Many river cruises operate year-round but others are reliant on seasonal flows, dodging inclement weather or coinciding with local events. Travellers often have a set idea of where and when they want to go but in order to offer expert advice and sell the best river cruise possible, it’s essential that agents understand which rivers ‘work best’ at what times.

Top Tip...

"Agents who take the time to get to know the river cruising seasons will ensure they are best placed to advise their clients on when to enjoy the various waterways at their best. And being aware of the booking periods means clients won’t risk missing out on the most popular cruises.”

TIM FLEMING, SALES AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, THE RIVER CRUISE LINE

It is common sense to follow the natural weather patterns of the northern and southern hemispheres when booking your clients on a river cruise – after all, the River Nile is not the place to be in the middle of August, unless you are a monitor lizard! It is also worthwhile checking out booking patterns and water levels to make sure your boat will float.

River cruises have peaks and troughs in booking patterns and not all operate on a year-round basis. Some cruises tend to book up faster than others and if your clients are determined to catch those stunning Dutch tulips in bloom they should book up at least six months ahead, especially if they want a particular cabin.

Some clients might want their river cruise to coincide with a festival such as the annual ‘Rhine in Flames’ or an open-air concert while others will not want to miss the Christmas Markets. So if your clients insist on a certain date or destination it does pay to plan ahead.

Spring

The Dutch Bulbfields flower but once a year and the season is short so it’s good to get your dates right. All the major river cruise lines feature itineraries on the Northern Rhine to the iconic Keukenhof Gardens and Floralia flower exhibition, which is open between March 24 and May 16. There are many other gardens in the Netherlands and Belgium which look their best at this time of year.

Portugal’s Douro offers some excellent vineyard and port cellar cruises before the heat of mid-summer. Some cruises run out of Oporto between March and December.

Further afield, a new Ganges and Himalaya cruise/rail holiday is being featured by Great Rail Journeys on the Hooghly River. Running in March, as well as September and December, the seven-night cruise has been made possible by the building of the Farakka Barrage which brought the river to life again.

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Cosmos Tours and Cruises’ A-Rosa cruise departing April 14 on A-Rosa Brava is from £1299pp. The cruise includes a full day in Amsterdam and the chance to visit Keukenhof, including all drinks onboard and return flights from Stansted to Cologne.

Summer

The summer months not only bring the best weather for river cruising in central Europe but also the most favourable river flow and tidal conditions – a double thumbs up!

The scenery along the Danube, Rhine and Main is at its most beautiful at this time of year – although Titan will sail the Rhine and Danube on MS Serenade for the entire year in 2017.

The wine-producing areas of France are particularly popular at this time of year, as is Paris. Rhone/Saone cruises only operate from March to October as the rivers’ locks do not operate during the winter months. The Garonne and Dordorgne rivers offer the chance to explore the south-west region of France.

A river cruise is a great way to soak up Russian history and culture and sailing from St Petersburg to Moscow on the Volga River and the Moscow Canal is how to do it. Russia’s Neva, Svir and Volga rivers have a short season during the summer months as does the Eastern Danube, also covering an historic slice of Europe.

Croisieurope is opening up its Volga cruises to the UK market with eight-day cruises between Moscow and St Petersburg between May and September. They will feature onboard classes in Russian language and dancing!

An 11-day Russian river cruise aboard the MS Surikov is a new addition for APT in 2017 and includes a visit to Kizhi Island and the St Petersburg Palace.

This is also the time to experience Canada’s St Lawrence River or America’s Mississippi. The all-suite,166-guest American Duchess joins The American Steamboat Company’s fleet in June 2017. It’s the first purpose-built boutique paddlewheeler and will offer overnight stays in Nashville along with round-trip itineraries from the ‘music city’ and New Orleans.

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CroisiEurope’s art-themed Impressionist View of the Seine cruise sails from Paris to Honfleur. It is priced from £1270pp including all drinks and excursions on May, July and August departures on MS Seine Princess, Renoir and Botticelli.

Autumn

The Douro, one of Europe’s most unspoiled rivers, is still incredibly popular during the late summer months. Sailing along the Douro valley between Portugal’s second largest city, Porto, and Barca d’Alva on the Spanish border takes guests through lush vineyards and sleepy fishing villages as well as its many ‘Quintas’.

Autumn colours are particularly spectacular on the Rhine, Main and Danube. Further afield, the Amazon’s dry season starts in June but runs throughout autumn and into December. This is good time for those that like warmer weather and want to explore off the boat on foot. It also sees more migratory birds in flight and the fishing is better. The downside is less mammals and less access to smaller offshoot waterways.

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The seven-night all-inclusive A Week on the River Douro cruise from Titan is from £2,699pp including six excursions.

An eight-day cruise along the Seine aboard Uniworld’s brand new S.S Joie de Vivre starts from £2,249 and includes unlimited beverages onboard and excursions.

Winter

While high waters on some European rivers make it impossible to get under some low bridges, this is the time to venture far afield. It is also the time to book that European summer river cruise as popular cabins sell fast and there might be some attractive early-booking deals.

River cruises in South East Asia make the perfect winter break between January and April. The Mekong and Myanmar’s Irrawaddy are ideal destinations post-rainy season and Egypt’s Nile is perfect between October and April as there is little shade during the summer months.

For a truly cultural experience, India’s Ganges is open for business at this time of year.

China’s Yangtze River has a slightly longer season and is featured by Viking River Cruises from February to November.

The Amazon’s wet season starts now and runs until April. This is when the rivers are most navigable and cruises can access tributaries which take vessels deeper into the jungle, with cruisers likely spotting more wildlife from the boat. Tropical fruits and blooms are at their most colourful at this time too.

Now is a great time to soak up the festive atmosphere as Europe’s Christmas markets come alive. Germany, France and Austria feature some of the best. After the ‘turkey and tinsel’ cruises in November operators on the Rhine and Dutch waterways run cruises over Christmas and New Year in some of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

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Riviera Travel’s 15-day Journey on the Mekong includes seven nights full-board aboard RV Mekong Prestige II and costs from £2,799pp. The price includes all shore excursions plus guided tours of Saigon and Angkor Wat.

The 14-day Golden Treasures of Myanmar from amawaterways starts with two nights in Yangon before transferring to Pyay for a 10-night cruise to Mandalay and ends with a short flight back to Yangon. The 2017 price for a January departure was £3,893pp.