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What to consider in evaluating a river cruise ship?

What to consider in evaluating a river cruise-featured image-AMA

You might wonder what I look for and how I evaluate river cruise ships, and how that matters to you, so that idea inspires today’s article…

What to consider in evaluating a river cruise ship?

I am in Budapest, Hungary for a couple of weeks as I attend the ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors) River Cruise Expo.

This is a brilliant assembly of travel professionals brought together with the key river cruise companies that sail in Europe. There will be six cruise lines represented and eleven ships docked together to create the expo experience. The ships will be available for us to tour in detail, have our meals on, and to take education courses.

I said six cruise lines are here, but I bet you can only name one or two. One of them you get in your mailbox almost every other day. But there are actually a number of other river cruise lines that do a fabulous job, and this expo is the opportunity to do a deep dive into each of these options.

So what I am looking for as I tour each of these ships? What can I learn that will make a difference for my clients in planning their future trips?

I am here to inspect not only the hardware of the ship, but also learn more about their service, their food offerings, and the feeling of the onboard experience.

While I’m here, I will be sleeping on one ship, eating lunches and dinners on four different ships, attending education sessions on two other ships, and inspecting all the rest. At the end of the expo, I’ll do a six night Danube River cruise on another cruise line. I’m looking forward to the variety of experiences.

One of the first steps, even before getting here, was reviewing the deck plans for these ships, studying the stateroom categories and the public spaces ahead of time to know what to look for.

As I start the inspections over the next couple of days, I’m looking at how well laid out the facilities are. In general, cruise staterooms tend to be smaller than American hotels. In their design of the staterooms, do they use the space well, is it configured for comfort? Can two people get around the cabin easily? Does it give you a feeling of roominess or clutter or tight space? I look to see if the outlets are in convenient, logical places that makes it easy for you to charge your device.

I look at the size and the style of the bathroom. Is there counter space? Is there adequate storage? Do the showers have curtains or doors?

Are there heavy doors or weird noises near certain cabins that could disturb the guests staying in those cabins?

Next I check out the public spaces – are there nice areas where folks gather, and are there spaces where someone could have a little quiet time? In the lounge and other gathering areas, is the space arranged so it’s easy to gather people together. Is the space comfortable and is the atmosphere inviting?

Overall, I’m inspecting the physical hardware of the ship, looking to ensure how clean it is and that it is well maintained. I look in the corners and crevices, checking for signs of wear and tear or grungy corners.

I also look at the other amenities on board, whether they have a pool, a spa, bikes aboard, dining on the sky deck, or specialty restaurants.

When trying out the food, I look for a variety of menu options so that if someone doesn’t like particular foods, there will be a number of choices for them to find something else that they will like. Which meals are served as sit down meals versus those that are buffet. Are there other options beside the main restaurant?

Of course, the taste of the food is crucial, and it has to have the ability to satisfy folks that like basic foods, and those who consider themselves foodies. The presentation needs to be appealing and contribute to the enjoyment of the meal.

When I check out the lounge, I look to see if the bar is well-stocked so that they can make a variety of cocktails. Do they have a wide selection of brands, even some of the lesser known ones? Are there adequate numbers of servers so that it’s easy to be served while you’re sitting in the lounge, without having to wait an inordinate amount of time?

Beyond all the factors I’ll be looking at during my ship inspections, there are other considerations when reviewing river cruise lines. I know how some of the cruise lines handled covid, and then how they handled situations as covid restrictions were lessening, but then countries continued changing the rules. There are some cruise lines that did better than others in creating favorable options for clients.

Each line has its own approach to shore excursions and the complementary inclusions and those items that are an additional charge. I dig through all those details to help differentiate the offerings of the various cruiselines.

So, all of those impressions from the ship inspections, combined with knowledge of the cruise lines’ various business practices all come into play when I make a recommendation. And this opportunity to see so many of these ships, and particularly some that I have not sailed on previously, will provide a fantastic perspective and one that I felt was well worth investing in.

I’m looking forward to providing insightful recommendations for your next river cruise when I return from this trip.