5 Things You Need to Know Before Booking a European River Cruise

European river cruises are booming—and it’s no wonder. Offering travellers the chance to get up-close and personal with sights and attractions, they’re an intimate alternative to mammoth cruise ships. That said, they’re not necessarily for everyone. Here’s what you need to know before booking a European river cruise for your next holiday.

Do extensive homework before you book.

There are plenty of online resources to check out first-hand experiences and reviews of the European river cruises you’re considering.You should also check Government of Canada travel advisories for destination alerts for the ports of call on your itinerary before you book.

Consider family-friendly options for European river cruising.

At first blush, a European river cruise doesn’t sound like something children would enjoy much, but there are operators that specialize in creating voyages that appeal to youngsters. These itineraries often take the ship through storybook towns and enchanting castles that look like something right out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale—or a Harry Potter film, for that matter! In fact, Disney has recently jumped on board with Adventures by Disney via Ama Waterways. When you’re not disembarking to explore one of the itinerary’s family-friendly attractions, kids on this cruise are kept entertained with treasure hunts, baking classes, karaoke, movie nights and crafts workshops.

Seek out themed itineraries.

Maybe your goal is simply to see some of Europe’s most stunning scenery from the water. But if your life’s passion is history, cuisine, photography, wine or art, there are themed cruises that specifically cater to your interests. For one-of-a-kind cultural explorations, Vantage Deluxe World Travel cruises offers a program called “Cultural Connections,” with itineraries that focus on activities unique to a particular port of call. That could mean taking part in a wreath-laying ceremony in Normandy, or sharing the table in the home of an Irish family for a traditional home-cooked meal.

Prepare Your Taste Buds for a Delicious Experience

Although you might expect jumbo-sized cruise ships to have the best dining options, the culinary offerings on boutique-sized ships can actually be more seasonal, more authentic, and more relevant to your current port-of-call. Michele Peterson, a travel writer at A Taste for Travel, says, “Large cruise ships provision for thousands of guests in advance, whereas more intimate luxury ships like Uni world’s River Countess can source locally and seasonally as they go.” According to Petersen, guests are sometimes invited to join the ship’s chef on a tour of the local outdoor market (as seen here). “During my recent “Splendors of Italy” cruise featuring the Po River and Venice, dishes with polpo (octopus), castraure (artichoke buds) and other ingredients from Venice’s Rialto market were often featured on the menu,” she says.

You can customize your European river cruise itinerary.

Pre- or post-cruise extensions allow you to tack on some extra days and destinations at a modest additional cost. Travel writer Irene S. Levine of More Time to Travel took Grand Circle Cruise Line through Burgundy and Provence, then opted for a “very affordable” three-night post-cruise extension in Nice. “From there, we were able to explore three additional cities by motor coach: Monaco, Antibes and Cannes,” Levine says. “All the logistics were taken care of by the company—including city tours—so we had more time to immerse ourselves in the fabulous food and culture of the region.”

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