In the first and second parts of this series, we listed 10 river cruise comparison points. To review they are the ship design, the excursions, bicycles, the wine, the food, dining accommodations, ship spaciousness, terms and conditions, single supplement waivers and ownership.
But what about the obvious comparisons. That’s what this post will review as a bonus.
One of the things all our clients look at is pricing. This is very difficult to generalize because pricing is dynamic. The river cruise companies will run promotions on certain itineraries and dates depending how well things are selling. Sometimes inventory can be tight (selling very well) but a large group that was holding space drops out unexpectedly and so there’s a ton of cabins suddenly available. The cruise line might decide to run a promotion to help fill up space.
And keep in mind a couple of points to consider:
- Pricing is generally better the sooner you book. Unlike ocean cruising, river cruise pricing tends not to drop right before sailing (mostly because they are full)
- It’s not just about the cruise price but about total value. In addition to the cabin price, consider all factors such as port charges, gratuities, insurance, land extensions,transfers, all inclusiveness, loyalty savings and benefits.
Reputation and level of service
We have some clients that love Scenic and others that are loyal to Uniworld. Many have had excellent experience with AmaWaterways. All of these brands, as well as Tauck have excellent reputations. Other brands have different reputations depending on whom you talk to. And to be fair, they have different price points and markets as well. So consider the level of service you get when you consider river cruises. Reputation and the level of service go hand and hand. The lower the price point, the lower the service and generally (not always) the worse the reputation.
And consider variation in reviews when you consider reputation. River cruise lines that have consistently high level of service also have consistently good to great reviews. However those that have lower levels of service please some people but greatly disappoint others and so have more inconsistent reviews. Reputation for a high quality product is an important river cruise comparison point.
If you’re really into Louis XVI style furnishings, you’ll love Uniworld which ornately decorates their ships. If you’d rather have a more modern style, Viking’s clean lines may be more keeping with your style. We find AmaWaterways style to be nicely modern but never at the expense of comfort. But many people consider style when comparing river cruises. There’s also a matter of formality. We find Uniworld travelers to dress a bit more formally for dinner. It’s not a requirement but that seems to be the norm from the passengers. Having said that, we don’t dress any differently on Uniworld than other lines and have never felt out of place.
What’s included in the price is an important element to consider. Uniworld for example includes all wine and alcholic drinks all the time and also includes gratuities. AmaWaterways’ approach is that wine and beer are included for lunch, dinner and cocktail hour (new for 2018). Those that want additional drinks are welcomed to them on a pay as you go basis so that everyone doesn’t end up subsidizing the heavy drinkers. AmaWaterways also likes gratuities to be a passenger choice so the staff is incentived to perform. Just some things to consider. As mentioned in our previous post, AmaWaterways also includes excursions at ever port they visit, even if it’s the second port of the day. And they offer bikes for riding at any time – not all river cruise lines included these features.
Itinerary and availability
After price, the next comparison point is on itinerary. Does the cruise go where you want it to go? For example, Viking offers a great cruise in China while many other lines simply don’t. Although there’s a lot of overlap on the popular rivers (Danube, Rhine), there certainly are deviations between river cruise lines. To the left are two cruises that leave approximately the same time from the same port and you’ll see what I mean.
Themes – Wine
Finally certain river cruises are centered around themes. Wine themed cruises are by far the most popular. AmaWaterways for example offers wine themed river cruises on the Danube, the Rhine, the Seine, Moselle, Douro, the Rhone, and around Bordeaux. Uniworld has themed cruises around generations (family friendly), wine and food, Jewish Heritage and photo workshops. Scenic Cruises offers some National Geographic themed cruises. All the cruise lines have Christmas Market themed cruises.
River Cruise comparison – wrapping it up
So between Part I, Part II and this post, you have some good information to compare between river cruise lines. Below is the list. It’s pretty long and believe me there’s even more subtle things to consider when comparing river cruise lines. And to sort it all out, we believe a great travel agent can really help. At least that’s what our clients tell us.