Our 11 Step Europe River Cruise Planning Guide

Our 11 Step Planning Guide for Your Europe River Cruise from 2 Europe River Cruise Experts

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

And Anne Schrader, Certified Travel Professional & Europe River Cruise Expert


Have you ever wonder what you should consider when planning a Europe River Cruise?  I promise you, there is little clear cut information what you should consider to get the best possible river cruise that is right for you.

I tried a Google search but the results were not what I was looking for—some offered tips, some results went to destinations or rivers, then maybe companies.

We pride ourselves in making planning an art form—so let us provide you a step by step guide to ensure you will get the best possible river cruise for your vacation. 

Or, better yet let us plan it for you—we are the experts to advise you of the right match for your trip.  So how do we do it?

—we ask a lot of questions by having you tell us what is important to you.

Ready for our guide—let’s plan a Europe river cruise together!

Step 1.  Why do you want to go on a Europe River Cruise?

This should be the first question you should ask yourself—why am I going?  If you can’t answer this, or have some vague ideas, you might not get the best possible river cruise trip.

Here are some good responses—I want a hassle free trip where I can visit 3 or 4 countries in Europe without having to pack and unpack on a tour. 

Another—I love wine (or insert a theme) and I want to experience it in Europe.

 I like to meet people with like interests on the boat or in a new country.

 I like small ships, where I don’t have to learn a huge ship—the small ship experience is just right for me.

All are great responses that match you well to a Europe river cruise

A bad response—

My neighbor told me it is cool but I want gamble all night after the show.

 Or, I want to see Europe on a boat and smoke in my cabin and balcony. 

Or, I want keep up my power lifting routine with massive free weights and visit multiple shops on board to shop. 

Or, I want to live just like I do in the US, eat the exact US type foods and not experience anything new.

Why are these bad responses—you can’t do these things on a Europe river cruise ship.

Step 2.  What do you expect to see and experience?

Now, that you know why you want to go, the next step is the sights and experiences. 

Do you like small villages?  How about large capital cities?  Maybe castles?  Do you want to concentrate on one country?  Do you want to see multiple countries on one trip?  Do you want somewhere new or would you prefer a familiar place?  Do you like culture, history or art?

Castles on the Rhine—Awesome!

Castles on the Rhine—Awesome!

How many people do you want on the cruise?  Is food and wine important?  Do you drink alcohol?

Europe Rivers are quite different.  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? 

Our Europe Route Guide can help you decide if one route would be right for your trip—here is the link

Step 3.  How much time do you have for your trip?

Although there are some very limited 4 or 5 day river cruises, most are 7 days, or 14 days or 21+ days.  You will also need 2 extra days for flight in and out of Europe or more. 

Perhaps you are interested in a special place or experience to add on to the trip—even if your traveling companion might have different tastes or desires to see something not included on the cruise—this is a great way to please the both of you.

Step 4.  When do you want to go?

The time of the year for your river cruise trip is very important.  Mother Nature can be very unpredictable during the 4 seasons, but in our estimation, weather should not be a determining factor of when you want to go. 

Hank at the windmills in Kinderdijk on a chilly Spring Day—never let the weather deter your trip!

Hank at the windmills in Kinderdijk on a chilly Spring Day—never let the weather deter your trip!

A better question might be:  When is the best time to go on this river I have selected?  Some river cruises are seasonal, early spring cruises can still be very cold or wet or very pleasant, and summer time cruises are more crowded than other times.  Do you want to see a special festival?  Christmas Markets cruises are wonderful option but have a limited season.

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. 

All these factors can influence when you take your cruise, along with the most obvious—this is the time I can go, due to job, family commitments or other reasons.

Step 5.  Who will you travel with?

Are you traveling solo?  Traveling with your family on a specially designed family friendly cruise? (There are some restrictions due to age on some cruise lines and often can be too much for younger children during normal cruise itineraries.)  Do you have some friends who you like to travel with during vacations?  Are you looking for a hip, younger crowd?

Your travel mates or lack of them is an important question—all must generally agree on the river cruise trip or it might not be as successfully as you desire for your vacation

Our Travel Mates—Mark and Denise celebrate her birthday on the AmaKristina in December 2018

Our Travel Mates—Mark and Denise celebrate her birthday on the AmaKristina in December 2018

Step 6.  What are your preferred activities while on the trip?

Europe river cruises are varied—some are themed (wine, family trip, Christmas markets, Jewish Heritage, or vow renewals, for example).  Some emphasize active vacations—biking hiking, and workouts.  Some have more passive pursuits—cooking demonstrations, special gentle walking tours, reading.  Others are minimalistic with no special activities.

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 A by Uniworld—a Europe river cruise for the younger crowd!

The A by Uniworld—a Europe river cruise for the younger crowd!

Step 7.  What level of service do you expect on the cruise?

Do you want a butler?  How about totally all-inclusive?  How about a no frills cruise?  Are you going to take the included tours or go off on your own?  Do you know what is included and not included in your desired cruise?

Our Butler on the Scenic Opal on the far right—he also worked in the specialty restaurant Portofino at night.

Our Butler on the Scenic Opal on the far right—he also worked in the specialty restaurant Portofino at night.

Level of service, inclusions, ship facilities, food and wine and cruise atmosphere all are part of this set of questions.

Step 8.  What type of cabin do you desire?

There are many options but they are often not as big as ocean cruise suites.  Do you need a balcony?  Are you OK with a fixed window at water level?

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. 

Our balcony cabin on the Scenic Opal—a great cabin!

Our balcony cabin on the Scenic Opal—a great cabin!

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—here is the link Giants on the Danube).

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.

Step 9.  Do you want a pre or post land stay for this trip?

Most lines add the possibility of a pre or post stay in their trip packages.  Will you use the river cruise line offerings or do it on your own?

We had escorted folks to Prague on a post tour—it is a wonderful city!

We had escorted folks to Prague on a post tour—it is a wonderful city!

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?

Step 10.  Now, compare companies that match your requirements.

By now, some of the cruise lines will be eliminated—they just do not match your trip requirements.  Many might be surprised, but this is the first time we consider the overall price question.  It is value time—how can you make your budget match your desired trip.

There are many choices but here are two great guides to help you:

Step 11.  Now, take care of all the Administrative Details when you book the trip.

Do you have a valid passport?  Do you need a Visa or travel documentation?  Do you have any special circumstances (limited mobility, dietary restrictions, or other restrictions)?  Are you celebrating anything? 

Have you bought some Euros (or other local currency)?  Do you need travel insurance?  How about transfers? 

Do you need a flight?  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.

Remember to pack smartly and light—river cruise are very informal--you are not going Mars, so most of what you might need is readily available in almost all places in Europe, if you forgot it or need something special like local clothing.

One final step—It’s time to Enjoy the Trip!  Bon Voyage!!

Our Final Thoughts

You could use this guide to do it on your own, but why go through all hassle—let us plan it for you!  You can be assured we will ask all these questions and more to match you to the right cruise line and route.

Your Europe River Cruise Travel Experts—Anne and Hank

Your Europe River Cruise Travel Experts—Anne and Hank

As you can see, 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, 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 of Dream Destinations

Hank Schrader of Dream Destinations

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