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Non Partisan Cruiser

First time river cruiser looking for the right cruise line

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Once you get a better idea about what line & river you wish to sail on, check the website and see if they have "recommended" agents in your area.  I know Avalon does, it's a bit of a drive for us to drive to the closest one, however their recommended agents have all been on one of their cruises so they know what to expect.  The one we go to has actually been on 4 different lines, so she was great in helping us decide on which line we would be more comfortable with...and after all, it is a holiday, so to us, that was very important!

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My TA is part of a larger network, but gives very individualized care, and he has cruised on all of the major lines, most more than once. Our preference is Uniworld, and he is able to offer the same $$ as the "big box" companies. I found him when researching a Nile cruise.

 

Robin

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10 hours ago, Coral said:

I personally recommend using a real agent. I consider big box stores as "order takers". Not real agents. A river cruise is a big investment - IMO, it is worth working with people who know their stuff. Not those paid to just take an order. Do you think these order takers have been on one or multiple lines?

 

I hear you and I'm sure you're right.  I read that a lot. 

 

I have a hard time giving up control of our vacation planning; even a little.  lol  More than once I've been accused of over-researching and over-planning.  I say there's no such thing.  Additionally, I'm a visual learner so I need to see the options. Spreadsheets are my friend.  I also worry some agents steer clients to certain cruise lines based on incentives for the travel agents. 

 

I do see people occasionally describing good deals offered through individual agents so I will explore.  The hard part is finding a good one.  I do a lot of leg work and researching before contacting a travel agent and thus far have been disappointed in the agent's expertise.  I know there are good ones, just need to find one who is patient, puts my interests first, and is very knowledgeable.       

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You can still be "in control" of our trip planning if you use a TA.  I am the same way.  I love the planning stage.  I have the agent book the cruise, then I do my own air, pre and post planning.  

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15 hours ago, acwmom said:

My TA is part of a larger network, but gives very individualized care, and he has cruised on all of the major lines, most more than once. Our preference is Uniworld, and he is able to offer the same $$ as the "big box" companies. I found him when researching a Nile cruise.

 

Robin

 

I've had a similar experience with the agent I use to book river cruises.  She works at an agency with a national presence, but is hardly an order taker.  She has been able to get me some good deals with Uniworld, and twice has put together great pre-cruise packages for me.  The hotels she booked for me in Budapest and in Amsterdam were hotels she had stayed in herself and personally recommended.  

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8 hours ago, Non Partisan Cruiser said:

 

I hear you and I'm sure you're right.  I read that a lot. 

 

I have a hard time giving up control of our vacation planning; even a little.  lol  More than once I've been accused of over-researching and over-planning.  I say there's no such thing.  Additionally, I'm a visual learner so I need to see the options. Spreadsheets are my friend.  I also worry some agents steer clients to certain cruise lines based on incentives for the travel agents. 

 

I do see people occasionally describing good deals offered through individual agents so I will explore.  The hard part is finding a good one.  I do a lot of leg work and researching before contacting a travel agent and thus far have been disappointed in the agent's expertise.  I know there are good ones, just need to find one who is patient, puts my interests first, and is very knowledgeable.       

A good agent should compliment your style. They should also listen to what you want in a river cruise and hopefully based on first hand experience - help you confirm/decide. They can also offer incentives above what you can get on your own. They should have your best interests in mind (not theirs). They do work for you.

 

I am also a researcher!!

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10 hours ago, Non Partisan Cruiser said:

 

I hear you and I'm sure you're right.  I read that a lot. 

 

I have a hard time giving up control of our vacation planning; even a little.  lol  More than once I've been accused of over-researching and over-planning.  I say there's no such thing.  Additionally, I'm a visual learner so I need to see the options. Spreadsheets are my friend.  I also worry some agents steer clients to certain cruise lines based on incentives for the travel agents. 

 

I do see people occasionally describing good deals offered through individual agents so I will explore.  The hard part is finding a good one.  I do a lot of leg work and researching before contacting a travel agent and thus far have been disappointed in the agent's expertise.  I know there are good ones, just need to find one who is patient, puts my interests first, and is very knowledgeable.       

 

18 hours ago, acwmom said:

My TA is part of a larger network, but gives very individualized care, and he has cruised on all of the major lines, most more than once. Our preference is Uniworld, and he is able to offer the same $$ as the "big box" companies. I found him when researching a Nile cruise.

