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Quirky Cruise
February 23, 2019

Affordable European River Cruises

Affordable European River Cruises

By Ted Scull.

Our regular visitors to QuirkyCruise know full well that small-ship cruising does not come cheaply. In many cases, it can be downright expensive and beyond one’s means.

Today’s massive cruise ships have economies of scale, though remember that the fares listed may only include passage and meals.

Meanwhile, many river cruises — the subject of this column — include quite a lot in the base price, hence comparisons are more like watermelons and tangerines.

So what is in the price you might pay to sail the Rhine, Rhone, Main, Moselle, Danube or Douro?

First-time searchers will be amazed at the almost complete absence of nickel and diming, especially if you are a deep-sea cruiser who has recently decided to try the calm waters of rivers and canals.

Rhine River Family Cruises

It’s a castle fest on the middle Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Europe River Cruising: What’s Included & What’s Not?

Most river lines include a daily shore excursion and that’s a big-ticket item on most mainstream mega cruise ships. They may range from $50 to $100 dollars and maybe more. Multiply that by the number of days you plan to take one; it adds up big time.

So, on mainstream big-ship cruises, you might not take an excursion in every port to save money; but then you’ll see less.

On a week’s river cruise, on the other hand, you will have at least six port calls. And especially if you have not been to any of them before, you can go on all the excursions you desire, as the outings are included in the fares.

Many river lines also include house wine and beer with lunch and dinner, plus soft drinks, bottled water in the cabins, and coffee and tea.

Of course, those who like a beer or glass of wine with lunch and perhaps share a bottle of wine at dinner will benefit most. Do the math. A glass of wine may be $8-15 and a bottle from about $25 and up for low-end table wines.

Affordable European River Cruises

Wine is included on most European river cruises. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Gratuities may also be included on a river cruise and coverage often takes in all the staff on board, guides ashore and drivers, if a bus is involved. On oceangoing ships, tips are often automatically billed to one’s account. They may amount to roughly $12-15 per person per day for the onboard staff plus tips you dish out to guides and bus drivers ashore.

Many river lines will also include the transfers between the airport and ship, and with any pre- or post-cruise hotel stays. Of course, some mainstream big-ship cruise lines may also, if you have booked their air package.

Europe River Cruise Rates

Now what are the reasonable per diem (daily) rates that will hopefully include most of the aforesaid?

A line’s brochure and website rates are often published a year or more in advance and may be just a starting point. A seven-night European Danube cruise will show that rates vary by dates, often with the early spring and late fall fares being lower than the June to September high season. The ports visited during an off-season departure will also be less crowded.

When bookings are slow for some sailings, even in August, there may be a discounted rate for that sailing. Or, if several are offered, you may be enticed by an air allotment or fully-paid economy airfare to and from certain cities and the embarkation port.

The river lines supply the international airlines with huge passenger numbers, so they can negotiate lower rates than most travelers can, notwithstanding using your own air miles. If you don’t live near an airport with direct flights to and from the riverboat, and even if you do, you may have to change planes once or even twice. Never fun, but them’s the real world of bucket fares.

Viking Debuting 7 New River Vessels

A Viking Longship on the Main River. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

Europe River Cruise Early-Booking Fares

Early-booking cruise rates usually have a cutoff date, and the period from mid-January through February may see enticing offers as the lines will already know how the year is faring.

On the other hand, last-minute booking fares may interest some who are veteran travelers. And I don’t mean the retired folks who show up at the pier in Miami on sailing day to hopefully get a huge windfall for an empty cabin. I’m talking about discounts on a cabin that will otherwise go un-sold and generate zero onboard revenue for that cruise.

For instance, say, it’s Valentine’s Day and the boat is leaving from Amsterdam, Paris or Vienna in late April or early May and has lots of open cabins. The river cruise line gives you a deal and books your air. And you pack your bag, deal with the dog or cat, make sure the bills are paid, and off you go.  You may not be able to turn down such a great deal, and so you’ll surely make your potential travel mate very happy.

Afforable European River Cruises

Europe river cruising in the fall by bicycle. * Photo: Peter Knego

Here They Are … A List of Affordable Europe River Cruises

So here’s what you have been waiting for…🥁🥁…drum roll …

The most affordable Europe cruises start as low as $200 a day per person sharing a double cabin and range on up to still-not-half-bad $300 to $350 per person a day.

Remember to check what’s included.

The lines in alphabetical order that generally offer rates within this range:

➢➢ Avalon Waterways

➢➢ CroisiEurope Cruises

➢➢ Grand Circle

➢➢ Vantage World Travel

➢➢ Viking River Cruises

Other lines may also bring rates way down on occasion, so have a look at their offers too. The best way to keep up to date is to sign up for lines’ email newsletter. Then pounce.

Affordable European River Cruises

Vantage River Cruises is one of the more affordable European River Cruises. * Photo: Vantage River Cruises

So What Do You Get?

Okay, where is your cabin located? The answer may not surprise you, and you may be pleased, unless you are used to traveling with your silver spoon. Several of my cruises have been with a cabin in the least expensive category, sleeping on the lowest deck.

Afforable European River Cruises

Avalon Visionary shows a line of small windowed cabins on the lowest deck. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

This will not be an inside cabin such as on a big cruise ship (because river boats don’t have them), but one with a porthole or small window that gives you light and a view just above waterline. If the boat had lots of space when you booked, it may be higher up with a step out or full balcony.

Remember, riverboats are small vessels, and a climb of one or maximum two decks will get you to a great viewing location. And most of your day will be either on a trip ashore, sitting up on deck or dining in a panoramic restaurant.

Go fetch that deal and see the castles along the Rhine, the landscapes and villages that captivated Impressionist painters, and the elegant cities along the Danube.

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