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Agent can help choose the cruise that’s right for you

A reader emailed asking “We want to take a European cruise and friends suggested we look into river cruising. Our Internet search has found that these sailings are more expensive than the other major cruise lines. Also what are the differences? Can you sort this out?”

Again the need for a real travel agent arises! The Net can offer a ton of prices but it cannot provide guidance and advice.

There are big boat and river cruise specialists that can answers your questions and help you select the perfect cruise. A knowledgeable cruise agent can help you navigate the selection process.

I’m sold on cruising in Europe and here’s why. Cruising offers some advantages over taking a tour or traveling independently.

Perhaps the most compelling benefit is that on a cruise you board the ship, unpack once, and then your hotel room travels with you from place to place.

This is so much easier than changing hotels every two or three nights that it’s no wonder that the number of cruise ships in Europe just keeps growing.

Regardless of a big liner or small ship cruise another benefit is that most of your expenses – food, lodging, transportation, and etc., are prepaid in American dollars.

With a declining exchange rate this gives you a better travel value.

There are two kinds of cruises in Europe-the big box ships and smaller inland river vessels. Both offer the convenience of unpacking just once.

Yes I agree that at first glance European river cruises seem to cost more than the ocean-going cruises.

But you need to look deeper at the products. A river cruise is almost totally inclusive while a traditional cruise is moderately inclusive.

What I suggest doing is to compare the products side by side. List all of inclusions and identify the additional add on expenses.

Now is the time to get specific and list everything that you’ll spend on your cruise. Identify if these features are included in your cruise fare or extra.

While the big boat cruise fare is lower than a river cruise when you add in the extras-shore excursions, adult beverages and so forth you’ll discover that the prices are pretty close to equal.

Another consideration is time. The riverboat docks in Paris and you step off right in the heart of the city. The mega liner has to bus you a couple of hours just to get to the city.

The traditional cruise liners can carry between 700 and 4000 passengers while European river cruise vessels can accommodate anywhere from 20 to 200 folks.

The buying power of the mega-ships means that they pay much less for everything from steaks to sheets.

Basically, it costs a big ship much less to feed, house, and entertain a passenger, and that savings is passed onto passengers in the form of lower cruise fares.

But mega-ships can make up for the lower price by selling passengers additional services, both on and off the ship. Since many of Europe’s most appealing cities – including London, Paris, and Florence – are inland, passengers who want to see these places need to purchase shore excursions.

And spa services, fine dining, and lessons and classes are also available for purchase onboard. All these sources of revenue help the bigger ships sell their cabins at a more competitive price.

Size limitations prohibit river cruise vessels from offering the same amenities and services as the ocean vessels. And many cruises include shore excursions, wine with lunch and dinner, tips, and other “extras” in the price.

Without a lot of incidentals to charge for, river cruises have to cover their expenses with the base cruise fare.

Once you understand how cruises make their money, you can make an informed decision about whether or not a river cruise would cost you more or less than an ocean cruise.

Because river cruises travel right through the heart of Europe, you don’t need to spend any time or money to see the sights you came to see. In most cases, they’re right at your doorstep.

And an orientation tour of the city is usually included.

Most of the river boats have bicycles onboard that passengers can take ashore if they want to explore areas they can’t see on foot. And the scenery from the boats is terrific day and night. Many include beer and wine with meals.

Believe me the extra add up! I’ve seen some shocked faces aboard the cruise ships when that final bill arrives. A $499 cruise ended up with a total bill of over two grand.

Do you want to experience Europe on a more personal level? Don’t care about spa treatments, fitness centers, or nightly entertainment then a river cruise may be for you.

If you are also looking for a relaxed, casual ambience then a river cruise might end up being less expensive for you in the long run.

The week of Oct. 17-23 is “The World’s Largest Cruise Sale.”

Twenty-five cruise line members of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and the travel agency community have teamed up for National Cruise Vacation Week (NCVW).

For you this means potential savings of $100 to $5,000 or more in some cases, credits for shipboard spending valued at $50 to over $300, upgrades to suite accommodations, or other incentives such as complimentary shore excursions, deposit waivers and more.

Check out some of these offers out at http://ncvw.cruising.org/travelprof.

Be kind to your travel agent and get out of town!