Do’s and Don’ts on a River Cruise: Helpful Tips for New Cruisers

Booked a river cruise or thinking of treating yourself to one? There’s a lot of fun, adventure, and romance to be had on cruise vacation. Whether you and your partner are first-time cruisers or have voyaged before, there are a few cruise tips to follow that’ll tell you the do’s and don’ts when preparing for your embarkation day. 

Tips for River Cruises Cover Image.

Is it your first time going on a river cruise and need the ins and outs on do’s and don’ts?

You’re at the right helm! Our curated tips for new cruisers will steer you clear of common mistakes and enhance your voyage with seasoned advice. Tipping, OMG, what do we tip?! We’ve been in your shoes on both small river cruises and big ocean liners and learned a lot along the way. Prepare to navigate the waters smoothly and savor every moment with our guide to the essential do’s and don’ts so you can have an amazing first river cruising.

In this Article:

  • Book early to get the best deals and cabin selection
  • Attend the safety briefing to learn about emergency procedures
  • Follow the ship’s dress code to avoid issues
  • Pack light – only one suitcase per person is allowed
  • Take advantage of included tours and excursions at each port
  • Participate in onboard activities and entertainment to experience the culture
  • Be polite and gracious when sharing the small ship space
  • Use a daily planner for your port adventures
Passenger ship cruise on the Volga River.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos
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From must-know river cruise tips to how to make the most of your limited time, this new cruiser guide will tell you everything you need to know to avoid any hiccups and maximize your romantic getaway as you sail along some of the world’s most beautiful waterways. 

View from deck of river cruise boat with chairs and greenery.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Introduction: The Importance of Preparation

As much as you may love a spontaneous last minute getaway, cruise travel is one of those vacations where you’re going to want to set aside some extra time to prepare. This includes researching different cruise lines, what’s included in the pricing, and anything you need to be aware of before you hop aboard. That way, everything goes smoothly from the port of embarkation to your return date.

There are many regulations to follow when traveling on a river cruise. From COVID-19 vaccinations and passports/visas to onboard dress codes and restrictions. Outside of these must-follow rules, there are other helpful cruise tips that will make your trip more enjoyable.

Of course, you can’t expect perfection, especially if this is your first cruise. Minor setbacks are bound to pop up along the journey. But as long as you remain flexible and don’t take things too seriously, you and your better half will simply be able to laugh it off and maybe even have a good story or two!

To get started, let’s get you more familiar with the unique features offered on a river cruise ship so you can get the most bang for your buck. 

  • It’s an all-inclusive experience that is more personalized and intimate.
  • Unlike ocean cruises, you can tour each port at no additional charge.
  • Unique river-facing staterooms.
  • Standard rooms feature hotel-style beds, private bathrooms, refrigerators, TVs, and a safe.
  • Upgraded rooms may feature balconies, verandas, and private living quarters.
  • You’ll get to enjoy ever-changing scenery throughout your voyage.
  • A great opportunity to authentically immerse yourself in a variety of local cultures.
Clinking glasses of white wine in front of the river.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Major Do’s for Cruising with CroisiCruise

Now that you’ve got a better idea of what a typical river cruise company offers, let’s discuss the major do’s that you and your partner should check off your list. 

Do Take Advantage of Early Booking Specials

You and your one and only deserve the best of the best on your romantic getaway. Early booking could lead to substantial savings and better cabin selection. This way, you aren’t left with higher cruise prices and less-than-ideal lodgings.

The Croisi Europe Cruise, for instance, has an array of special offers to choose from on their site that are 20-50% off per person. You can find the best deals on each cruise company’s website or on their cruise line app. Websites like Expedia,, and Cruise Critic are also great resources for finding low prices for your next cruise trip.

Do Explore Cultural Opportunities

River cruises are the BEST time because you’re able to make the most out of the local cultures and only have to unpack once! Unlike major cruise lines, which are mostly on the ocean with only a few stops, river cruises give you the unique opportunity to travel slowly through many amazing places.  

