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We went to the Cruise Show in Manchester a few weeks ago and sat through a presentation from Viking River cruises; we also had a good chat with people on the Avalon River Cruises stand – here’s a link to a post about the day. Quite a lot about what we heard and were told attracts us to this style of cruising, but other things push us away and we’re quite uncertain about this. Given the price, we don’t know whether to explore this sort of cruise further or not.

The key attraction for us would be the destinations, the itinerary. Pretty much by definition these are places that we haven’t visited on an ocean cruise (although there are exceptions; Amsterdam, for example), and as I’ve said in numerous previous posts, we cruise principally for the destinations. We do like the look of some of the shorter river cruises along the Rhine or the Rhone, and I know we would enjoy visiting all those towns and places that we haven’t visited before. A certain amount of brochure-scouring and initial planning duly followed.

Then we found that there was a new book about river cruising: ‘River Cruising in Europe‘, a new Berlitz guide, and written (or at least supervised) by Douglas Ward, whose annual ocean cruise guide (“Cruising and Cruise Ships”) hits its 30th anniversary for the 2015 edition. So we bought this guide, read it, and promptly had some doubts. One of the things that quite attracted us to river cruising is the ‘all-inclusive’ aspect: drinks are included (at least at dinner) and soft drinks all the time. Then we read the guide. We’re wine drinkers, and this is what the guide says about the included wine: “if you enjoy good vintage wines, expect to be disappointed…. In most cases the wines are very, very young table wines, on a par with the least expensive supermarket wines”. Now, while we’re certainly not drinking 1ère cru claret, we reckon we know something about wine; for example, we understand the advantages to be had, in terms of quality, in paying £10 a bottle from the supermarket instead of £5 – the value of the actual wine in the more expensive bottle is four or five times that of the cheaper. This is why we have enjoyed the Glass House so much on recent cruises – it presents the opportunity to get wines of quite good quality wines by the glass. Yet according to this guide it looks as if we would be in for disappointment. The guide also mentions the problem of mosquitos – I hadn’t thought of them at all – and another problem that we had heard about, low water on the rivers preventing navigation.

All that said, Mr Ward does praise some companies for not cutting costs as much as others, and specifically singles out Ama Waterways as being exemplary in this. But all in all, reading the book has served to reinforce our doubts. There is the old argument that goes “if you want to visit [somewhere], then do a land holiday in a central location and you’ve got choices”, and we wonder if in the case of river cruising, that’s the best answer. Especially if the cost is going to be around £5,000 for both of us, for a week – you could fly there and back, stay in a good hotel, eat well, and visit a number of places for that much money. There again, the downside of doing a land-based holiday in that manner is that you’ve got to plan and execute it all by yourselves – doing a river cruise does take away most of the effort.

Choices, choices…. I’d welcome some opinions, experiences and comments from readers, please.

10 Responses to “To river cruise or not?”

  1. Solent Richard says:

    Hi Tom. As a veteran of 4 river cruises, three with Viking, let me assure you the wines on offer are perfectly acceptable and are actually available for lunch and dinner.

    River cruising cannot be compared directly with ocean cruisingmates, different concepts entirely. Let’s face it, if price is an obstacle then consideration of river cruising should not be an option.

    Have a look at my last review…


    …it will give you a better perspective.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for the comment, and yes I did look at the review you did. I enjoyed it, but I did think it dealt very largely with the destinations; and given that’s why we like to cruise, it’s not surprising that I enjoyed it!

  2. rosie says:

    We have done a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest with Avalon.
    Personally I would not consider Viking, when there is too high or too low water they seem to be the first ones that stop..or you end up on a glorified coach tour staying in hotels.
    Avalon do not seem so prone to this. Cruise is nice as you are moored up in the centre of town each time.
    We had a suite-full height windows slid side wards , so your room became your balcony, so no wasted space with a balcony.
    Main thing we did not like was you all ate at the same time. Ceiling is not very high, so it was very very noisy. After a couple of days we tended to sit on a table for 2 at the edges, as on a larger table you could not always hear what people were saying.
    Wine-depended on how good your waiter was, as to how often your glass was refilled. We are not wine buffs, so accepted what was offered.
    Free coffee etc and cookies throughout the day.
    All inclusive excursion in each stop. You could pay extra for other excursions but we did not see the point, or you could just wander off.
    Guides used the whisper thingies, so you did not have to be stood next to the guide to hear them.
    Would we do it again-not sure- it is very very expensive compared to ocean cruising, and the dining experience was not brilliant. The actual cruise was lovely ,as were the staff on board.

