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River Cruise Excursions: What to Expect

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

So, you’ve booked your first river cruise – hooray! If you’re an experienced ocean cruiser, you know that the next step is to go purchase your shore excursions.

Or not.

Depending on which river cruise line you’re booked with, there may or not be excursions to purchase. Now, that’s not to say that there won’t be excursions. They just may not require an additional purchase.

As a general rule, every river cruise line includes at least one excursion in every port. If the cruise line you’ve booked is one of the generally less expensive ones, there may be only one complimentary excursion. These are usually a walking tour, accessed either by a bus ride or by just walking off the ship and into town. And because lots of people like the idea of not shelling out more money, they’re also the most popular tours.

Suppose you prefer a smaller group to tour a city with? Lucky you, there are many tours that are smaller groups. On some cruise lines, these will be an extra charge, but on many lines, they’re included.

And if you’d rather do something more active than just walking? You’ll have plenty of options. We can help you choose a cruise line that carries its own fleet of bikes, so that they can do a bike excursion in almost every port (if the cruise line carries its own fleet, there’s usually no additional charge for a bike tour). Or there’s a good chance that you’ll have the option of a more vigorous walk or a proper hike, as well.

A word about the bike tours: while you can expect anywhere from 5 to 25 miles in a day, remember that you’re cruising on a river. Many bike tours follow a path that goes right along the river, so you may not be heading up a very steep hill. There are certain to be rolling hills, and maybe a few bridges to go up (and then down…whee!). You don’t need to be fit for the Tour de France, but it is helpful if you’ve ridden a couple of miles at home in the past year. Don’t wait until the day of your shore excursion to re-learn how to ride a bike after not pedaling for 30 years. The bikes are generally pretty comfortable – we’re talking cruising bikes, not skinny road bikes.

Here’s how the morning will typically go, when it comes to your excursion:

  • Fuel up: You’ll enjoy your breakfast, then take the very short walk to your cabin to grab your stuff for the morning (or the day). At the very least, you’ll want to grab your water bottle, and maybe a backpack or cross-body bag. And your listening device (super-important for most tours).

  • Check out: As you exit the ship, you’ll scan your room key to check out (so that they know who’s not back onboard at the end of the day).

  • Get onboard: If you’re taking a tour that involves a bus, the buses may be smack in front of the ship, or they might be a very short walk (like, no more than a 5 minute walk) away. Often, you’ll be joining a local guide on a walking tour that departs right from the pier. Or, if you’re taking a bike tour, your bicycles will be lined up on the pier for you.

  • Get connected: You’ll tap the end of your listening device to your guide’s “lollipop” sign, or you might just select the tour you’re on, from your smartphone. On a bike tour, they generally choose to not use an audio device.

  • Take it all in: Your tour may be a half-day tour, or you could be gone from the ship all day. If you’re on a half-day tour, you’ll usually be back in time for lunch onboard. You’re of course welcome to head back into town if you’d prefer to eat in a local restaurant (though this would be at your own expense).

  • Check in: When you come back on the ship, you’ll use your room key to check in. You can come and go as often as you like – but they do feel better if they know which passengers are off the ship (they might wait for you if you're a few minutes late…but don’t rely on that – just get back on time).

Of course, you’re not obligated to participate in the tours at all. You’re more than welcome to stay on the ship and read, or you can go explore the town on your own. The beauty of river cruising is that you almost always dock within a short walk of the historic city center.

If you have more questions, feel free to reach out to us – we’d love to help! And of course, if you’re ready to book, we are river cruise experts – reach out by phone, email or DM.

You can also join the River Cruise Community Facebook page, to share tips & ideas with fellow river cruise travelers.

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