River Cruise Safety in Europe

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

We have been on 11 river cruises in Europe and will go back again in December to take our 12th cruise.  There are many reasons why we like to river cruise so much, but one key reason is that it is a safe trip and it makes it a great vacation for most folks.  We would never consider cancelling our trip due to the current world situation in Europe, because we have so much confidence we will be safe.  As a retired Army Officer, I can assure you I never would put myself in danger anyway just to have a vacation.  I do, however, understand concerns in today’s world.  We have traveled during many periods of unrest or tension in Europe and always felt safe, as long as we take simple steps to avoid potential dangerous situations.  Please consider these items before you decide that travel to Europe or taking a river cruise in Europe is dangerous:

Risk

No one can promise you will be safe anywhere in the world, including where you live today in the US.  Despite the headlines, you are actually safer traveling to Europe than the risks you face in daily life.  From 2001-2013, according to the US State Department, 350 US citizens have been killed overseas.  In that same time period in the US (2001-2013), according to the Center for Disease Control, 406,496 people were killed by firearms and again from 2001-2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly 520,000 people died in auto accidents.  Perception of danger overseas is not the reality.

Terrorism Aims

Terrorists want to spread their political agenda by fear and intimidation.  They want the 24-hour coverage of the news channels to show how horrible they are and that they disregard human life.  Terrorism is random and this increases fear.  The terrorists win if we stop traveling.  Do not worry constantly, just use good common sense to limit chances you will be harmed.

Tips to Protect Yourself in Europe

  • Buy Travel Insurance

There are many ways travel insurance can add a level of protection to safeguard your trip.  Travel insurance can cover trip cancellation for qualified reasons (you never go on the trip) and trip interruption for qualified reasons (you go but do not complete the entire trip); medical problems, evacuation home or to a hospital, lost or delayed baggage and flight insurance.  Not all policies cover all the above situations, especially trip cancellation coverage and the costly cancel for any reason policies.  Most policies we recommend are primary coverage—that means they pay first regardless of other coverage.  One of the best features is an emergency contact center, manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist in an emergency situation.  Just so you know, we never travel without travel insurance.  We always offer travel insurance, but you are not required to buy (disclaimer, we are paid a commission on these products, but the real reason we recommend travel insurance is that we want you to consider your personal risk and situation.  We have a professional responsibility to ensure you are properly informed).  We can help guide you through the process but we will never promise coverage for a specific situation —this is something you should discuss with the insurance company directly.  Travel insurance just adds peace of mind, in my opinion.  There are also policies that provide emergency evacuation that are not a medical necessity. 

  • Watch the News on TV

Just keeping up with world events can help you recognize potential danger areas to avoid.  CNN International and BBC Worldwide are usually available in most places we have stayed and are available on most river cruise ships.  Don’t become glued to the TV–just monitor so you are protected and informed

  • Realize that some venues make be directed to be closed or a ship might make a change in port stops or tours.

For your protection, you will often see more police at public transportation areas and there may be more security screening to enter some areas, museums or other attractions.  We have experienced all of these and in most cases, it was totally reassuring, and the delays were minimal.  Just be flexible and all will be all right.

  • Enjoy your trip but be aware of your surroundings

This is the common sense rule.  We always expect to have fun, but are aware—if something just does not seem right, use caution.

  • If traveling alone, make sure someone knows where you are and when you are expected back

While we recommend traveling with someone or in a group, if you are travelling alone, let the hotel front desk or the river cruise ship reception know if you are going out on your own.  It just adds another level of security.

  • Register with the State Department

The US State Department has a Safe Traveler Enrollment Program.  The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  It allows US citizens to sign up to receive alerts from the US State Department, allows the US Embassy a way to contact you if needed and provides a way family or friends can contact you in an emergency.  Here is the link to their website to register https://step.state.gov/step/

  • Carry some items with you to help you be prepared if an emergency situations arises.

We always carry with us contact info for the hotel we are staying at or the emergency contact info for the river cruise ship, a copy of our passports, some local cash and a credit card.  We also have our cell phones.

How River Cruise Companies Help Insure Your Safety

River cruise lines train their crew members to insure your safety.  The sailing crew members (usually the Captain, First Officer, Engineer and deck hands) are well experienced—most have been sailing for years and the know and avoid dangers that could occur on your river cruise.  There is always a safety briefing on each river cruise prior to sailing. 