 

Robin

 

 

I think I drove my TA up the wall double checking and questioning everything.  I knew what we wanted, and researched everything I could prior to booking.  As I said earlier, this next cruise we hope to take has been in the planning and research stage for 2 years, and I am still checking things out.  I think she is having a bit of an easier time this time, as I don't have all the "first timer" questions, but am still double checking a lot of things with her.  I do think she deserved the L'occitane products I brought back for her....and thanks to our cabin attendant for providing a 2nd set for her!

 

I think the benefit of having a TA from a larger network (but still someone you can speak directly to either by phone or in person) is that they can pull in the good discounts that the "big box" companies provide.  Twice now, I've gone to our TA with "so & so is offering this discount, can you match it?" and she has.  

 

The other bonus is that if you book everything through a TA, you don't have to scramble (while possibly overseas) to cancel & re-book travel arrangements if something goes wrong...you have someone who can do it for you! 

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Posting a little late here:

We’ve been on plenty of ocean cruises including a few to Europe and So America. In the course of researching another ocean cruise, I randomly got an email from a TA about an upcoming Uniworld Cruise. I think I considered it for about 40 minutes before booking. It was 3 months in advance of the sailing time, Paris to Paris for holiday lights in mid December. We ended up upgrading to the top category with a private butler. Honestly, it wasn’t expensive. Everything was included and we had zero balance at the end of the cruise. This definitely spoiled us forever! I’m not sure where we go from here, but I would highly recommend Uniworld!


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Posted (edited)

If you book on Uniworld's Joie de Vivre Paris to Paris, you will be pleased.  It is a gorgeous ship. Top notch staff, excellent dining.  We  cruised Uniworld in October 2018, when we took our adult daughter, my brother and sister in law.  They were veteran ocean cruisers but did enjoy the river cruise and Uniworld's product quite a lot. 

 

That being said, I don't think you can go wrong with AMA Waterways as well. We used AMA for Christmas Markets on the Rhine, and Tulip Time.  Both cruises started in Amsterdam, which is one of our favorite cities, and very easy to visit.  Everyone speaks impeccable English. Great walking and public transportation cities.  Lots to see and do. Safe to wander.  On the Christmas Markets cruise, we walked from our hotel near the Central Station waterfront to the ship.  Couldn't have been easier.

 

AMA is not "all inclusive" like Uniworld, where they will have you sign a tab for some things like drinks (although there were events with free drinks included.)  Both AMA and Uniworld offer daily excursions, sometimes multiple per day for no extra charge.  A few special ones, like a tour in Cognac, cost a small extra amount, well worth it.  I have to say, the Christmas Markets Rhine River cruise on AMA was my favorite river cruise:  Europe was all dressed up, the staff was extra merry as were the passengers.  Just a good vibe.  I can't wait to do Christmas Markets on the Danube, since my family is from Nuremberg and some of the  tours stop there. 

 

 

Edited by winegirl
addition

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7 hours ago, winegirl said:

I have to say, the Christmas Markets Rhine River cruise on AMA was my favorite river cruise:  Europe was all dressed up, the staff was extra merry as were the passengers.  Just a good vibe.  I can't wait to do Christmas Markets on the Danube, since my family is from Nuremberg and some of the  tours stop there.

 

We've always wanted to check out the Christmas markets and the prices for those cruises seem like a bargain.  We just need to decide if we want longer warmer days or the festive Christmas atmosphere.   So many factors to consider . . .

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5 hours ago, Non Partisan Cruiser said:

 

We've always wanted to check out the Christmas markets and the prices for those cruises seem like a bargain.  We just need to decide if we want longer warmer days or the festive Christmas atmosphere.   So many factors to consider . . .

 

What keeps me from booking a Christmas Market cruise are the short days (it gets dark in Paris at 3 pm), combined with the cold weather and potential for cold rain.  

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I think the only way I would do Christmas Market tour is if they went in July/Aug when it's warm.  I do not like cold weather and do not like to be bundled up for cold weather.  But that's just me.  I agree with everyone on this thread who recommend a travel agent.  It also helps if your travel agent is your best friend.  That comes in very handy

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Re: Christmas Markets-- I am German and from Wisconsin, so we are used to cold weather. And the culture in Germany is so reminiscent of my upbringing.  I did not realize how much my immigrant grandparents influenced me.  I was really glad my daughter was along to get a taste of that.

