How do river cruise companies look after you before you sail?

River cruising has never been more popular than it is now, and there’s no sign that the honeymoon is over yet as Aussies continue to flee the winter for warmer shores in Europe and the pleasant holiday experience that it offers.

Most of the river cruise marketing you’ll see in Australia highlights the experience you will receive onboard the ship in terms of dining, shore excursions and accommodations. However for many of the major brands you’ve seen and heard about, the holiday and the customer service in fact begins before you reach your ship.

The sales teams at APT, Scenic, Avalon Waterways and others are more than capable to assist their customers with their airfare requirements for any holiday involving a river cruise and will likely put forth a case for you to entrust them with these elements of your trip. There’s certainly nothing to be lost by doing so, and many people will adopt the advice of their travel agent in this regard.

Travel agents are qualified to help you with pre-cruise arrangements.
Travel agents and river cruise brands work together to ensure all bases are covered before you board your ship.

Some people booking their river cruise direct may choose to make their own air booking, which is fine, however it is definitely wise to inform your river cruise operator of your flight details to ensure they are able to provide you with the level of service they do. Plus you’ll get to enjoy perks such as seeing a city host or transfer operator holding a sign with your name on it when you leave the airport.

Very few Aussies put so much faith in their airline to get them to their embarkation port city in time if landing on the day of departure. It’s never a good idea to leave it so late to depart and wisely, most will aim to arrive a few days ahead to allow time to explore a city before they set sail. Most river cruise brands will offer the ability to book this pre-cruise accommodation through them, offering perks such as transfers from the airport. If a passenger prefers to remain independent, they can still take advantage of the included transfer (and porterage for luggage) from a city hotel to the port on sail day.

Meet and Greet services are offered by cruise lines at airports.
River cruise brands will have a transfer waiting for you at the airport if they know which flight you’re arriving on.

A city stay prior to a cruise is generally three nights, according to a source at APT, however this can be lengthened or shortened to suit a passenger’s request. If taking the advice of your cruise brand, as many do, a passenger can enjoy more perks before they board such as the services at their pre-cruise hotel of an APT concierge who is on hand to provide advice and answer questions about the best sights to see, where best to eat and how to make their most of your time prior to sailing.

One of the many beautiful parts of river cruising is that these embarkation cities are, in many cases, built around the river and the port. This means it is usually a very short drive from a city hotel to your ship, with APT in particular employing a 3pm check-in time – so you even have time on embarkation day to do some last-minute exploring before your transfer. If you prefer to make your own way to the port earlier, you can do so, and your room may be available earlier, however you’ll have to carry your own bags if transferring independently.

River cruise ports are often located right in the middle of a town or city.
Budapest is just one example of a river cruise port being located in the centre of the city.

As an all-inclusive product, APT and Scenic don’t require a credit card to check-in for your river cruise. All you need to provide at this point is your passport so your cruise line can carry out immigration formalities for the countries you are due to visit during your journey. This ensure you can practically walk on and off the ship with minimal fuss in each country and your passport is returned to you within 24 hours of sailing.

Another perk not widely publicised as part of river cruising is that these same perks are available at the other end of your cruise. Guests can book a post-cruise city stay through their cruise line and enjoy the same concierge service at the hotel and ongoing transfers to the airport for your onward flight or journey home. So while all good things must come to an end, you can be safe in knowing your river cruise brands are covering many bases before you even step onboard.