One of the most common questions we get asked – particularly from those who are considering a river cruise for the first time – is this: Is it worth it?
What they’re referring to, of course, is the fact that your standard river cruise carries a price tag that is higher than, say, a weeklong cruise to the Mediterranean on a mainstream line. But what they don’t realize is just how much more they’re saving by taking a river cruise.
Consider this: On a mainstream cruise, shore excursions are all offered at an additional cost – meaning unless you want to guide yourself around, you’ll likely be shelling out $80 to $100 per person in each port of call – an amount that can total more than $1,400 for the entire week.
You’ll also have to pay for all your beverages onboard, including beer, wine, spirits, soft drinks and bottled water. Even moderate drinkers – or those who shy away from alcohol entirely – can find themselves spending $200 or more per week on coffee, teas, juices and soft drinks.
To keep in touch with family and friends back home, mainstream cruisers also have to pay for onboard internet access. Budget $55 for the most moderate package.
Of course, there are exceptions. Many luxury and upper premium cruise lines include various components of your cruise at no extra cost.
A river cruise, on the other hand, includes quite a lot in your fare. You’re arguably paying for everything up front instead of in two halves like on a typical ocean cruise, but just like a luxury sailing, there is a measure of relaxation that comes from knowing the wine you enjoy at lunch won’t cost you a dime on most river cruise lines. Ditto for the pint of beer – or two – at dinner. And the cappuccino, which is yours to enjoy around the clock.
Most river cruise lines also give passengers complimentary internet access. Like the internet on oceangoing vessels, internet along the waterways of Europe is far from speedy, but it works well enough – and you’re not smoking through your hard-earned cash while it spins its digital wheels attempting to load.
Almost all shore excursions are offered on a complimentary basis on a river cruise – and cruise lines typically offer tours geared for every activity level, from active walking tours to gentle walking groups to motorcoach tours.
Some tours do come at an additional cost, but these are few and far between. They’re also offered as an extension of the line’s complimentary excursion offerings, so there’s never any pressure to, say, spend €80 on a day-trip to Salzburg, Austria.
On every trip I take, I always try to come up with a budget beforehand. On ocean cruises, most of my budget is typically spent by the time I return home. On a river cruise, however, I typically arrive home with a few leftover Euro notes. Why? The average river cruise just doesn’t have the same level of onboard expenses that have to be budgeted for as on an ocean cruise.
It doesn’t mean that river cruising is better than ocean cruising or vice-versa. But river cruising really can be an incredible value – if you do the math.