When Should I Book My River Cruise?

When should I book? How long should I wait?

It’s a common question, but one that has a rapidly changing set of answers — particularly where river cruising is concerned. 

Sailing the Douro River aboard Uniworld's Douro Spirit. Photo courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

Sailing the Douro River aboard Uniworld’s Douro Spirit. Photo courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

In the past, you could typically predict which sailings would sell out well in advance: Theme cruises or time-sensitive itineraries, like the spring Tulip Time river cruises that depart from Amsterdam, are historically some of the first to go. And as river cruising gains in popularity, the need to book sooner rather than later has only become more important.

This is true not just of in-demand itineraries, but also of the new river cruise ships coming on-line, many of which are already beginning to fill for 2013.

River cruises operating between Budapest and Nuremberg are one of the prime staples of river cruising. The itinerary is offered (in one form or another) by nearly every river cruise line. Departure dates through the month of May are almost entirely sold out for some cruise companies, and it’s not yet the middle of January.

A Tulip Time cruise is one of the most iconic (and picturesque!) river cruises you can take. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

A Tulip Time cruises are among the most iconic (and picturesque!) river cruises you can take. Many are already sold out for this year. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Perhaps more significantly, a fair number of fall and winter sailings are sold out. For example, the December 7 departure on  Viking Aegir’s Romantic Danube Christmas Markets is sold out in most categories — nearly a year in advance.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a deep-ocean cruise that is selling as well nearly a year out, unless it was a single, one-off sailing.

Part of the reason for this is the growing awareness of river cruising, which has exploded in popularity in the last few years. As more people experience and become hooked on river cruising, they’re looking to plan their next forays along the rivers of the world. New ships and sailings (like the Tulip Time voyages or Christmas Markets) are some of the first to go.

The advice we routinely give to prospective river cruisers: Book as early as possible. Playing the “waiting game” in the hopes of a price drop will likely leave you without “up the river without a boat,” particularly if you plan to sail during peak periods like the summer.

Avalon Creativity docked in Conflans Sainte-Honorine, where Ralph and Alex Grizzle visited Château de Malmaison, a favored retreat of Napoleon I and his first wife Joséphine. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

Avalon Creativity docked in Conflans Sainte-Honorine. New itineraries and ships are the hottest ticket this year © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

So don’t delay to book that summer river cruise through Portugal, or the Christmas Markets voyage along the Rhine. This year promises to be one of the hottest years in the history of the river cruise industry, and sailings are already selling like hotcakes.

Cruising’s best-kept secret is hidden no longer.