I always say that cruising as a whole is very good value for money, but this is arguably even more so for river cruising where most things are included within your cruise fare.
Accommodation and public spaces
When you buy your cruise the cost primarily is determined by the stateroom you purchase. From Interiors, to a variety of balcony rooms and then up to suites. Taking a typical river room, these are smaller than what you may find in a hotel but still, they are highly efficient spaces. Most cabins will include closets with handing space, a desk/vanity, side-tables drawers and shelf space. Bathrooms will also be smaller than on land but still feature a full shower, toilet, sink, mirror, toiletries and storage. I have to say, I’m always impressed with the ingenuity that goes into the design of cabins – for me, a 6’3” man, I don’t ever feel at all claustrophobic in these spaces.
In addition to this, rooms tend to include safes, low-wattage hair dryers, a telephone, minibar (for a fee) and interactive TV. You will also find a number of charging points in the room, but make sure you bring plug adaptors. Typically, I find most ships have a combination of US and Europe sockets, as well as USB ports to charge various devices.
Of course, in addition to your cabin you have access to the many public spaces on board. River vessels are not large but still include a variety of spaces such as a main restaurant areas, a casual eatery, a lounge, other casual seating and a large sun deck. Most river vessels follow this design, though some also feature a pool, speciality restaurants and wellness spaces such as a small gym. The largest river ship, AmaMagna, which is double the width of traditional river cruise ships, features a whole lot more than this and you can read about my experience on board here.
On a river cruise, all food is included within your cruise fare. That is, breakfast, lunch and dinner provided within a number of settings. Firstly, there is the main restaurant that will off a sit down meal across the day and then there usually is a second, more casual eatery that offers a similar experience but a bit less formal. The menus can vary between the two, and the casual eatery may off other things such as a BBQ some days of the cruise. Depending on the ship, there may also be a couple of speciality restaurants on board. These again are included within the cruise fare.
On a river cruise, drinks are included during mealtimes – that is beer, wine and soft drinks. Outside of this time you will have to pay for your drinks, though some lines offer very good value happy hours before dinner. There are usually coffee and tea stations around the ship which you can help yourself to (pre-Covid-19).
River lines also offer drinks packages so that you needn’t pay for a drink on board, which tend to be very good value. As an example, Viking cruises offer their drinks package for a range of $110 to $449, depending on duration of cruise.
Entertainment and activities
The river cruising experience is very different from its ocean cousin. I liken it more to city and destination hopping. Through the course of a typical day, you may well visit two ports, with an afternoon of scenic cruising. So, as you may expect, destinations taken centre stage to your adventure. In the evenings, river ships will invite a variety of local performers on board including for instance, opera singers, local bands and dancing troupes. There will also be a variety of quizzes and trivia that takes place across the day and some evenings. If you want to, you can be kept very busy.
As you may well be docked in a destination overnight, why not nip off the ship and explore the evening buzz and culture of a place? Take in the sights and enjoy a drink or two.
Excursions are included in all river cruises. So for every port you visit at least one excursion will be available that’s included within the fare – I’ve found these are usually walking tours and more culturally themed, focussing on the history of a destination – which is actually a great way to explore and get to know a place. There are of course other many optional excursions you can choose to take at a cost. So, it’s not uncommon for you to end up doing more than one excursion a day some days.
This is an increasingly important part of river cruising, with lines adopting more of a wellness approach. Lines such as Amawaterways, Avalon and Emerald Waterways are all embracing this with wellness staff found on board. As part of the daily activities you can enjoy morning yoga on deck, cycling, Zumba and other fun activities.
The design of river ships is changing as well to accommodate more wellness facilities. AmaMagna, for instance, has a whole area to the rear of the ship dedicated to wellness, with treatment rooms, a gym and a juice bar.
You can also opt to go on a wellness river cruise. In 2019, I took an Active & Discovery river cruise with Avalon Waterways. You can read more about it here. This cruise was tailored with more wellness activities on board, together with a number of more active and enriching excursions including kayaking, mountain biking, painting, wine tasting and food tours – many of which are included in the cruise fare. Honestly, it was the perfect balance of activities for me.
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