Why You Need a River Cruise Expert to Plan Your River Cruise Vacation

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert


We recently helped two couples plan a European river cruise for the 2019 cruise season.  Neither had been on a river cruise.  It got me to thinking—what questions would I have about taking a river cruise for a travel advisor that might be different from another type of vacation?  The more we talked and emailed each other, it became evident to me that both really wanted to go, but they wanted the best possible experience for their money and had a lot of questions.  We finally got them booked on a line neither had previously knew about but was the best option for them–I am quite confident they will have a great vacation.

Emerald Sun Watermarked
The Emerald Sun–a great option many Americans do not know about

I guess it is really not surprising they had so many questions—I read recently that about 526,000 Americans took a river cruise in 2016 compared to 11.5 million who took an ocean cruise (sources Seatrade Cruise News and Cruise Lines International Organization (CLIA)).  In other words, only about 4.5% of all American cruisers took a river cruise in 2016.  No wonder, so many have questions about river cruising!

So, here are some facts about vacations as compared to cruise vacations and the questions I would ask us if I wanted to go on a river cruise.

Reasons People Take Vacations

It might seem strange to start with this information, but to my way of thinking, the purpose or why of the vacation is the central question that needs to be answered.  It really determines if a river cruise is right for your travels.  Here are 3 of the top 4 reasons folks take a vacation (I omitted spend time with family which was number 3 reason to take a vacation) and how a certain type of vacation rates with respondents of a J. D, Power survey conducted for CLIA:

Reasons to Take a Vacation by Vacation Type Any Vacation Ocean Cruise River Cruise
# 1 To see & do new things 42% 45% 54%
#2 To relax & get rid of stress 33% 32% 19%
# 4 To gain knowledge of history & other cultures 6% 8% 13%


So for me, this brings up my first 3 questions:  1) Will I get to see and do new things?; 2) Will I get to relax and get rid of stress?; and 3) Will I gain knowledge of history and other cultures?

So, now if my responses match 2 of the 3 general questions of why I want to go on the vacation, I am probably a pretty good match for a river cruise.  If the object is to relax, and get rid of stress, a river cruise may not be my best option.  The reason is simple—the river boats often port near or in the city centers and with the included tours, it is more active than just lounging around a swimming pool or spending a day relaxing in a hammock by the beach.  It doesn’t mean you can’t relax on a river cruise—Anne often takes a day off from the sightseeing and just enjoys a short walk on her own or stays onboard.  While these are basic questions, there must be follow on—what sights, what type of new things, how much history, how much mixing with people and their cultures.

Durstein Shuttle Train
Even though the port of Durstein is a pleasant walk half mile walk, there is even a shuttle train to help some river cruise guests with mobility problems

Next Comes the river in Europe

I have written several blogs about what you can expect to see on Europe’s rivers while on a river cruise.  Most river cruisers select either the upper Danube (38.1 % according to Seatrade Cruise News) or the Rhine (31.1%, again Seatrade Cruise news)—that’s 69.2 % of all river cruisers.  While these are great options, by no means are the only options.

The Main River is a great cruise route–picture is from AmaWaterways

The type of cruise experience is the central theme here.  My questions would be—What will I get to see on my cruise?  Why should I go on this river?  Are there any problems I might experience on this river?  When is the best time to go?  Here is the link to my blog about the reasons to sail on a particular Europe River: What is the Best Europe River Cruise Route?

Now, What Cruise Line

Perhaps this is the hardest set of questions—not everyone has the same tastes.  I tried to capture some of the differences in my River Cruise Vibes blog.  Level of service, inclusions, ship facilities, food and wine and cruise atmosphere all are part of this set of questions.  Here is the link to my River Cruise Vibes blog: River Cruise Vibes

Next, What Cabin Type?

Although river ships are small compared to ocean liners and the staterooms are usually smaller, there is a large range of options for your cabin.  They all come a different price points and options, like balconies, bed size and bathroom configuration and features.  While this is an important set of questions, the typical river cruiser does not spend that much time in their cabin except to sleep and get ready for their next excursion and meal, so to some, this may not be as important as it is to others. 


AmaCerto Stateroom
Our Stateroom on the AmaCerto–pretty nice!

Still, the stateroom can make or break the experience for some river cruisers, especially a seasoned ocean cruiser who prefers a huge suite—river cruise staterooms may be just too small for them or they may need to have a larger stateroom on one of the two Giants of the Danube (another blog I recently wrote).  Is it getting a little complicated?—add in 8 river cruise lines with different features and you can see it really does require a special knowledge of each line to choose the right stateroom for your cruise.

When Should I go?

There are certain times of the year river cruising is less expensive.  If my plans are flexible, I would want to know if I can save some money and still get a great vacation.  One of our favorite times is late October thru November, as the weather is still generally mild, there are less crowds and prices seem generally lower.

Rhine River Gorge
The Rhine River Gorge is fabulous in October

Pre and Post Stays

Most Americans do not want to fly to Europe for only 7 days—due the distance and cost involved in this type of vacation, it often makes sense to extend with a land package.  This creates a new set of questions—among them, what do the cruise lines offer, should my travel advisor create a special add-on package with another vendor, what will I see and do, and how much extra does it cost?

Flights and Transfers

Most river cruise lines offer good deals for flights to help you get to Europe.  However, these can be great experience or a computer generated 3 leg flight that saves the cruise line some money while you suffer a 24 hour ordeal.  This is a tricky feature that really requires the help of a travel professional, in my opinion.  What is included?  Transfers—yes or no?  How much to upgrade?  Can I use my airline mileage?  Just reading some of the consumer complaints about river cruising, it often seems to me the air offers are among the most complained about feature of river cruising.

Entertainment and Night Life

River cruise ships do not have big production shows or casinos (sorry Anne) and if you are a night owl, most river cruise lines won’t meet your expectations.  However, U by Uniworld has a cruise more oriented to the night life.  If you like more cultural small groups or glass blowing demonstrations or cooking classes or themed cruise (our favorite is wine cruises), then river cruising is a good match.  You can bet, I would ask these types of questions.

The Uniworld A 2018
The A–U by Uniworld  in 2018–a different river cruise experience

 My Final set of Questions—what is the Value I will get for my Money?

You might seem surprised that money is my last set of questions.  Value is really taking all the desires you have for the vacation (the above questions) and selecting the line that best matches what you expect for the vacation.  Once you are comfortable you will get a great vacation, and realize all that is included, the cost often seems justified.  Here is a link I wrote earlier about the Great Value of a River Cruise: The Great Value of a Europe River Cruise

Do you see now why you need a River Cruise Expert to help you through this Process?

There are so many things you really need to know to get the puzzle of river cruising right.  I study this all the time and it is hard for me to know everything—I learn something new almost every day.  There is no way you can have all the answers, especially when each cruise line only puts their best foot forward in their brochures and advertisements. 

My Final Thoughts

As you can see, asking a lot of questions about river cruising and then making wise travel choices, is more complex than you may have thought.  Trip planning is not easy.  Making sound decisions are critical to the travel planning process.  Time and money issues are complex—we all want the best at the least possible price.  We help you solve those complex issues, saving you hassles, time and worry.  We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

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