Our river cruise tips are designed to help you understand – and overcome – the complexities of river cruising. This series will include several parts to be published over the coming weeks and months. Missed part one of the series? See Our Top Tips For A Flawless River Cruise, Part I
Our goal is to travel smart – and not break the bank. After all, it’s one thing to get a great deal on a river cruise, but it’s another to budget so tightly that you extract any possibility for pleasure on your cruise.
Of course, only you can know how much moolah you’re willing to part with for the best possible river cruise vacation. So balance your budget against our recommendations. No one is asking that you break the bank, but you may want to consider our tips, which we have found can make the difference between cruise vacations that are memorable and others that fail to measure up to all you had hoped they would be.
In this post, we provide five tips for choosing your stateroom. Ultimately, our goal is to help you answer the question: Is the extra expense of a balcony stateroom worth it, or would you be just as happy in the lowest category, a river view stateroom?
Five Tips For Choosing Your Stateroom
1. Book a standard stateroom with a fixed window.
If you’re looking to save money, choose the lowest category of room, often referred to as River View Staterooms or Standard Staterooms. These staterooms typically feature small, fixed windows that most often occupy the top quarter of the stateroom exterior-facing wall. Because of the location of these staterooms – usually on the lowest deck – windows are positioned high in the room due to the level of the waterline.
Fixed-window staterooms will usually be what you get when you book the “Cruises starting from” price. Should you book this category? Our preference is a balcony stateroom (which we’ll get into in a moment), but if the cost of a balcony stateroom would break your budget, then by all means, opt instead for a fixed-window stateroom. After all, you can leave the stateroom and go to the top deck for your “balcony” experience. It’s not quite as convenient as having a balcony right beside your bed and you may not have as much square footage as you would in a balcony stateroom, but if your budget is tight, go for the entry-level stateroom. You can spend the money you save elsewhere on your trip.
On the plus side for river view staterooms, well, you can see it in the photo above. Sometimes it’s fun to be at the water level.
2. Book a French Balcony stateroom.
Before even considering whether you should upgrade to a balcony let’s talk about what a balcony actually is because, as you’ll see, it is very likely not what you perceive it to be. That’s because balconies on river cruise vessels come in many different flavors. There’s the French Balcony, which at its most basic level can consist of doors that slide or pull open for a view of the river.
French Balconies look and act like regular balconies, with the only exception being that there are railings placed directly behind the glass, meaning you cannot step out onto a separate space – without splashing into the river, that is. Many river cruise companies place a small sitting area in front of the French Balcony, allowing it to perform the same function as a full, step-out balcony.
French balcony staterooms are generally smaller than staterooms with full balconies, but not always. One exception that comes to mind is Crystal River Cruises’ Crystal Mozart. While Crystal River Cruises’ newbuilds feature full balconies, the immaculately refurbished Crystal Mozart features only French balconies. As you can see in the photo above, Crystal Mozart’s French Balcony Staterooms are both spacious and elegant.
Some river cruise lines are tweaking the French Balcony concept and, in doing so, they are coming up with some increasingly diverse “branding.” Avalon Waterways touts its Open-Air Balconies, which are essentially French Balconies on a grand scale, with windows that open almost the entire width of the room. Likewise, Avalon prides itself on its beds facing the windows. This arrangement resulted in the photograph below, with me in bed watching the landscape pass.
3. Book a Balcony stateroom.
Step-out or full balconies are where you open a glass door and step across the threshold onto a dedicated balcony. Balconies typically have two chairs and a small table, and – with a few exceptions – tend to be quite narrow due to the fact that the width of river cruise ships is restricted because of the locks on the waterways of Europe.
The cost of an upgrade from a standard stateroom or a French balcony can be significant. In a recent post, we compared the cost of balcony upgrades for 2020 Rhone River cruises. Upgrades from the lowest category to balcony staterooms were as much as $1,299 (on Avalon) per person for the duration of your cruise. Worth it? Yes, if you have the discretionary income.
A balcony adds additional benefits. In any season, letting in the smells and sounds of the rivers of Europe can be a wonderfully charming thing to do in the privacy of your own stateroom. We’ve even enjoyed balconies on Christmas Markets river cruises when the snow is falling and the air is chilled. Plus stepping out on the balcony also can be helpful for planning how to dress for the day. But to be fair, we’ve never actually just sat out on the balcony in the same way we’d sit and relax on a balcony on an ocean cruise. On river cruises, we prefer to sit in the lounges or on the Sun Decks to watch the landscape pass. Also, when docked, your balcony might be pressed flush against another ship, limiting its practical usefulness, but this is also a time when you’re likely not on the ship. You’re out touring instead.
If the upgrade to a balcony stateroom does not break your budget, then we emphatically recommend going for it. Remember, you are buying an experience, and you want that experience to be as good as it can possibly be. This is not the time to be a parsimonious river cruise passenger. Splurge. You’re paying for your experience, after all.
4. Book both types of balconies in one stateroom.
For those who have trouble deciding on which to choose, AmaWaterways has a twin-balcony concept, featuring a French balcony and step-out balcony. Having both types of balconies in one stateroom has proven to be a hit with guests.
Another hybrid can be found on Tauck’s ms Inspire and ms Savor, which feature eight Loft Staterooms each that come with a 1.5-story tall wall of glass with a middle partition that can open to let fresh air in. These innovative staterooms are a hybrid between a river view and a French balcony. Check out the video below to see how they function.
5. Book a sun lounge or open-air balcony.
Lastly, there are balconies, such as on Scenic – and sister company Emerald Cruises, where the outer wall is comprised of a floor-to-ceiling window, split horizontally. The upper plate of glass slides up and down with the push of a button, creating an open-air balcony. These types of balconies also function as a solarium of sorts. It’s easier to show you than to explain, so let’s compare the balcony of Uniworld’s S.S. Maria Theresa and Scenic Jasper.
Uniworld’s S.S. Maria Theresa: Open-Air Balconies
Scenic Jasper: Sun Lounge
As you can see, they each work the same essentially, with windows that raise and lower to expose the rooms to fresh air and unobstructed views (which can be breath-taking given the landscapes that these vessels pass). The key differences are that Uniworld’s S.S. Maria Theresa features an additional mosquito net, a nice touch so that you can enjoy the balcony without the bugs.
Scenic Jasper, on the other hand, featured folding glass doors that separate the balcony and bedroom. The folding glass doors can be hidden out of the way when not in use. By contrast, S.S. Maria Theresa featured fixed sliding glass doors. Uniworld calls its concept Open-Air Balconies while Scenic refers to its concept as Sun Lounges. Both are great additions to staterooms for those who want to breathe in Europe and enjoy the landscape from the comfort of their staterooms.
What about you? Is a balcony stateroom your preference, or do you prefer the savings of standard staterooms?
Read more about balconies in the articles below.
- Best Ships for Balcony Lovers
- Do I Need A Balcony On My River Cruise?
- Rooms With A View: River Cruise Windows, French Balconies & Verandas Defined
Look for part three of this series in a coming newsletter. Do you have comments about our tips that will help other river cruisers? Which stateroom do you book for your Europe river cruises?