 

Winter is my husband's favorite time of year, since we can enjoy winter sports and no lawn care!  That being said, if you do book for a Christmas Markets cruise, layer up.  The stop in Strasbourg was the coldest, windiest day of the cruise: it was biting cold, and we were off the ship from morning until late in the evening since we booked a dinner at a nice French restaurant in town.  

 

Happy travels everyone!

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That's another thing that keeps me from booking a Christmas cruise.  Here on CC I read about people packing wool clothing to wear in layers, including socks, and I don't own such items.  I don't want to go out and buy a new wardrobe, and wool clothing in the South is difficult to maintain.

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4 hours ago, Roz said:

That's another thing that keeps me from booking a Christmas cruise.  Here on CC I read about people packing wool clothing to wear in layers, including socks, and I don't own such items.  I don't want to go out and buy a new wardrobe, and wool clothing in the South is difficult to maintain.

I live in a cold climate and have never owned wool.

 

I can tell you my Christmas Markets cruise was my most favorite cruise I have been on. I would do it again in a heart beat.

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12 hours ago, AF-1 said:

I think the only way I would do Christmas Market tour is if they went in July/Aug when it's warm.  I do not like cold weather and do not like to be bundled up for cold weather.  But that's just me.  I agree with everyone on this thread who recommend a travel agent.  It also helps if your travel agent is your best friend.  That comes in very handy

You wouldn't have to wear anything more than what you wear at home. Honestly - it wasn't that cold when I went. Probably in the 40's. I went at the end of November and it was the same weather I would expect in the Midwest.

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On 5/12/2020 at 9:18 PM, Non Partisan Cruiser said:

 

Thank you for your input.  Uniworld is still high on our list.  Especially like that we can book through a well-known club warehouse for a discount. 

The only time we use a travel agent is for river cruises.  We use a large travel agency we found online.  Their office is accross the country but we email and talk on the phone.  They give a 15% discount off the cruise price!

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Coral,  I did Christmas Market in Berlin and Munich. This was not on a cruise; I was at work in Germany.  I was there a week prior to Christmas.  It was so cold I could only stay outside for a little bit.  Yes they had fires going to keep people warm; but for me it was too cold.  Yes it was very pretty; with all the Christmas decorations.  and I like that they call it Christmas market and not holiday market.

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winegirl;  what month did you do Christmas Market tour?

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Have only done Viking and Crystal.......LOVE both, but if I were to compare EVERY bit of one to another Crystal wins HANDS DOWN.     EVERYTHING is included, our Rhine last October was less$$ than Viking...we had 106 passengers compared to 170, no need for liquor packages, no tipping, we always tip extra in the end.......we had an upgraded suite on the top floor...butlers for every room....much better security......food was better......The only issue I see with comparing the two is they have fewer ships than Viking, so if you have low water issues........I would for sure take a Viking cruise again and would never tell someone NOT to, but if Crystal goes where I want, I would pick them first.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, caripoo said:

The only issue I see with comparing the two is they have fewer ships than Viking, so if you have low water issues........I would for sure take a Viking cruise again and would never tell someone NOT to, but if Crystal goes where I want, I would pick them first.

I have a friend who did a Viking river cruise during low waters and he has no desire to ever do that again. They were on 3 different ships over 8 days (Danube) and said they spent more time "intransit between buses and packing and unpacking" than seeing things. Don't even mention the word "Viking" to them. So not sure if Viking really wins here even though they can move people between ships. I did run into people on Crystal with water issues when I got on and they were getting off. The ship could not get to Budapest. Crystal put them up at the Ritz Carlton in Budapest and they had no complaints about time in port. Our sailing did not go to Budapest (it wasn't on our itinerary). We ran into some water issues and I think Crystal handled it well. 

 

I agree with you on Crystal. It was pretty perfect.

Edited by Coral

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crystal, crystal, crystal would be my first and only choice.

of course, i've only been on one river cruise.  it was on the crystal bach from basel to amsterdam and it more than met my expectations.  first of all, everything is included.  yes, i mean everything:  drinks, food, excursions transport to and from the ship, all tips and a generous on board credit that is hard to use up.  there is open seating for dining, not assigned times.  the food has got to be 7 star michelin and the service is great.  the waiters and waitresses just keep working and helping all the passengers equally.  they always had time to spend talking and listening and still served the meals.  the butler service is phenomenal and that service is fabulous too. 