  3. Malcolm Oliver says:

    My only experience of a river cruise has been on the Nile. Although I enjoyed it, I doubt if I cannot compare it with the European ones.

    My issue is that river cruises can cost twice as much (or more) that an ocean cruise, yet they sell like hot cakes.

    I appreciate that rive boats only carry up to 200 passenger,s but why so expensive. It can’t be the cost of they boats, the fuel of the crews wages?

    I’ve seen fares of £200pp, per day, in winter in a cabin with a small window.

    I’ve read reviews which say “the food was quite nice” and entertainment “minimal/low key”, the house wine was “O.K.” For the fare I require better than “quite nice”.

    For me to pay twice as much I would hope that the experience was approaching twice as good. (Maybe I’m just being unreasonable in my expectations?)

    It seems to be a sellers market at the moment. The limited number of budget river cruises generally use old/outdated boats and coach travel to the boat.

    I don’t doubt that river cruising can be very nice, but I still cannot get over the fares. I look forward to a time when berths match (or out-strip) demand.


  4. Malcolm Oliver says:

    ….I forgot to say all river cruises seem to offer a similar experience. With Ocean cruising there are a range of ships/lines, offering a range of experiences aimed at various types of clientele.

    I don’t expect river boats to have rock walls and fully equipped Theatres. However, how about a line that does not only cater for the grey-pound. How about a boat that has a more comprehensive entertainment programme?

  5. Malcolm Oliver says:

    Reblogged this on Malcolm Oliver's Cruiseblog and commented:
    A post from the excellent “Tom’s Cruise Blog”:

  6. At ShipCruise.org there is an extensive collection of specially themed for the classy food and wine aficianados cruises.


    Most of the offers are of course of river cruise lines and operators.

    From all the data processing I’ve done for my cruise deck plans website’s content (cruiseshipdeckplan.com), I can tell you guys this:

    Generally speaking, river cruising is so damn expensive because of the all-inclusiveness of deals. Most of the boats are new (1-5 years old, even on the Asian rivers), staff is well trained and well paid, amenities are like at a top hotel, all tours are included, often flights too, also tips, lectures and guides, etc. And with that much money invested in a ship cruise vacation, to offer you complimentary wine and that wine to be of medium quality would be like breaking a God’s commandment – like “you shall not offer cheap wine to all inclusive VIP guests” or something.

    From what I’ve read, Arosa offers all-day complimentary spirits and wine but only to its Western customers – I guess Germans drink too much on their vacations :))) And big lines (AMA, Avalon, Viking) offer free wine at lunch and dinner, and the wine is of a good selection.

    PS:Dear mr Tom Cruise, I’m a huge fan of your movies (Mission Imp 2 – my total fav, Oblivion – a Sci-Fi tragedy) but today is the day I found you have besides the Com site also a Co.UK cruising blog ;). I would’ve miss all this if it wasn’t the UK’s mr Malcolm 😉 to post that post preview of yours. You guys in UK surely know how to have fan online – and you all are like so calm and attentive to details. I’ve been in UK 3 times – enjoyed every one of theme – especially the booze vacation in Scotland LOL

    Good luck you guys, and keep up the great blogging work you’re doing! 😉

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for the comment, Chavdar.

      Just in case there’s any doubt – I am not Tom Cruise the film star! My name is Tom and I like going on cruises, hence “Tom’s cruise blog”, or tomscruiseblog.co.uk. When I registered the domain I really, genuinely didn’t notice the similarity between this name and other possible ones.

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