River cruises are perhaps the hottest current topic in travel, and you will find countless articles about them in newspaper travel sections, travel magazines and travel websites.
But what you won't find, in my view, is a subtext: that river cruise boats are currently overbuilt, leading to an unprecedented number of discounts offered to the public by the river cruise industry. It may be my imagination (I doubt it), but I find an abundance of such offers in river cruise marketing: two-for-one offers, free airfare, short-term sales, free cruises for the third person in your party, and many others. The cost-conscious traveler should look for such offers when they consider a river cruise.
The over-building of travel facilities is a frequent phenomenon in travel. Someone has a hot new idea, an ultra-popular product, and a dozen other companies rush to produce the very same thing. One rivercruise company announced last year that it was building 40 new riverboats in one year. New river itineraries were announced on almost a weekly basis: not simply new trips along the Rhine, the Danube or the Seine, but in southeast Asia, in South America, on secondary rivers in multiple locations. The result is too much product.
If you will go to what is apparently the most popular of the rivercruise websites, which is RiverCruise.com, you will find dozens of cruises offered to you at discounts starting at 20% and soaring upwards from there. On that and other websites you'll find not only the elegant and pricey rivercruises (ScenicCruises, Tauck, several others) but also the budget-priced ones. An example of the latter is CroisiEurope.com, that originally catered only to Europeans but has now set its sights on an American clientele. You'll often find prices there for considerably less than others charge.
And you shouldn't steer clear of the Russian-operated river cruises on Russian rivers. An acquaintance recently sailed on one that was heavily booked by Australian passengers (a rollicking, boisterous lot) and had the time of her life.
Drawbacks to rivercruises? One of the more expensive companies recently announced that the average age of its passengers was 68. It is probably even higher on some of the less-costly ones. Passengers on river cruises are heavily found among people of age, who value the absence of sea-sickness on the placid rivers (an occasional problem of ocean cruises) and the emphasis on quality cuisine. Those passengers also easily give up the pleasures of casinos (there are none on river cruises) and enjoy the early-to-bed evening entertainment, which sometimes consists of a single pianist. And although an occasional river cruise company is now listing prices for passengers aged two to nine, children are rarely found on river cruises, and most children would find the atmosphere on board to be quite boring.
Off-setting some of the drawbacks is the fact that some river-cruises are heavily all-inclusive--not all but some: you occasionally receive unlimited drinks and beverages for the price of the cruise, including free-of-charge mini-bars in your cabin. And some of the rivercruises--some--include free shore excursions by escorted bus.
A good summary of the pros and cons of river cruising is found in
CruiseCritic.com, whose editor-in-chief has penned several enlightening essays on the subject. Keep in mind that a rivercruise is far less dramatic and physically active than an ocean cruise (although some of the newer boats possess exercise rooms and multiple swimming pools); and also consider that the per-day cost of a river cruise is usually higher than on an ocean cruise.
Chacun a son gout ("each to his own taste"), as the French would say.
Photo credit: Rolf Heinrich/Flickr