The captain (left), hotel manager (top right) & Cruise manager always stress safety to the guests.

The cruise director and local guides also add a level of security—they know about potential problems and can insure guests do not venture into dangerous areas.  The cruise lines also monitor weather conditions and river levels to insure safety.  The ships all have great safety features, such as radar to help avoid other traffic on the rivers.  There is a 24 hour guard on each ship and outside entrances are locked during night-time hours and no one is granted access without proper ID.  When each guest leaves the river boat, they are required to take a card with emergency phone numbers.  This also allows the crew to know if you did not re-board prior to the departure of the ship.

These are just a few of the reasons we like river cruising so much—they are a safe way to travel.  We hope this will inspire you to give me a call at 713-397-0188 or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com) so I can help you visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

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3 Reasons Why You Should River Cruise in Europe

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

We have been on 11 river cruises in Europe and will return in December to take our 12th cruise.  There are many reasons why we like to river cruise so much, but one key reason is there is so much value in the trip that it makes it a great vacation for most folks.  So here are 3 great reasons you should consider taking a river cruise in Europe:

  1. You will see so much in so little time. River cruising is all about the destinations.  Even though I have been traveling to Europe for almost 45 years and led several group tours, I could not do what the river cruise companies do in one week—these folks are experts in showing you the best sights in the least amount of time.  It is truly a unique way to see the interior of a country.  It is different from a land based tour and different from an ocean cruise.  One of the best advantages is that most often your riverboat will dock near or in the center of the city, town or village you are about to explore.  In five minutes all guest are off the boat and seeing the sights.  Most lines also offer different groups during the tours—regular, active walkers or gentle walkers, so your desired way to see the destination is matched with your tour.  Even while on board there is always something to see on the banks, as you cruise along to the next destination.
  2. Almost all is included in your trip. On river cruise lines, your food, meals with wine or beer at lunch and dinner, your cabin and even occasional entertainment is included in the fare.  The clear, upfront pricing helps make it easier to budget for your vacation.  River boats are small (only 100 to 190 passengers) friendly and comfortable.  Food is generally good but some lines are better than others.  Some cruise lines (Scenic, Uniworld, Tauck and newcomer Crystal) are completely inclusive (all liquor, gratuities and even optional tours) but cost more than other companies.  Viking, Emerald and Avalon offer more optional choices, but usually have lower starting prices.  Our favorite river cruise company, AmaWaterways does not include gratuities, liquor outside of meals, and there may be an extra charge for some optional tours although there is at least one tour included at every port at no charge (many times there are 2 or more at no charge).  There are a lot of differences between lines (I have written a blog about this and we have a great comparison PowerPoint on our website) but the bottom line is clear:  RIVER CRUISING IS A GREAT VALUE!  Learn More
  3. There are so many great routes and even repeating the same itinerary again is fun. We have seen a lot of Europe (11 countries) while on river cruises.  Your floating luxury hotel is an awesome way to see some of the great sights of Europe.  There are many themed cruises that could add to your trip and make the cruise even better for you.   Most lines offer 2 tours at each port stop, so even taking the same route twice or more is not boring—it is fun and each trip is different.  We have been 5 times on the Danube and 3 times on the Rhine and 3 times on the Rhone and would not hesitate to go on any of these routes again.  There is so much to see in Europe on or near the rivers that repeat trips are not a waste of time or money. 

These are just a few of the reasons we like river cruising so much—they are constantly improving their product.  We hope this will inspire you to give me a call at 713-397-0188 or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com) so I can help you visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

