European River Cruises - strategy

Aug 1st, 2016, 11:12 AM
  #1  
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European River Cruises - strategy

We're interested in taking a European River Cruise in 2017. Two of us, early 60s. My husband likes to bike, I'm more of a hiker. I've received various recommendations on cruise lines from friends, and I've looked online and have ordered some catalogs.

My first question is - when is the best time to book? I saw something that said you absolutely do not pay the quoted brochure price. It also said that some of the best prices are from Jan-Mar the year you want to travel. I know I have received many 2 for 1 deals this year for 2016 cruises. Do I wait? Can I get deals a year out?

My second question is - we're generally independent travelers. Some of the cruises I've seen have land add-ons on either end of the trip for a few days. Personally, I'd rather do that on our own, just find a hotel and do what we usually do in a city. Are there any advantages to doing it with the cruise company? I'm leaning towards staying a few days on our own on both ends and just using the cruise company for cruise itself.

Any good resources you can recommend (other than Fodor's excellent forums) would be much appreciated.

Thanks so much -
Alice
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Aug 2nd, 2016, 05:38 PM
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The pricing for river cruises will generally have a "cruise only" price that will eliminate the tacked on days at the beginning and end of your cruise. I would stay away from any cruise company that requires that you pay anything but a deposit up front. If your time is flexible, and you can take advantage of last minute deals, you might wait until closer to your preferred cruise date to book. You might not have a choice of cabins, however. You could also watch to see what good deals come up for sailing at "the drop of a hat", but you'll have to know your prices so you know a good deal when you see one.

We have booked a river cruise for next June already. We want a particular date to coincide with an annual event in Paris. This early we were offered free airfare from a number of different U.S. gateway cities, which was quite attractive, as well as an early booking credit.
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Aug 3rd, 2016, 06:03 AM
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Prices are lower on fall sailings as well. We are sailing 10/16 and the price was $750 lower. This will be our second cruise with Avalon. We stay on the lower deck with a high window as we aren't in the room very much.
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Aug 4th, 2016, 04:53 AM
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Well, having airfare included is very attractive as a reason to book early. And we want shoulder season, I think, but I haven't decided which end of it yet.

I didn't know you could just place a deposit and make use of a cancellation date if you change your mind or find something more attractive. I do that with hotels all the time, good suggestion.

I forgot to ask - is there any advantage to using a travel agent/agency that specializes in cruises? My inclination is to just book directly with a cruise line.

Thank you, burta and cobbie2!

Alice
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Aug 4th, 2016, 11:02 AM
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The hotel stays added to each end of the cruise are priced per person so would cost you more than booking a hotel yourself.
We have always booked direcrly with the company.
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Aug 4th, 2016, 03:26 PM
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ira
 
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Hi Alice,

> is there any advantage to using a travel agent/agency

I have found that many TAs offer a reasonable discount.

For my upcoming Danube cruises I have been quite happy with Ms Lin Griffin of Atlas Travel, not only for price, but service as well.

I have also found www dot cruise dot com to offer substantial savings - sometimes.

Enjoy your trip.

ira is offline  
Aug 4th, 2016, 03:33 PM
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ira
 
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PS:

>I have received many 2 for 1 deals this year for 2016 cruises.

That's standard. Nobody pays brochure price.

>Any good resources you can recommend ...

Sign up at www.cruisecritic.com

ira is offline  
Aug 4th, 2016, 05:48 PM
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Booking earlier gives you better choices of cabins too.
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Aug 6th, 2016, 02:53 PM
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Go to the boards on cruisecritic for some great cruise information. There is a section called specialty cruising and you will see river cruises. Click on that. For the Danube, sometimes there is high water in the spring from heavy rains that can impact your trip. Water that is too high or too low can impact going through the locks. Ten you might have a very expensive bus trip. Of course the same is true if the water is too low. Or if there is a strike amongst the lock operators. You need a little patience and Plan B sometimes for a River Cruise!

We went in October and it worked out well. We used AMA Waterways and were very happy with the quality of the cruise. I would definitely use them again. A friend has used Uniworld and was very happy with them as well. I think they are equivalent quality.

We did do the before and after stays through the ship, which I normally do not do (Budapest and Prague). Since we had not been to either city, I thought it would be easier since some tours were included. We took an AMA optional tour (extra cost)in Prague to Terezin(concentration camp) that was quite fascinating. This was the camp used to fool the Red Cross into thinking that the camps were humane. We could have easily arranged this on our own as there were several tour companies that offer this. In the future, I would probably just book myself independently in these cities, but it was quite convenient.

