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Are you planning a river cruise? A river cruise might just be the perfect escape for you to satisfy your wanderlust. 

If this is all new to you, we have written this simple yet helpful guide as we have answered some of the frequently asked questions first-timers ask before they book their tickets. 

Is a river cruise different from an ocean cruise? 

You’ll find river cruising much different for those who have experienced going on an ocean cruise. 

A river cruise is more similar to an escorted bus tour around a specific region. It’s a more curated experience with less choice and options onboard. 

Your itinerary is usually filled with excursions and organised experiences similar to a land trip with a tour guide. 

The travel distances are shorter compared to an ocean cruise. Across the whole trip, you may only need to travel several hundred kilometres, while in an ocean cruise, you may need to travel far distances daily as you sail between different ports. 

A river cruise offers a more intensive immersion of a specific region than an ocean cruise, which will provide you with a glimpse of different cities in a broader area. 

How to choose a river cruise line? 

Most river cruise ships are essentially the same because the vessels have to be at specific dimensions and specifications to travel on the rivers safely. 

The external and internal structures of river ships are similar – staterooms, dining rooms, lounge, library, some will have gyms and bars. 

So choosing a river cruise line is not based on the ship’s facilities. The primary factor is your budget and preferred style. 

Are you looking for an affordable cruise line? Perhaps a three-star experience will be enough for now just to test the waters? 

Do you have a budget to spare? Then maybe you may want a five-star experience with a plush line. 

In choosing a river cruise line, you have to pick it based on your preferred budget, and the design and facilities of the ships come last. 

Is it expensive to go on a river cruise?

While prices may vary depending on the cruise line, river cruising is a bit more expensive than an ocean cruise. 

However, you need to consider beyond the fare because most river cruises are all-inclusive. 

Most river cruise lines include accommodations, meals onboard, selected land tours, excursions, etc. 

WiFi is often part of the deal, and most cruise lines offer beverage packages. Some cruise lines have tea and coffee making facilities with light snacks that are free for guests. 

Things not included in the fare are usually gratuities, onboard shopping, or extra land tours. 

Some ships offer special excursions that you can access for a fee, such as a classical concert, wine tasting events, art events, etc. 

If you look at the cost of a river cruise fare, you should remember that many things you need to pay extra if you choose a sea voyage are included in the fare. 

So if you just look at the cost head on, you may think that a river cruise is costly, but if you weigh in all the inclusions, you’ll find that the fare is reasonable for the experience. 

What should I expect from shore excursions?

Another critical factor to consider when looking at river itineraries is to read through the places your trip will visit. 

Compare itineraries from different cruise lines – where you are going and what you will see. 

It is best to choose an itinerary that offers deeper cultural immersion. Some cruise lines integrate a local menu into your onboard dining experience, and they also invite locals to mingle with you or perform local entertainment. 

For example, most Viking Danube cruises include an excursion to Wachau Valley Winery. So onboard the ship, you may find a local wine in the menu options to enrich your experience. 

So it is crucial to know the level of cultural immersion and the actual enrichment activities you can expect onboard and onshore. 

Which river cruises are ideal for first-timers?

There are many rivers that you can explore as first-timers around the world, but ideally, you should start in Europe, specifically Danube and Rhine. 

These rivers are classic options. The Danube has regular voyages between Budapest and Passau, which will take you to see the most picturesque parts of Europe. 

On a Danube cruise, you’ll get a chance to visit three important European cities: Budapest, Bratislava, and Vienna. 

Then there’s Old Rhine, which is a fantastic river traversing through historic cities and marvellous castles. 

The Rhine River is an absolute favourite for first-timers as you’ll surely fall in love with river cruising if you choose this classical choice. 

When is the best time to go on a river cruise?

Cruise season, at least in Europe, is relatively limited. Most voyages begin around March to April and goes until October to early September. 

Some river cruises are available in the last quarter of the year, especially in December for the Christmas markets and New Year trips. 

But from January to March, there are no river cruises in Europe. 

May, June, and September are often recommended for first-timers as these are not super busy periods, and the weather is usually good. 

Remember, river ships usually feature identical itineraries and ports of call so that the tourists can be packed. 

What is the expected crowd in a river cruise? 

River cruising still attracts retirees, so you should expect to see more travellers in age 55 above. But the industry is rapidly changing, and more cruise lines are now catering to families and group travellers. 

Meanwhile, other cruise lines introduce themed voyages such as New Year parties, wine cruises, literary trips to entice a more diverse audience. 

But still, a significant percentage of river cruisers will be older people, so it is much an adult crown instead of a family vacation, which is usually the case in ocean cruises. 

Many river cruises feature historical, cultural, and art excursions. But some are now featuring more active itineraries such as hiking and cycling, which attracts a much younger crowd. 

It is also rare for river cruise lines to accept kids as passengers, and some lines such as Viking require their guests to be 18 before they can onboard. 

Is a river cruise ideal for solo travellers? 

Technically, you can go river cruising as a solo traveler, but it can be challenging because most river lines offer limited single cabins. 

Some river cruise lines have no single supplement, so they have low or even waived surcharges. 

You need to pay a surcharge of 50% to even 100% in normal circumstances. 

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