismans.com/

The trip that we want to do is from Budapest to Prague. We have been to Amsterdam a few times and have done a river cruise on the Rhine (not an overnight, but a day long ride from Koblenz to Rudesheim). We are anxious to spend some independent time in Budapest and Prague.

When I tried to book, I went directly to AMA online, but was called back by a travel agency that does their booking. I haven't found a local travel agent that has traveled very much, so I'd rather come here for advice! I'm sure we have some experienced travelers that are agents, but I've yet to find one Also, if they can't discount, I would rather not use a middleman.

Caviargirl, Franski and others have given great advice! I am forever grateful for CC members that give honest and fair assessments, which allow us to learn from their experiences. With a TA, you always wonder if they are selling the line that gives better commission or perks. Here, you know that the reviewers have nothing to gain or lose by what they say.

Good luck selecting your trip and better luck being able to book it!

Caviargirl, that was too bad about your Prague transfer experience! Someone was trying to get the biggest bang for your buck! It'll be interesting to see if they refund any of the fare or if they chalk it up to "oh, well, we've got your money and you probably won't be back."