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Cruise Tips and Tricks for First-Time River Cruisers

  • Interested in a 2021 river cruise and want to know more? Our tips and tricks for first-time river cruisers can help
  • Expert tips and helpful advice for making your first river cruise a holiday to remember
  • From choosing a cabin to dining and excursions, here’s how to get the best from your first river cruise

  • If you’re considering a European river cruise for 2021, our top river cruise tips and tricks will be invaluable for your holiday and make your first cruise plain sailing.


    Discover our exciting range of European river cruises. Choose one of our bestselling itineraries to explore the Rhine, the Douro or the Rhône or set off on a fascinating voyage of discovery along the magnificent Danube.
    A typical day on a river cruise
    Although river cruise itineraries vary depending on where in the world you’re visiting, and facilities on board differ from ship to ship, all first-time cruisers can look forward to a relaxing, life-enriching holiday. On a typical morning, passengers wake up in their comfortable, well-appointed cabin with an external window or balcony, and head for breakfast. If you’re up with the lark, enjoy an early risers’ tea, coffee, and pastry on deck before joining others for a buffet breakfast with hot options. No excursion ashore for a few hours? Then make the first meal of the day a leisurely affair, and perhaps soak up the sunshine, and scenery, while reclining on a sun lounger on deck. Then it’ll be time to go ashore. Cultural and historical tours with English-speaking guides are a much-loved highlight of river cruises. On-shore excursions are typically included in the cruise price, so embrace the opportunity to learn more about a destination from an expert with local knowledge. Excursions are incredibly insightful but not compulsory. You can choose to stay on the ship or explore a destination on your own – just remember to write down the meet-up time so that you’re back in time for the ship’s departure. Back on board, there will be free time to make use of the ship’s facilities. Many river cruise ships have a small spa, fitness room, hair salon and library to enjoy or you may opt to sit in the bar with a drink before dinner. Delicious four-course meals, prepared by talented chefs and using local ingredients, are served every evening in an informal dining area. There will be one sitting and free seating, so join new-found friends at their table, or you can choose to dine alone. While river cruise entertainment is generally low-key compared to ocean cruises, passengers can still look forward to wine-tasting events, cooking demonstrations, educational guest speakers, and a quiz or two. There could also be live music in the evenings.
    River cruise booking tips
    Riviera Travel river cruises are great value for money, as the price you’re quoted includes return journeys and transfers, as well as all meals on board, all excursions and guided tours, and taxes and fuel supplements. What’s more, on some cruises you can avoid flying and travel to your embarkation destination on Eurostar (a supplement may apply). The average duration of a cruise along popular rivers, such as the Danube or Rhine, is usually eight days, but there are also three- and four-night options. If anxious about your first river cruise, why not test the waters, so to speak, and book a short European river cruise before committing to anything longer. Another good river cruise tip – consider extending a cruise holiday by adding on a few days in your disembarkation city such as Lisbon or Budapest. Our Rhine Cruise to Switzerland can be extended to include an experience a train journey on the legendary Glacier Express. River cruises typically carry around 160 passengers. This ensures a friendly atmosphere on board, however, fewer cabins also mean popular cruises with those departing in spring and autumn, as well as Christmas market cruises, booking up fast. If you’ve got your heart set on a particular cruise, don’t delay and risk disappointment. Book as far ahead as possible, mentioning any dietary requirements, mobility issues, and any other special requests.
    Choosing your cabin tips
    Cabin prices vary according to their size and location on the ship. Generally, the lower the location of the cabin, the cheaper the price. An essential river cruise tip is to look at the ship’s deck plan before booking and ask the cruise company if you have any questions about cabin locations. For example, early-to-bedders and light sleepers may snooze more soundly if their accommodation is away from the bar or lounge area. Remember too that double cabins can usually be set up with twin beds, so again highlight your preference at the time of booking a cruise. There’s good news for solo travellers too. Every Riviera Travel cruise has a number of lower deck cabins available for sole occupancy with no single supplement. There are also a number of exclusive solo travel cruises.
    Food and drink tips
    Drinks packages on board a river cruise can be good value – but it all depends on how much you wish to drink during lunch and dinner, and whether you’re happy with house wine and draught beer. Before making any commitment, do your sums, and remember that everyone travelling together must purchase the same package. Don’t worry about missing your favourite hot drink while you’re on a river cruise. All of our cabins have facilities for making tea and coffee and are stocked with well-loved brands.
    Packing tips
    One of the biggest worries for first-time cruisers is what to pack for a river cruise. That’s easy, all you need is casual clothing that is comfortable and suitable for sightseeing and a few items that you can dress up for dinner – though there is no formal dress code at mealtimes. Layers are a good idea, as is a lightweight, water-resistant jacket. And remember to pack sunglasses, sun cream, and a sun hat. Some excursions will involve a visit to a place of worship or religious site where you’ll be expected to dress modestly. Shoulders and knees must be covered, so bring a shawl or light long-sleeved top to wear inside – zip-off trousers are also handy. Pack enough memory cards for your camera. It’s easy to take plenty of photographs while on a river cruise, especially when spectacular landscapes await around every bend and you join outstanding sightseeing tours. Don’t risk not being able to capture an awe-inspiring sight to show family and friends back home, and don’t rely on being able to purchase well-priced back-ups at your destinations. Excursions are unhurried, but if you have any mobility issues check with your tour manager about walking distances and the level of difficulty involved. If you’re following a tour guide and listening to their history lesson, a shooting stick with a seat may prove an invaluable item to have in your luggage.
    Money tips
    Holidays are all about having a good time, not worrying over tipping etiquette. There are no compulsory gratuity add-ons with Riviera Travel river cruise – any thank you for excellent service is entirely at your discretion. If you do wish to tip the crew (and it’s worth knowing that tips are shared between staff), consider leaving €5 to €10 per day. Come prepared. Even if you’re on a European river cruise, not all the countries on your itinerary may accept the euro. For example, our Blue Danube river cruise stops in Budapest, as well as Vienna and Salzburg, so you’ll need Hungarian forints if you’re planning to buy at markets, cafés, and shops that won’t accept credit cards. Don’t expect an ATM or exchange facilities on your cruise ship. Your cruise manager, however, will be able to tell you the nearest place to change currency.
    A few more river cruise tips
    Don’t rely on Wi-Fi aboard your river cruise ship. Although complimentary Wi-Fi is available on most ships, when cruising between mountains and cliffs, and under bridges and in locks, the internet signal may be intermittent. Bring a book to read, or a puzzle magazine, or simply soak up the scenery and chat with fellow passengers. If using your mobile phone while travelling in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, calls, text messages and data services are currently the same as UK charges. This may change when the UK exits the Brexit transition period at the end of 2020. However, when in coastal areas or at sea, you may not be able to connect to land-based networks, so your mobile often seeks out the ship’s satellite connection, which is costly. If in doubt, speak to your mobile provider before your cruise. Seasickness shouldn’t be a problem for anyone on a river cruise, however, if you do feel a little queasy, go up on deck and look in the direction of travel, focusing on a steady point in the distance. Getting ashore is hassle-free too, and unlike ocean cruises, passengers don’t need to be transferred to land on a dinghy. River ships are able to navigate shallow rivers and locks and their size means they often dock in the heart of a destination.
    Start your river cruise adventure
    From the Rhine to the Rhône and from the Douro to the Danube, there’s an incredible river cruise holiday for everyone. Explore our range of incredible river cruise holidays for 2021 and experience a new perspective across the heart of Europe, and our worldwide river cruises to explore even further.
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