By now, we’re guessing you probably have a sense of how amazing a river cruise can be, right? With so much to see and do, you’re never short on ways to fill your schedule whichever river you sail through. For cruise newbies, however, it’s a world away from your usual land-based holiday. Knowing what to expect from your cruise ensures you’ll be able to enjoy everything to the full without sweating the small stuff.
To help you prepare for your next river-based adventure, we got in touch with some of our favourite luxury travel bloggers and experts, who were more than happy to provide us with some great tips and insider advice for first-time river cruisers. From hints on what to pack to going off the beaten track, you’ll find plenty of invaluable advice from these well-travelled adventurers.
Forward planning is definitely advisable. While not essential, the rest of this article will soon make clear there’s a lot to consider before you go. Consider how you want to approach your holiday, and tailor it your way.
As Amanda Williams from A Dangerous Business says, “decide before you go whether you want to go all-in on the sightseeing, or maybe take things a bit easier. On most river cruises, there will be a variety of included and optional tours in each port. If you sign up for everything, you’ll see plenty – but it will also make for very busy days. I recommend reading up on your options before your cruise so you can go in with an idea of what you definitely do want to sign up for, and what you might be okay with skipping”.
Go your own way
While your cruise line’s shore excursions will be enriching experiences in their own right, sometimes it pays to go off the beaten track, something that Emrys Thakkar of Cruise Hive definitely recommends.
He says: “I found on my first river cruise the culture really became a focus. Take full advantage of booking a tour which takes you beyond just the town or city. Really get into experiencing the regional way of life; with a more intimate setting and tour you truly can gain a benefit and understanding of local culture”.
Likewise, Sarah Shumate of The Wander Blogger is always keen to escape the tourist trail, saying: “Consider skipping a group excursion or two in a city you’re excited to see and do some exploring on your own. You’ll be able to cover more ground and see more sights that way, plus you’ll have the opportunity to try a few local delicacies if you aren’t returning to the ship for lunch”.
Don’t feel obliged to do everything
When there’s so much to do in a relatively short space of time, it can feel like you’re missing out on things, but Sarah recommends indulging your lazy side from time to time.
“Don’t feel bad about skipping activities in favour of relaxing,” she says, “you are on holiday after all! It can be tempting to want to do and see everything, but try to allow yourself some free time every day for relaxing on the top deck or lounge. One of the benefits of river cruising is that you’re almost always guaranteed a beautiful view – don’t stay so busy that you miss it!”
Keep it casual
“River cruising is generally pretty relaxed – you usually don’t need formal wear for dinner, and no one will judge what you’re wearing when out on shore excursions,” says Amanda, adding, “leave the tux and cocktail dress at home, and go casual with your clothing”.
Anna Twitchin from The Cruise Blogger agrees, saying: “There are no formal evenings. Unlike ocean cruising, it’s a more casual affair, which adds to the relaxed atmosphere. As a general rule, smart casual clothing will be fine in the evening, although not everyone changes out of daywear. Skirts, day dresses, chinos, slacks and collared shirts are ideal for dinner. Occasionally people like to dress in a more formal manner, but this is optional”.
That said, packing for a river cruise isn’t as simple as throwing your favourite holiday clobber in a suitcase. As Amanda notes: “Prioritise comfort when it comes to packing. Comfortable shoes are an absolute must, especially since many of your included excursions will be walking tours in cities where you might encounter old cobbled streets. If you don’t pack comfy footwear, you will definitely regret it”.
Don’t go overboard with your packing either – all your stuff has to stay somewhere. Anna brings up a good point: “when packing, keep in mind that cabin space may be limited depending on the ship. Consider putting together a capsule wardrobe with elements that can be used both during the day and in the evening. For example – cardigans, lightweight jumpers, blouses and sandals”.
You’ll also have to deal with changing weather, too. Don’t assume everywhere will be sunny and warm; climates may be unpredictable over the course of an itinerary. Amelia from luxury lifestyle blog, xameliax recommends packing for all destinations: “You may be sailing through one country that’s warmer than another so make sure to layer up. It also gets pretty chilly up on the deck, so you might want to pack a scarf or a thin coat for those evening cocktails or meals outside!”
Enjoy your time onboard
If you don’t feel like leaving the ship, then you could do worse than whiling away the hours onboard instead. Cailin O’Neil from Travel Yourself paints an inspiring image: “Wake up early in the morning for sunrise from your balcony or the top deck as you glide down a river in the fresh morning air. Mingle and meet other cruisers in the lounge, or while dining, and also participate in onboard activities. The more open you are to having a great time the more you will get from your cruise and the better time you‘ll have”.
Slow down, relax, and explore the ship at your own leisure. You’re paying for the luxury of it, so make the most of it. Amelia suggests “Take a look at the map on your first couple of days and take a walk up and down the ship to get your bearings – you don’t want to get to the end of your holiday and find an amazing bar that you completely missed! Don’t feel like you have to get off at every stop, sometimes a glass of champagne by the pool is all you need!”
‘Tis the season
River cruising isn’t always sunny weather and high temperatures. Sometimes the colder months provide guests with a magical experience of their own. In particular, Emrys recommended the festive season as one of the best times for river cruising, saying: “You’ll often find Christmas markets set up just walking distance from where the vessel docks. Find local souvenirs and try out new types of food. The evening is the best time to do this as the lights, small streets and music provide the perfect photo opportunity”.