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Do’s and Don’ts for Saving Money (and Maximizing Fun!) on a River Cruise

Over the past several years, many of our clients have explored various parts of the world from the vantage point of river cruise ships.  Whether they are retired or still working, numerous clients seem to enjoy the pace and style of this sort of travel.  For a fun and light-hearted post, we dove into the wonderful world of river cruises and have outlined below our best DO’s and DON’Ts for maximizing your time and money on the river.

DON’T be afraid to book your reservations early.  While ocean cruises often offer last-minute deals to try to fill up the ship, this is less prevalent on river cruises, which only hold around 150 passengers (as opposed to 3,000 or more).  By booking early (e.g., 12 to 18 months in advance), you can take advantage of early-bird discounts, have your pick of rooms, and possibly get a better deal on airfare to your port of departure.  Any changes to your reservation will likely incur cancellation fees, but these are fairly minimal until 120 days prior to departure, at which point they start to increase significantly.  (If you do have the flexibility to make last-minute plans, you can occasionally find great deals on cruises that depart shortly, e.g. within 8 weeks.  You may not be able to reserve the type of room or excursions that you want, however, so make sure to have proper expectations when hunting for last-minute promotions.)

DO travel during the low season, if possible.  You can often save money on a cruise by traveling in the late fall and early spring. Airfare to the port of departure should also be less expensive than during the peak summer months, and there are generally smaller crowds at the touristy spots during your excursions too.  However, be sure to consider the climate of your destination when traveling in the offseason.  For example, cruises on the Volga in Russia may be rather chilly unless you travel during the summer months.

DON’T plan to arrive in your destination on the day of departure.  Give yourself an extra day or two to minimize the impact of possible flight delays and lost luggage.  You may be able to save money by reserving a cheaper flight into another city then traveling to your port of departure, seeing additional sights along the way.  As one of our clients experienced recently, booking a pre-cruise extension through your cruise company may also come with an unexpected bonus:  meeting a small group of fellow travelers who can be “cruise buddies” from Day 1 on the ship.

DO save money by booking a room without a balcony.  On a river cruise, since the ships are smaller and narrower than ocean cruise ships, having a balcony can take away coveted interior room space, and it still only allows you to see one side of the river.  Instead, consider booking a “French Balcony” room (which has a glass door or wall-to-wall window to provide some views of the river and fresh air), and then utilize the common spaces for breathtaking views of both sides of the river at once.  The cruise director can tell you when to make sure you are in the observation lounge or open-air top deck to view the most picturesque stretches of the river.

DON’T forget to compare apples to apples when considering different cruise lines.  For any popular destination, there are likely multiple river cruise lines that offer tours.  Each may have a different style and may include different services as part of the price.  For example, are transfers from the airport to the ship included?  Port charges?  Beer, wine, cocktails, bottled water?  Shore excursions?  Bicycles for use ashore? Gratuities for cruise staff?  Take some time to consider which elements of the cruise experience are important to you, and then price out how much it would cost to enjoy them depending on the terms of the different cruise lines.

DO consider planning your own excursions in some ports.  Especially if shore excursions are not included in the price, you may want to consider planning some of your own excursions rather than joining the ones organized by the cruise line.  Peruse the event calendars on the tourism board websites for the ports you are visiting.  Look for interesting local festivals or events that provide a fun and unique alternative to a guided tour.

DON’T forget to include friends or family in your plans.  Groups of 8-10 passengers or more might be eligible for a group discount and/or special amenities.  Many cruise lines also offer bonuses for repeat customers and for those who refer others to their cruise line.  If you find a cruise line that suits your interests well, refer a bunch of friends and plan a trip with them.  You might benefit from group discounts, referral bonuses, and loyalty rewards too!

If you have questions about how paying for a cruise (or other major expense) might impact your financial planning goals or investment strategy, feel free to reach out to us any time.  And be sure to bring back pictures and stories from your trip for all of us to enjoy!


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