Tips for River Cruisers
- DO NOT forget your passports – Just like any other international trip, you’ll need passports. Always check to see if a VISA is required for any of the countries where you’ll be visiting as well. Copies on your phone, and/or left with a relative can be helpful in the event of emergencies.
- Cruise line website – The river cruise companies all handle excursions differently, but most do have a website where you can sign in with your booking number to view your cruise and possibly select excursions ahead of time. It’s a good idea to go on the cruise line website and look around. Unlike an ocean cruise, your documents will be paper documents and your travel agent should send these to you prior to the cruise date.
- A friend has a great saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!” Make sure to check the weather online a few days ahead of your trip at a site like https://www.weather2travel.com/ or www.weather.com. If it’s warm, don’t forget a swimsuit and flip flops – you just might need them! If it’s during a colder month (or the “shoulder season” of April or September in Europe when weather may be cool and breezy), make sure to dress in layers. A bottom layer, then a sweater, then a jacket. If your jacket/coat is water resistant, even better (although the ships have umbrellas for your use). If it’s winter, bring your scarf, hat and gloves. Perusing the Christmas markets can be a lot of fun if you’re dressed well!
- For dinners on board, I recommend that you bring a couple of pair of nice slacks that you can wear with different shirts/tops/sweaters. Wearing jeans will likely make you feel underdressed at dinner, so I always bring black pants and ballet flats and just change up my tops – it’s very comfy after a day of walking and exploring and a nice hot shower! The dining room on a river cruise ship is not formal, although they do tend to have one Captain’s Dinner every sailing where people wear something nicer (still not cocktail attire – a nice dress is great for women).
- Luggage – For the flight, you’ll want to put anything of value and anything you might need right away (medication, etc.) in your carry on to keep with you. For the rest of your luggage, you will likely check it with the bellman when you arrive (think of it like a hotel check-in). Your cabin may be small, but most suitcases will easily slide under the bed once you’ve unpacked for the week.
- Backpack/day bag – You’ll likely be doing day trips most days and spending anywhere from 2-3 hours to 8 hours away from the ship. Therefore, bring a bag with you that is comfortable to have what you need. I love bringing a small backpack where I can keep sunscreen, sunglasses, phone, wallet, a scarf, a book, extra sweater, etc. Each day I just check it in the morning and make sure it’s packed with what I need. Choose whatever works for you – a purse, fanny pack, etc – but know that in Europe it is recommended to use a long cross body purse rather than a shoulder bag in case of theft. Also, don’t put your bag/purse on the back of your chair at a restaurant – put it between your legs or on your lap. Finally, don’t carry a lot of extra cash or your passport around with you unless you need it for a particular reason – utilize the safe in your cabin.
- Seasickness – I always get motion sickness while on boats… except on river cruises. Typically, you won’t even feel like you’re moving – the rivers are very calm.
- Think of your ship as a small hotel. Most river cruises will have anywhere from 90-180 passengers onboard at any time, and you’ll have a “front desk” as you walk in, along with a Tour Director for your ship. These people are available to help out with any and all questions that you have so don’t be afraid to ask!
- You will need to present a credit/debit card when you “check in” for the ship – anything that you charge while sailing, whether drinks, a spa treatment or something in the gift shop will be added to your folio just as it would be in a hotel.
- Many people arrive the day of the cruise very early in the morning. Whether you have transfers through the cruise or not, the staff will greet you warmly on arrival. Your cabin may not yet be ready, but you’ll likely be offered coffee and possibly snacks. I would recommend that you plan to drop your bags and make your way into town for a few hours. The jetlag is hard, but don’t waste the opportunity to see that beautiful European city. It will also help for you to get on the right sleep schedule – most of the time, people are really tired after the first dinner!
- Orientation – Your cruise director will tell you what time each day he or she will be doing an orientation for the next day. There will be detailed information on what to expect, when you’re sailing and when you’re arriving in port, etc.
- My best first-time- cruiser tip is to relax, and do just attend what looks the most interesting. And don’t feel guilty if you take a day to sleep in or rest – this is your vacation!
- Tipping – You will be told whether gratuities are included or in addition to your cruise price. Gratuities are required, and if they aren’t included in the cruise price that you paid, they will be added to your final folio to be charged when you depart. The men and women on your cruise work very hard for the gratuities – additional amounts are not expected, but I tend to give 5 or 10 Euro to my “favorite” waiter/waitress/bartender on the last day of the cruise as an extra thank you.
- Room Service – Most river cruises do not have room service, but you can check on board to see if it is available.
- Dining – There is typically one main dining room on the ship, and dinner starts at a certain time each night, open seating. Sometimes there is an alternate dining option, but it depends on the cruise line. Breakfast and lunch are usually served for a couple of hours (that will be communicated to you), and you can come when you like, open seating. Ask the concierge if you have a large group and would like to try to sit together if they can help out! Coffee and tea should always be available.
- Leaving the Ship -The day before departure, the tour director will reconfirm your flight time and transfer information, giving you detailed instructions on where to be and how to get to the airport. You’ll get special baggage tags and a time to have your luggage ready. As when you arrived, be sure to keep your identification and anything that you’ll need in your carry on with you.