My Top 10 Lessons Learned in 44 Years of Europe Travel

As many of you know, we specialize in cruises, European River Cruises and European Vacations. Here are my favorite lessons learned, many the hard way in our travels to Europe:
My Top 10 Lessons Learned from 44 Years of Travel in Europe
1. Know exactly what you want to see and how to get there. This may sound silly but many key places you may want to visit are often very hard to visit without several transfers. Let me give you an example. Several years ago, we had a Eurorail pass with limited days. Prior to start of using our 15 days, we had one extra day. We were in France & I wanted to see Mt. St. Michel in Normandy. Without doing my homework, I got us to Le Havre, about 100 miles north of my desired attraction. We never made it to Mt. St. Michel. Turns out it is very difficult to go by train alone to Mt. St. Michel. The point is simple—you must plan your connections & have a clear idea of how to get there.
2. Protect your money—carry a money belt and always zip it shut. Even though we always carry money belts, I forgot to zip mine one night & dropped all my credit cards & IDs along with $230 US dollars in Paris one trip. We realized the mistake after only 30 minutes & after a brief search determined the cards were gone. We called & cancelled the cards within one hour of our loss. We also learned that because Anne had different cards, our trip was not ruined. Report the loss to the police—unbelievably; when we went to the local Paris police station, someone had turned in all my lost items, to include the cash.
3. Change your money before you go. There is always a fee to exchange money. Banks usually offer the best exchange rates. You will not get the prime published exchange rate—that is only for banks or large currency exchanges. Foreign coins cannot be changed in banks or at currency exchanges—they only accept folding money. Try to use them before you leave the country or prepare to keep them as mementos. We carry a minimum of $200.00 US dollars in foreign currency—usually 200-300 Euros or so. Depending upon the trip, we have carried as much as $1000.00. The two best places to get foreign currency—your bank or American Express. Bank is usually cheaper. We usually only carry Euros or Pounds prior to a European trip. We carry $ 200-1000 USD depending on the length of the trip. Of course, if our trip is only to Russia, we get rubles. We always split our cash money—half each and carry it in our money belts. I also use zipper pockets for my wallet, if I’m not carrying a momoney)—ney belt. If you need more money, use an ATM and get a large amount (enough to keep going back for more saves on transaction fees.
4. Pack light—one rolling suitcase and 1 backpack. Anne & I try to take one suitcase and one carry-on each. The size of the suitcase depends on the length of the trip. We think a spinner suitcase is best (4 wheels) so that it will not fall over (I accidently let Anne’s 2 wheel case fall over on one trip & it cracked our net book screen). Most airlines will charge you steep fees for a bag that weights more than 50 pounds. Try to take clothes that match together so you can wear an item at least twice or three times. Wash and wear clothing helps limit the amount clothes you need. Rolling our clothes helps us get more in less space. Laundry services are available in Europe, but we often just do a small in-room wash. We sometimes use packing cubes to help organize our items. Even when I unpack, I just throw the packing cube in the drawer—less to pack later. You may want to take a picture of any high dollar item you are taking or make a detailed packing list with specific description (an example, Blue Microfiber Travel Smith Blazer). We have done both.
5. Never take a night train just to save money. We once took a night train from Paris to Amsterdam with what we thought was a night couchette private compartment. Turns out it was a compartment for 4, and it was so hot in August it took us 2 days to recover. Sometimes spending a little more is worth it, especially as you age. Several years later on an overnight train from Granada to Barcelona, in a proper air conditioned private compartment, it was a great trip.
6. Learn how to use public transportation especially, the subway. Figure out how to get to the attraction that fits your style of travel. Ask at the hotel you are staying for help to get to where you want to go. Taxis are sometime essential & your hotel can often keep you from being ripped off. Our preferred method is to walk, then subway, maybe bus, finally cab or private limo (from Rome to cruise port of Cittivichia for example).
7. Don’t spend $3000 to go on a trip and then balk at an entrance fee of $10-$20 for something you want to see. Know what you want to see and budget for entrance fees. I once missed a beautiful church wood carved altar because I wouldn’t spend $5.00 (OK 5 Euros)—it’s not very cost effective after spending $3000 to get there.
8. Organize your sightseeing in a city by grouping sites that are close together. Grouping will save you hours of time. Plan time to see things in the area, then move to the next area of town—it is just smart travel.
9. Know when key sites are closed. Know what days certain sites are closed—the Louvre is closed on Tuesday and in Florence most key art galleries are closed on Mondays.
10. Carry the right electronics and adapters. Traveling with electronics in Europe is a given in today’s world. Europe uses 240 volts instead of the 110 volts in the US. Bring only electronic devices that are 100-240 volts complaint. You will also need adapter plugs to fit into the outlets. England & Ireland use a different plug than is used on the continent of Europe. Also expect few places in your room to plug in your appliance to recharge during your trip. My experience with converter devices is poor—they often just do not work or destroy your costly electronic device.

We hope you liked this post–it was fun writing it.  If you want more info and travel tips, our website has a lot of useful info under the About Tab on www.dreamdestinations.com.

Remember…Savor Life…Make Memories…Visit Dream Destinations…Your journey begins here!