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Posted: November 26, 2016

River cruising: the art of choosing the right ship

Diane MansonTravel Tips

By Diane Manson

Rivers were the reason small towns and cities were born. Regions and countries flourished because of rivers. They moved people. They transported food, and precious goods.

Over the past decade the world’s iconic waterways have seen an influx of luxury river ships designed specifically to navigate rivers. These floating vessels have garnered popularity and river cruising is exploding.

With approximately 10 major players cruising Europe, Asia, India, the Amazon and Africa choosing a ship that’s right for you might feel overwhelming. My advice is, “Base your decision on personal tastes and value-for-dollar.”

I like to compare the ratio of passengers to the size of a vessel.  A ship with 190 passengers counterpart may house 106 passengers. The amount of public space will vary and there will be noticeable differences with the size of cabins.  Are you okay with 135 square feet or does 188 square feet better suit you? Maybe you’re happier in a suite where square footage ranges from 300 to almost 900 square feet? Being comfortable in your floating hotel for seven or 14 days plays a role in your overall experience.

Avalon Tapestry, Moselle Cochemn, Germany
Avalon Tapestry, Moselle Cochemn, Germany

I recommend not making your decision based solely on ‘sticker price.’ Cruise lines and their respective ‘inclusions’ are not created equal. The spectrum varies from a fully inclusive vacation (prepaid gratuities, all tours, wine, beer, top-shelf liquor, dining ashore, Wi-Fi) to perhaps a hefty bill at the end of your cruise.

When a cruise is not ‘fully inclusive’ or has ‘some inclusions’ these can add up. For example, on a 14 day river sailing, a couple can expect to spend are about $800 for gratuities. Most ships include wine and beer at lunch and dinner – which may suit you perfectly. You’ll want to do the math if you enjoy drinks at happy hour or a nightcap. In the end maybe a more inclusive cruise is easier on your pocketbook.

Excursions play an integral part of a river cruise experience. Think about your personal travel style – the pace you prefer. Does the ship have bicycles? What’s the average number of people you can expect on a tour? Is dining ashore an option?

Most cruise lines have an ‘air program’ – they offer flights at attractive rates in conjunction with the purchase of your cruise. This may work brilliantly with your travel plans, or it may be more advantageous to book flights separately. Knowing the detailed parameters of the ‘air program’ will make this an easy decision.

“When should I book a river cruise?” is a question I’m often asked. Some rivers are more popular than others – some travellers book 12 to 18 months in advance. Based on supply and high demand, it’s never too early to start planning a river cruise.

Once your homework is complete and you’ve chosen a ship it’s time to enjoy the anticipation of your cruise. Think of the scenic countryside you’ll pass by; the charming towns you’ll visit; the history you’ll learn. There will be new friends to meet and fine dining to be savored. Your floating-hotel, an iconic river and a unique experience await you.

Diane Manson is owner of Mountain City Travel in Kimberley

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