In a few months, the rivers of Europe will rage into action once again for another massive season of cruising on the rivers including the Rhine, Main and Danube and rivers in France, Portugal, Spain and many other exciting places.
Over the course of the 6-7 months which make up the main part of the season, thousands of travellers will board APT river cruise vessels across the continent – many maintaining the well-trodden but no less fascinating path between Amsterdam and Budapest, a flagship route known as “Magnificent Europe”.
Of these travellers, many will be brand new to river cruising and will discover a world of differences between it and the ocean-going counterpart. If you’re new to river cruising or even just to APT, here are some handy hints which will make your introduction to this style of travel a little easier.
Take time to read advisory labels in your stateroom
As you enter and begin to settle in, you’ll notice a considerable, but not overwhelming, amount of introductory information both on your bed and around your stateroom or suite to get you started. It’s important to take time to read and digest this early before your holiday really gets underway.
For example, did you know that unlike ocean cruising, on most ships, your balcony door will lock automatically every time the door is closed behind you. You’ll notice a sign advising of this on the glass door. This is an additional layer of security for your personal belongings, as the low height of river cruise cabins can make these ships an attractive target for thieves, especially when a ship is docked in port overnight. But if the door is closed, it is locked.
So while it may be tempting to venture out onto the balcony and get to grips with your external surroundings, take note that if you’re on the outside and you close the door, you are stuck. There is no alarm or alert button you can press to attract attention. Just remember that if you are on the balcony, keep the door open just a little bit so you can get back inside.
Make use of laundry services to get formal gear cleaned or pressed
Even though APT river cruises are all-inclusive in terms of food and most beverages, optional services such as salon appointments and laundry are additional. And when you unpack, you may find your elegant wear may not have survived the trip wrinkle-free. To get this rectified, make use of the very affordable washing, drying and pressing services as needed to get your gear into ship shape for when needed.
Laundry can take up to 24 hours to be returned to you ready to go, however it rarely takes this long. On a recent APT river cruise, Cruise Advice had our laundry cleaned, dried, ironed and returned in around six hours – taken in the morning and back with us that afternoon. However, allow 24 hours so get your gear in early to make sure it’s ready when you need it.
Check your cabin compendium for important forms to return
Depending on your itinerary, some of the excursions on offer during your cruise may require a particularly long advance booking or notice period for the ship to secure your participation. It may require a waiver to be signed, and these forms will be in your cabin when you arrive at the start of your cruise. You may need to complete and return as early as that same day.
Look through your compendium and in-room document package for these and ensure they are completed and returned on time to avoid any disappointment.
Ensure your supplied Quiet Vox is charged up
Each passenger will have at their disposal a device known as a Quiet Vox for the duration of their cruise. Most likely you’ll find this in the charger when you reach your stateroom for the first time. This device allows you to hear commentary delivered by tour guides throughout your cruise and each one comes with an earpiece.
If this earpiece is difficult to fit or uncomfortable, any headphones with a single pronged connecting jack (such as iPhone headphones) will also work on this device.
Read information on the colour coded tour cards and the ‘Safety Card’.
It will appear confusing at first but each time you leave the ship on one of the pre-arranged shore tours, you’ll be issued with one of the above laminated and coloured cards.
As you set out on each off-ship tour, your guide will inform you on which colour and number their commentary can be received by you through your Quiet Vox headset.
To activate the correct commentary, point your Quiet Vox at the advised number and colour and it will tune itself to your guide. Otherwise, you could be hearing commentary for a completely different tour which may have nothing to do with what you’re looking at.
The Safety Card is another laminated card which will be given to you every time you leave the ship on a tour, and is effectively a quick way of informing the ship of your safe return at the end. The ship keeps records of how many Safety Cards are distributed and reconciles this after every tour. It’s vital you return this to the front desk each time you re-board the ship or you could delay departure while the ship tracks down all the cards and ensures it is not leaving a port without any guests.
Prepare for noise when passing through locks
Passing through one of the 68 locks along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers is undoubtedly one of the highlights of any European river cruise, if for nothing else but to marvel at the sheer scale of engineering at work in regulating the flow of the river over quite a lengthy range of peaks and valleys. These will increase in frequency through Austria and northern Germany and many will be navigated at night while you’re asleep.
But while noise is kept to a minimum, the mechanics of the locks working can be noisy in some places. If you’re a light sleeper, this noise may disturb your sleep so it may be wise to invest in some headphones or ear plugs.
Some locks can take over half an hour to pass through due to the depth and distance your ship may be rising or falling so make note of this to ensure your sleep is uninterrupted.
Internet is fast and reliable, except when in the locks
River cruise ships do not have the same problems as their ocean-going counterparts in terms of access to telephony services and internet. As these ships are travelling along rivers linking major cities and towns, they have easy and often uninterrupted access to the signals they need to provide you with this service.
On APT ships, internet is fully included in your fare, both in terms of time spent online and the amount you use. The only exception to this rule is when the ship is passing through one of the many locks you’ll encounter. It’s common for service to be cut during this process as the ship can be blocked from receiving the signals it needs while it drops down into or rises up from the cavernous envelope that the lock comprises.
If you’re online during this time, you will likely lose service but usually only for a short period.
Ensure you have the right currency and enough of it
Euro is widely accepted throughout continental Europe for pretty much everything, especially in the Western half.
However as we found, some merchants in Hungary may prefer the country’s local denomination, the Forint, over the Euro. This is rare and Euro is widely accepted, however you may also receive any change in Forint instead of Euro. Bear this in mind and if your river cruise starts or ends in Budapest, you may wish to have a supply of Forint on hand as well.