Looking for the best river cruise deal in Europe? Look no further than the storied Rhine, which flows through four countries and touches on some of the most spectacular scenery on the continent.
"Europe is, for all of us, the most important destination," says Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways. "We all have ships there. The volume is there. That's where the best deals are always going to be."
Here's what you need to know about Rhine River cruise prices:
The most affordable Rhine river cruise is the seven-night cruise between Amsterdam and Zurich, a staple of the region's cruise lines. Avalon offers entry level fares of $275 per person, per night for non-peak season departures in late March, early April, late October and early November. During May through September, that same fare costs $400 per night.
Editor's note: Price-sensitive travelers should also look at tours on the Danube, known for extremely competitive fares.
Cruises on the Rhine have varying lengths, but they tend not to impact the per-night price. "What impacts price is the season. Early and late are the best values. That's also the time when airfares are lowest," says Clark.
Luxury line Uniworld's least expensive fare is $628 per person, per night during peak season -- and that drops in its lowest cabin category to $414 during the Christmas holiday market cruises in late November and December. Many North Americans would never think of sailing the Rhine during wintry weather, but in some ways, that's when the Rhine is at its loveliest.
Some industry insiders say shoppers are booking their Europe cruises earlier than in the past -- as many as 12 to 18 months in advance for peak season bookings. Early bookings typically equate to better deals, and early booking promotions can shave as much as 10 percent off the cost of each cruise. They generally occur during the first quarter of the year and apply to departures the following year. Depending upon demand, additional promotions are sometimes offered six to nine months in advance of departure.
The competition can't hurt pricing either; with so many ships coming on line, someone is bound to have a deal. For example, Viking launched 40 new Viking Longships between 2011 and 2015, opening up more berths in all the markets it serves.
The cruise fares in Europe don't just cover the sail and the scenery. The price often includes shore excursions; wine, beer and spirits; airport transfers; gratuities; Wi-Fi; and multiple dining options. Uniworld, notably, has a complimentary Go Active program that features escorted bike rides and hikes. Also included in the cost of the fares are guided "Do as the Locals Do" walking tours that provide an off-the-beaten-path look at various ports.
--By Ellen Uzelac, Cruise Critic contributor