I always use a travel agent for cruises. You get the benefit of their buying power for cost savings, sometimes extra perks, and if there is a problem, your agent will go to bat for you. I do not a use cruise specific travel agent. Most travel agents handle a lot of cruises.
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Aug 18th, 2016, 06:47 AM
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Sorry for the late response, we were away on a short trip. This is all very helpful. I will sign on to cruisecritic and look into a travel agent as well. I'm liking one of the AMA Waterways tours (mostly because it's only 7 days, with cities I want to see on each end). Since I signed up online with a lot of the river cruise companies, I'm ALREADY getting deals, so I imagine that will continue. Since we're flexible as to dates, I think I can wait a bit.

ellenbw, that's a good reason to use a travel agent. The last time I used one was to organize a trip to Costa Rica, and it worked out very well. There's a company nearby that specializes in cruises, might check them out.

Thank you everyone, I'm looking forwards to this as yet unplanned trip already!

Alice
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Aug 22nd, 2016, 10:14 PM
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7 days is a bit short, and if you book on the shoulder season, beware of the potential challenge with the river's water level. There seems to be more issues with the water level for the past few years.

You really don;t want your scenic cruise turns into a bus tour, which had happened in more frequency. Ask your travel agent about the strategy for avoiding that and the answer maybe book at a different time.

I have suggested Emerald earlier, they are a newer player to the game and I have personal friends who cruised with them and was impressed enough to re-book.
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Aug 30th, 2016, 03:00 PM
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I was on AmaWaterways for a Christmas market cruise on the Rhine last December. I loved everything about it except the mattress. It was very thin and hard. I was traveling with my cousin so the cabin was configured with twin beds. We spoke to the hotel manager who recommended we have housekeeping add a foam mattress topper. This helped but it was still very uncomfortable and for that reason I will not sail with Ama again. We had a veranda room and at those prices it was unacceptable. It's a shame because everything else about the cruise was very nice.

I am considering another river cruise in June so I will follow this post and be interested to hear what itinerary and cruise line you select.
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Aug 31st, 2016, 12:04 PM
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TAW
 
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If you go to cruisecompete.com you will get competitive pricing for your chosen cruise. I have used it several times to book a cruise.
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Aug 31st, 2016, 12:15 PM
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I have three general recommendations for river cruises:
1) Don't pay extra for a verandah. It's not often usable, especially in shoulder season, and you are often parked next to other ships, which means you'll have someone else literally four feet from your window, so you won't be able to use it in most ports.
2) If you are comfortable traveling on your own, never book a land add-on before or after the cruise. While it may save you a couple of dollars in transfer costs, it's rarely something you can't do cheaper and better on your own.
3) If you can find a reliable and knowledgable travel agent, use one. It's not that you can't do all the bookings yourself, but since river lines pay commissions, agents are happy to book and some know a lot about the business and can really add value and help you decide what you want and how much to pay.
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Sep 11th, 2016, 09:57 AM
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Thanks for these tips - I was considering AmaWaterways because I like one of their itineraries, never heard of cruisecompete.com, so that's a big help too.

And doug_stallings, I hadn't even thought about your point about a verandah. As to land add-ons, I would most certainly handle these myself. And I might just go see the local 'cruise expert' travel agent, no reason not to.

But now I'm wondering about shoulder season - and water levels. Time to hit the books, I think.

Thanks all - Alice
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Sep 21st, 2016, 04:46 PM
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Alice9,
I just came across this website on current water level that someone else linked. Thought it might be helpful to you.
http://rivercruiseinfo.com/content/river-levels
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Oct 1st, 2016, 10:54 AM
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Scootoir, thanks so much, very helpful.

Aice
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Oct 1st, 2016, 01:11 PM
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Looking at the link that Scootoir provided, it appears water level are lower than usual pretty well everywhere. All it takes is one heavy rain storm and the water level is going to change almost overnight.
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Oct 2nd, 2016, 05:30 PM
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Disagree with Doug about the "verandah", but maybe it is a case of definition

We sailed on Avalon Tranquility II on the Romantic Rhine. Our room had wall to wall windows that opened. Not a balcony, but it was lovely to cruise lying on the bed and watching the world cruise by
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Oct 5th, 2016, 11:01 PM
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You don't need a balcony, you'll have more privacy with a window, especially when the ships tie up to each other. I prefer lower room with window, mid ship..it's quieter..

You'll have fun biking and hiking along the river, but don't bother with a bike tour, because they spend more time talking than biking. It's very easy to follow the river.

I prefer independent hotels and apartment rentals pre & post cruise. It's cheaper if you book yourself, even at the same hotel the cruise company is using and you can still purchase the cruise company transfers...I did from Arles to Barcelona and then rented an apartment for a few days in Barcelona..was awesome!

The most luxurious and state of the art, farm to table dining is Crystal Cruises. AmaWaterways & Uniworld are the next rated and then Viking.. All of the ships have bikes to use..
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