As with most travel products, there is no precise price for an Amsterdam-to-Budapest river cruise, even with the same company. The price depends on:
- When you book
- Who you book it through
- Which cabin you choose
- Solo or twin-share
- Whether a “free flight” is included
- Whether a “free upgrade” is included
- Whether “on-board credit” is included
- Month of travel
Here are some prices for 2015, per person, twin-share, from Australia:
- APT – from $6,695 – Fly free and Partner fly free
- Avalon – from $5,555 – 21/12/15 departure
- Evergreen – from $6,525 – Fly free and Partner fly free, save $500 per couple
- Scenic – from $7,195 – Fly free and Partner fly free
- Travelmarvel – from $5,595 – Fly free and Partner fly free
The above prices refer to the cheapest cabins at the bottom of the ship at the cheapest time of the year. Lots of “conditions apply”, e.g. you may get the “free” air fares only if you buy the extensions.
In North America, they don’t get free flights but can be given other incentives, so the price is lower:
- Emerald Waterways – from US$4,025 (special at US$3,525 for a Nov 2015 departure with US$250 “on-board credit”)
When to book
If you are retired and have no commitments, then you may want to wait until the last minute and negotiate a good price, as the cruise company does not want to see an empty cabin. If you must travel at a certain time, then book a little earlier, but keep in mind that the cheap month of April sells out quickly, but carries the risk that some river locks might be under repair and you may have to use buses for some segments. If there is a drought in high summer, the rivers might be too low and you could be taking a few bus trips instead of sailing.
Who you book through
The price will give you a clue. Car clubs may add a premium (or a discount), so compare pricing for many months before you get a feel for what extras you are getting (if any).
If you are on your own, you may want to find a reliable travel partner, otherwise you may find that the single-bed room is at the bottom, or near a less-desirable end of the ship. You will also pay a premium. Then again, if a full-sized cabin is going empty, they might give it to you (but with the single-room supplement.)
The state-issued Seniors Card offers a 5% discount on the land content of tours of 14 days or more. I wasn’t aware of this before the trip, being the holder of an identical Victorian card (honoured in most countries).
CruiseCritic.com often publishes “Price Drops“, which are worth checking out, although they are mostly for ocean cruises. We have seen up to 78% discount there.
Nothing is free
Some people get two free return flights; we were offered only one, but they had a “free” cabin upgrade at that time. The best rooms are often filled with upgraded passengers. On our cruise, a person with a broken arm was given an upgrade. Then, if you check the prices of such cruises in the UK, you will find them a lot cheaper because they don’t need to offer a 23-hour “free” flight from the other end of the world.
We know someone who was given “free” flights only if they took a cabin at the bottom of the ship. On our cruise, others were given on-board credit, which could be applied to the optional tours or laundry, but we were not.
The advertised price in the ad tends to be the cheapest cabin, usually in the bottom of the ship and at the cheapest time of the year. You usually get a port hole or sliding window at best, depending on the ship and the room might still be called a “Stateroom”. For a balcony, you go one or two levels higher, with pricing to match.
For more help on choosing a cabin, go here.
Time of travel
You will probably get a cheaper deal if you are not fussy about departure dates and the class of cabin. April is a cheaper month, but sometimes the river authorities are doing maintenance on the locks, so you may find yourself doing part of the cruise by bus!
November departures can be the cheapest, but Europe is getting chilly at that time. Some cruise lines also offer a Christmas sailing, as some of the ports are very pretty with all the Christmas decorations and special shops. However, expect the cobblestones to be very slippery.
We booked 18 months before our cruise at a so-called “2014 at 2013 prices” rate. This happens every year, so you see “2015 at 2014 prices” marketing at the moment. There was a “free upgrade” deal at the time, so we paid for a Category P room and got what was then the biggest room – a Category S, Horizon Deck Grand Balcony Suite.
We also paid for a Paris Escape extension before the cruise, optional excursions to Rothenburg, Salzburg – Mozart’s Sound of Music, and a Viennese Evening Concert. Only one of us got a free flight, so there was a Singapore Airlines cost of $1,295 + taxes of $978. All up, the Paris + river cruise came to $22,501 for both of us. The Singapore and UK travel was obviously extra, not being with the cruise company.
We took about $1,500 cash in Euro and Forints. In hindsight, we could have skipped getting Forints for Hungary, as Euros are accepted by the usual outlets frequented by tourists. We did not go to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, where the Koruna is used, but again, the Euro is accepted.
- All tipping and gratuities are included, but not if you book in North America.
- Free airport transfers are included. We arrived in Paris by train after a week’s trip to the UK, so no free transfer for us at the beginning.
- Unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks are included only with dinner while cruising. Up-market brands have unlimited alcohol all day.
- 41 meals are included (14 breakfasts, 13 lunches, 12 dinners, 2 special dinners.