Here are some of our best tips to fully appreciate and make the most out of each stop:

  • Sign up for excursions: Excursions are your gateway into the local culture. We recommend signing up for nightly entertainment to fully immerse yourself in the local culture.
  • Take advantage of the included guided tours: Guided tours will allow you to see the breathtaking sights and learn about the unique history of the places you’re visiting.
  • Know the audience: Depending on the river cruise line you choose, the audience may be different. For example, CroisiCruise is a French cruise line with an audience that is predominantly French. Viking is a more expensive river cruise line with more English-speaking guests. 
  • Utilize onboard amenities: Exploring culture is not limited to outside the ship; it can also be done onboard! Socialize with other guests from different parts of the world and play onboard games organized by the staff. There is also nightly entertainment to be had after dinner in the lounge. On Croisi, they had Spanish dancing one night, a Fado performance another, and folk stories the next evening.

Most important tip: 

Because river cruises are much smaller ships than ocean liners, you’re going to see the same group of people every day. Learn about the cruise line, where it’s from, and who they cater to. This will help you not only decide if the cruise company is right for you, but it can also help you learn about what to expect onboard.

Will it be a mostly French menu? Is the activity level where you want it? Are you stopping in ports that excite you? It may be tempting just to shop by reviews, but get to know the company before you hit book now, and you’ll have a better idea of what to expect once onboard.

Dining room of river cruise ship.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Major Don’ts for River Cruising

There are a few things that you and your partner should definitely not do while preparing for your river cruise. We have been on a few cruises ourselves and can help you learn from our own experience! Here are our top cruise tips:

Don’t Skip the Safety Briefing

Since you and your beau will be on a boat and all, there are certain safety measures in place that you’ll need to be aware of in the unlikely case of an emergency. Just because you’re in a river instead of the ocean doesn’t mean you can be less careful about safety! That’s why it is so important that you don’t miss the safety briefing.

During the briefing, the captain and crew members will cover where the life jackets are and how to put them on correctly. You’ll also learn about emergency exits, important safety features of the ship, the duties of the onsite guards, and what is expected of you when boarding and deboarding. It is also in your best interest to get familiar with the layout of the ship so that in case of an emergency, you can easily navigate your surroundings.

Don’t Ignore Dress Codes

The dress code will vary depending on which cruise liner you’ve booked with, so make sure you visit their website to find out what attire is allowed and not allowed for dining areas and special events onboard. If you and your partner prefer a more sophisticated atmosphere, find a cruise line that reflects that. If you and you’re partner want something more casual, there are plenty of options available as well. 

We found that compared to Viking, CroisiCruise had an overall more casual feeling, and the dress code reflected that. There was never a black tie moment, but there was a celebratory night where people were encouraged to dress up. Meanwhile, when traveling along the Rhine River with Viking, we enjoyed the opportunities to dress up for dinner. 

Don’t Over-pack

We get it. It’s hard not to want to pack your whole closet when preparing for the romantic getaway of your dreams. However, overpacking can really make the travel process difficult… and expensive. Most river cruises only allow one piece of luggage (up to standard large suitcase size) per person anyway, so you might as well find ways to make the most out of your luggage space.

There are plenty of tips and resources on our site, like this packing list. But here, we’ll highlight our top must-know cruise tips for packing smart:

  • Clothing Essentials: Stick with basic tops and bottoms that vary in length and a few dressier outfits. A versatile jacket is also a must-have for any expected cooler weather, and you’ll want to bring a pair of comfortable walking shoes, sandals, and dress shoes/heels. Don’t forget socks and undies, too!
  • Toiletries and Personal Care: Essentials like toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, makeup, razors, sunscreen, feminine hygiene products, and medicine are all things you’re likely to regret not bringing with you!
  • Travel Documents: This one is a no-brainer, but it cannot be left out of this list. This includes passports, visas, and IDs, travel tickets and documents, cash and credit cards, and any travel insurance information if needed.
  • Electronics & Gadgets: Phones, chargers, power banks, headphones, cameras, these are all necessary things to bring along to ensure your trip is as comfortable, connected, and documented as possible! 
A stack of orange life jackets hanging on a hanger
Photo Caption: Deposit Photos

Tips Specific to River Cruising

A river cruise is a romantic vacation like no other. It’s arguably the best way to experience the most out of many locations in just a short amount of time. You and your partner will not only get to explore the culture of your surroundings off-board but onboard as well. 

