Embarking on Your First European River Cruise: 14 Essential Tips for a Smooth Voyage

Jul 13 2023

Preparing to set sail on your first European river cruise is an exhilarating adventure, brimming with the promise of discovering charming villages, historic cities, and the captivating cultural heritage of Europe just around the river’s bend.

River cruising offers an intimate and immersive experience, where you can explore a new world while enjoying the comforts of a floating hotel and the convenience of unpacking only once.

As a first-time cruiser, you may have questions swirling in your mind: How do you choose the ideal cruise line that aligns with your expectations? What essentials should you pack for this extraordinary journey? And how can you ensure that you make the most of every precious moment at each port of call?

This practical guide is designed to guide you through every stage of your journey, from the initial planning process to the unforgettable moment when you step ashore.

Here are our 14 Top Tips for an unforgettable River Cruise.


1. Research Your Cruise

Woman typing on computer and consulting her cell phone for travel plans

Managing travel plans, bookings and cancellations (Photo: PKpix/

Take the time to delve into researching different river cruise lines and their offered itineraries. Understand what’s included in the fare, the cruise’s duration, the cities you’ll visit, and customer reviews. This groundwork helps set realistic expectations and ensures your chosen cruise aligns with your interests and budget.

2. Choose the Right Cruise Line

A Viking Longship on the Danube (Photo: Viking)

A Viking Longship on the Danube (Photo: Viking)

Each cruise line offers a unique ambiance and set of amenities. For instance, Viking is known for its cultural immersion and enrichment programs, which might be perfect if you’re seeking a deeper understanding of the regions you’re exploring.

3. Understand the Itinerary

Vienna (Photo:Ionia/Shutterstock)

Vienna (Photo:Ionia/Shutterstock)

Your pre-cruise preparations should include a deep dive into your itinerary. Learn about the cities and towns on your route, taking note of cultural, historical, and unique attractions at each stop. Be aware of the time you’ll have in each location, as this can guide your planning. By understanding the rhythm of your journey — from serene sailing days to bustling city explorations — you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your river cruise. This proactive approach helps ensure that you savor the entire experience, not just the destinations.

4. Pack Appropriately

Packing For Your Next Cruise (Photo: sebra/Shutterstock)

Packing For Your Next Cruise (Photo: sebra/Shutterstock)

Less is more when it comes to packing for a river cruise. Space can be limited in your cabin, so focus on versatile clothing that you can layer. Remember essentials such as comfortable walking shoes, and a light jacket for cooler evenings. Also, a slightly formal outfit is worth packing for special nights. It’s worth noting that even in high summer, European weather can be variable and you may experience a sudden downpour, so pack a rain jacket. However, the good news is you don’t need to take an umbrella as most river lines provide them in your wardrobe.

5. Currency Preparation

Calculate the cost of your cruise (Photo: Wara1982/Shutterstock)

Calculate the cost of your cruise (Photo: Wara1982/Shutterstock)

When it comes to currencies, different countries have different rules. With most cruise lines, including Viking, your credit card will be kept on file, streamlining all onboard purchases. You’ll find that credit and debit cards are often the preferred method of payment during your European travels, and they’re widely accepted. Many European countries use the Euro, but some Eastern European nations maintain their own currencies. Therefore, it’s a smart move to obtain a small amount of each necessary currency before leaving home.

6. Prepare Your Documents

Passport and Travel Documents (Photo: Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock)

Passport and Travel Documents (Photo: Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock)

Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your return date. Check if you need any visas for the countries you’ll be visiting. Keep photocopies of these crucial documents in a separate location in case they happen to get lost.

7. Travel Insurance

Cruiser Guide to Travel Insurance (Photo:

Cruiser Guide to Travel Insurance (Photo:

Consider investing in a comprehensive travel insurance policy. Viking, for example, offers its own Travel Protection Plan. It covers unexpected circumstances like trip cancellation, medical emergencies, or lost luggage. Understand the fine print and know what your policy covers.

8. Technology Needs

Travel Adapter, JOOMFEEN Worldwide All in One Universal Power Wall Charger (Photo: Amazon)

Travel Adapter, JOOMFEEN Worldwide All in One Universal Power Wall Charger (Photo: Amazon)

Don’t forget to pack your essential electronics along with their respective chargers. Though all staterooms on Viking Longships have US and EU outlets, as well as USP ports, an international plug adapter is an absolute necessity for hotel stays or for plugging in anywhere else ashore. You might also want to consider a portable power bank for on-the-go charging of your devices such as your cell phone or camera. A waterproof pouch to safeguard your gadgets could also prove to be an invaluable addition to your travel kit.

9. Planning Excursions in Advance

Enriching shore excursions (Credit: Viking)

Enriching shore excursions (Credit: Viking)

One of the greatest highlights of river cruising is the curated excursions, designed to let you delve into the heart of each location. It’s recommended to look into these in advance, particularly as popular options can fill up quickly. While many cruise lines offer optional excursions for an additional fee, Viking stands out by including an enriching excursion at every port visited in your package. This ensures you won’t miss out on the must-see sights. These well-crafted excursions offer unique opportunities to immerse yourself in local cultures and histories.

10. Understanding Onboard Etiquette

Al fresco dining on the Aquavit Terrace (Credit: Viking)

Al fresco dining on the Aquavit Terrace (Credit: Viking)

One of the unique aspects of river cruising is the intimate, community ambiance on board. This is not your typical vacation — it’s a shared journey with like-minded travelers. To ensure everyone’s experience is enjoyable, a certain level of decorum is required. Dress codes may apply for certain events, so it’s wise to stay informed. Punctuality for departure times and excursions is also important — it ensures smooth operations and allows everyone to fully enjoy their time.

11. Meal Preferences

A couple eat at the Restaurant on board a Viking Longship (Credit: Viking)

Longships Restaurant Couple Day (Credit: Viking)

If you have specific dietary requirements, allergies, or preferences, it’s important to communicate this to the cruise line in advance. Most cruise lines, including Viking, are exceptionally accommodating and can cater to a wide range of dietary needs. By notifying them ahead of time, you ensure your dining experiences throughout the voyage will be enjoyable and worry-free, allowing you to fully savor the culinary delights on offer.

12. Know the Language Basics

A few basic phrases in the languages of the countries you’ll visit can enhance your travel experience. Simple words like “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” and “where is the restroom?” can be quite handy.

13. Cultural Research

Street musicians in Hungary (Credit: Viking)

Street musicians in Hungary (Credit: Viking)

Take time to learn about the traditions, customs, and history of the countries you’ll be visiting. This not only deepens your appreciation of these cultures but also ensures you behave respectfully during your visits. Viking provides enriching lectures and programs onboard to help you better understand each destination’s cultural nuances.

14. Stay Flexible

Viking Einar (Photo: Viking River Cruises)

Viking Einar (Photo: Viking River Cruises)

Finally, remember that river cruising can be unpredictable. Factors such as river levels and weather conditions can impact the itinerary, necessitating adjustments along the way. This might mean a change in docking location, a switch in excursions, or even an unexpected day of sailing. Embrace these shifts with an open mind and a spirit of adventure. These unanticipated moments often lead to serendipitous discoveries and memorable experiences. After all, part of the charm of river cruising is the journey itself. It’s not merely about reaching a destination, but also about appreciating the fluidity of the voyage and the novel experiences it brings. Keep a flexible mindset, and you’ll find every change is an opportunity for a new adventure.

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