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Travel advice

First time on a river cruise? Let us help

River cruises have been on an upward trend in recent years - with stats from Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) showing a rise in British and Irish holidaymakers taking to the world’s rivers in search of their next adventure.

Andy Harmer, director of CLIA UK and Ireland, says that the popularity around river cruises is likely due to the "incredible experiences [on offer], as guests can sail through the heart of a destination – as well as the plethora of fantastic itineraries and the high standard of the ships."

With stats showing that one-third of all river ships have been built in the past 10 years, including a whole bunch in the past year or two, today’s river cruisers have access to ships that are more modern, luxurious and jam-packed with amenities than ever before.

If you’ve never been on a river cruise before, then you may be wondering what makes them quite so special - and where to begin when it comes to planning your first experience. We’ve put together some guidance for first-time river cruisers, with the help of a few experts, to help you know what to expect, as well as how to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your trips.

Research, research, research

Before you set off on any holiday it pays to do some research, and river cruises are no different.

Ben and David from Cruise with Ben & David, winners of the 2019 Wave Awards for best cruise blogger, have been on their fair share of river cruises. They recommended researching the ships on offer and finding out what’s included in order to make the most of your trip.

"Our big tip is to research each river cruise ship and check what’s onboard and what excursions it offers. River cruise ships may look similar from the outside but inside you can find big differences in dining, decor, style, comfort and features such as entertainment, pools and hot tubs. It’s really important to pick the right ship for you, this is why research is so important."

If you’re looking to see more behind the scenes details on river cruising, as well as tips and advice, the guys have some great videos on their YouTube channel that are well worth a watch.

Choose the right cruise line

If you’ve never been on a river cruise before, then you may be wondering how to choose the right one.

Similar to researching the specific amenities available on board, it’s worth looking at what different cruise lines themselves have to offer. It may be that different cruise lines, or even different rivers, are better suited to what you’re looking for, so it’s good to know what’s out there before you make your decision to book.

"I didn't realise prior to taking my first river cruise just how much variety there is within the river cruise industry," explains Emma from Cruising Isn't Just For Old People.

"Taking a river cruise can mean being busy and active, or it can be about relaxing by the pool. Whichever cruise line and river you decide to go on, make sure that you pack comfortable walking shoes as you'll end up walking more than you realise."

Not only will working out what sort of river cruise you’re interested in help you to book a trip that’s a good fit, but it will also help you work out what sort of things to pack for your holiday later down the line. River cruises do tend to be more informal than their ocean-based relatives; check out our blog on what to pack for a river cruise for more information.

Think about where you’ll be stopping

Once you’ve thought about what you want your river cruise experience to look like, and have chosen a ship and a cruise line that’s right for you, you can begin to start scoping out some of the finer details of your break.

Jenni from Cruise Mummy said that researching the places your ship will call at before you set off is one of the best ways to ensure that you make the most of your river cruise.

"I love to watch videos of port towns and cities on YouTube before I cruise so that I know what to expect. Doing this can help you to make the most of your time in each destination. If you already know whether you’ll be joining an excursion or doing your own thing, all that’s left to do is relax and enjoy your holiday," she explains.

On Saga river cruises, we pride ourselves on stopping in all of the most interesting destinations, to ensure that our guests get to see the best of the best during their river adventure. If you’re considering booking your first river cruise, then check out river cruise itineraries, or find out more about where we go to help you plan your adventure on some of the world’s best waterways.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.