 

every room has a butler.  the ship has free laundry machines and soaps.  the crew is fabulous and they are always there to answer your questions and give you advice.  there is always a crew member on the port excursions with the passengers and their guides are incredibly knowledgeable.  i've never enjoyed myself as much as when i went on this river cruise.  and afterwards, i immediately booked a danube christmas cruise for this december, 2020.  unfortunately, i just didn't feel comfortable traveling  the long distance by airplane and not knowing much about hotel safety and security, i decided it wasn't going to be my travel year.  also, the thought of visiting lots of christmas markets with hundreds of other people milling around and shopping just didn't do it for me this year.  i'm sure you can understand why.  so crystal was wonderful and let me cance the cruise and rebook it for 2022.  i didn't lose a penny and they were very friendly about it.  perhaps in the end, they will cancel the christmas cruise but it's very very popular so i' m not sure what they will be doing.  but crystal is the line for me.  on departure day from amsterdam, their own bus took me from the ship to the airport.  there, a crystal employee walked me to the british airways check-in counter and made sure i got checked in correctly.  then they walked to the entrance to security.  that type of service was way beyond what i expected.  crystal is the greatest imho!!!!

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, USC Adventurer said:

crystal, crystal, crystal would be my first and only choice.

of course, i've only been on one river cruise.  it was on the crystal bach from basel to amsterdam and it more than met my expectations.  first of all, everything is included.  yes, i mean everything:  drinks, food, excursions transport to and from the ship, all tips and a generous on board credit that is hard to use up.  there is open seating for dining, not assigned times.  the food has got to be 7 star michelin and the service is great.  the waiters and waitresses just keep working and helping all the passengers equally.  they always had time to spend talking and listening and still served the meals.  the butler service is phenomenal and that service is fabulous too. 

 

every room has a butler.  the ship has free laundry machines and soaps.  the crew is fabulous and they are always there to answer your questions and give you advice.  there is always a crew member on the port excursions with the passengers and their guides are incredibly knowledgeable.  i've never enjoyed myself as much as when i went on this river cruise.  and afterwards, i immediately booked a danube christmas cruise for this december, 2020.  unfortunately, i just didn't feel comfortable traveling  the long distance by airplane and not knowing much about hotel safety and security, i decided it wasn't going to be my travel year.  also, the thought of visiting lots of christmas markets with hundreds of other people milling around and shopping just didn't do it for me this year.  i'm sure you can understand why.  so crystal was wonderful and let me cance the cruise and rebook it for 2022.  i didn't lose a penny and they were very friendly about it.  perhaps in the end, they will cancel the christmas cruise but it's very very popular so i' m not sure what they will be doing.  but crystal is the line for me.  on departure day from amsterdam, their own bus took me from the ship to the airport.  there, a crystal employee walked me to the british airways check-in counter and made sure i got checked in correctly.  then they walked to the entrance to security.  that type of service was way beyond what i expected.  crystal is the greatest imho!!!!

So it was a good cruise??? I am not sure how much more I could add. They really are amazing.

 

When I sailed Crystal Ocean - they did that at the airport in Miami and even tipped the person with my luggage. When I sailed Crystal River, they did not in Vienna. It may have been how the airport was setup which would make it difficult to do. Not a big deal.

 

On my Crystal river cruise - I probably had the best food I have ever had on any cruise ship ever, including Crystal ocean.

Edited by Coral

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Before deciding on a cruise line, I suggest you look into how lines you are considering handled high or low water.  Water levels have had an impact on river cruises since we took our first river cruise in 2013.  I believe that was the year there was historic flooding and ships couldn't get through in places.  In 2018 they had historically low rivers, to the point where the Rhine and Danube were impassable in places.  We have been very lucky to have good water levels on the 3 cruises we have taken but as weather continues to be extreme I fear there will be more trouble ahead.  While I think the cruise lines did their best in difficult situations, many cruisers were unhappy with how their cruise line responded. We paid close attention in 2018 because we were planning a cruise in 2019, so I created the following thread to get an idea of how the lines were dealing with low water:

 https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2573333-how-are-cruise-lines-dealing-with-low-water-conditions/  

 

Notamermaid created threads discussing water levels on the Rhine and Danube for each of the past few years.  You should find more info there.  One more thing to consider!

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