Don’t miss out on the specific themed nights and special cuisine offered onboard. There are so many delicious cuisines and social activities to explore, and you’ll get to meet some really interesting people and even make some friends during your journey. River cruises often have multi-lingual staff, and this provides a great opportunity to do some cultural exchange and discover cool new perspectives. 

When boarding a small ship for a week, it’s best to be polite. You will be sharing a small living space with the same 147 passengers and 20 crew members. Be gracious, and learn please and thank you in the language native to the countries you’re visiting before you participate in the group activities. It will be greatly appreciated!

River cruise boat coasting along river with greenery in background during sunset.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

How Following These Tips Will Improve Your Cruise Experience

Whether you’re first-time cruiser or it’s been a hot minute since your last epic voyage, following these cruise tips will allow you and your partner to make the absolute most out of your romantic getaway. It’ll open the doors for enhanced enjoyment, less stress, and less money spent. 

If you find yourself a tad overwhelmed by all the information and places you’ll be visiting, we recommend getting a daily planner to use as a blueprint for your adventures. The more you plan ahead, even if you need to change things later, the less you’ll have to think when you’re aboard your extraordinary river cruise. Trust us, you’ll thank yourself later!

Pack your Suitcase: Setting Sail with Confidence

We hope you feel empowered and prepared for your upcoming river cruise. By following our tips, you’ll be setting sail with confidence. 

Be sure to take time to explore local markets and small towns along the river, and don’t forget to take some photos of your memorable journey! Each destination on the route is unique and offers something special, so check out as many attractions as you can. 

Now that you and your partner know how to make the most of every moment, it’s time to grab your bags, board the ship, and begin the romantic journey of a lifetime.

Happy cruising!

Have any special insights to share from a river cruise you’ve been on? Share your cruise tips with us in the comments below! And if you’d like more river cruise tips and resources on romantic getaways, check out our newsletter!

Matthias Church, Bastion of the Fisherman, churches and other monuments and historical buildings of Budapest on the banks of the Danube River.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can I bring my own food and drinks on board?

You certainly could; no one is going to stop you. However, there will be plenty of food and beverages to choose from onboard. Food and beverage policies will vary depending on the cruise line, but it’s always a good idea to check with the river cruise line you are considering before booking. 

The Viking River Cruises, for instance, offers a generous “bring-your-own” policy with no corkage fees for personal bottles of wine brought on board. However, remember you’ve got to fit it all in your suitcase along with your clothing for the trip.

Is tipping expected on river cruises?

This answer varies from line to line. For instance, you don’t need to tip on the CroisiCruise. However, there is always an opportunity to tip the crew as a whole. This isn’t a requirement, and there isn’t a suggested tipping amount, but the best rule of thumb is to tip around $10 to $20 per person for each day of the trip. At the end of the tour, the crew will collect all tips and split them evenly among themselves.

What kind of electrical outlets are on the cruise?

This will ultimately depend on where your river cruise is located. Cruise lines in the EU, for instance, tend to use two-pin round plugs. Cruise ships in the US and Canada usually offer outlets that accept standard North American three-prong or two-prong flat plugs. 

When in doubt, bring a universal adapter and check the requirements of your personal items, such as curling irons and blow dryers. Many items from the US may not be able to withstand the voltage in the EU. 

To avoid some trouble, it’s best to use the blow dryers provided by the ship. On our recent trip, we only had one plug in our room to charge our devices and items. So it’s best to plan accordingly and not expect to be able to charge everything all at once!

Does the initial booking cost cover all activities>

Some river cruises may offer more amenities and services compared to others. When it comes to activities, check the details on the cruise website or contact them directly.

Typically, river cruises will come with entertainment as well as a few excursions and bike rentals. More rarely, you can find river cruises that also include spa treatments, food tastings, and a variety of other activities.

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