After the moderation of travel restrictions in Europe, the European River Cruise industry began its journey of recovery after a year-long slump. Though European river cruise lines resumed operations back in July, the bookings they took were very limited.
Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European river cruise industry was flourishing with cruise companies introducing new vessels every year. As a matter of fact, it was one of the fastest-growing industries in Europe. In 2019, over 1.8 million passengers traveled through European river cruise ships, according to the European River Cruise Association. During the pandemic, some river cruise lines operated in Germany during the months of summer. However, the second wave of COVID-19 struck the country so hard that all German river cruise lines had to cease operations.
Now, as of August 2021, almost all major European cruise ships have started sailing again. With so many cruise lines resuming operations, the European river cruise market has become saturated once again. As there are so many cruise lines vying for your attention, it might be very difficult for you to decide which one to choose. On top of that, you’ll have to decide many other things like what destinations you want to visit, how much time you want to spend there, what itinerary is best suited to your requirements, etc. Every day, dozens of river cruise ships across Europe start their journeys with different itineraries, different schedules, different destinations to visit, different amenities to offer, etc. Booking a European river cruise can utterly perplex you and you need a guide to help you throughout the booking process.
A Guide to Booking a European River Cruise in 2021
The first element to see before choosing a cruise line is brand reputation. You can do some research online and friends who have been on a cruise before. Contrary to popular belief, the cruise market doesn’t differentiate a lot from brand to brand, specifically the European river cruise market. While searching through the websites of different cruise lines, you will find a lot of similarities, specifically when it comes to accommodations and other onboard amenities. Therefore, brand reputation cannot be merely determined by onboard features. You need to look at other features like shore excursions, a lecture program, entertainment for all ages, bicycles for passenger use, etc.
Summer river cruises are at times jeopardized by water level problems. In such cases, cruise lines use buses to transport passengers to sites. First-rate brands have their own buses so there is no hassle if an emergency occurs. Secondly, you should pay attention to the price. A quick rule of thumb: if it’s cheap, the quality is not that good or it is out of season. European river cruise lines currently leading the market include AmaWaterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Scenic River Cruises, Viking River Cruises, and Crystal River Cruises
Though visiting the office of the cruise line seems like a laborious thing to do, it’s the best way to book your cruise. The information available online is always limited. Moreover, signing an agreement online is the worst thing you can do when booking a cruise. Whatever mode you choose to pay for the cruise, make sure you have a physical meeting with a sales agent of the cruise line. Some cruise lines have excellent online customer service available. You can email them or discuss things over a phone call. However, you should read all the policies of the company thoroughly before you make a booking.
When it comes to booking a cruise, the most frequently asked question is: how far ahead to book a cruise? Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always have to book a cruise 12 months ahead, specifically not in 2021.
Though different cruise lines have different policies, most cruise lines require you to book 10-15 days ahead.