The rest of Q&A


    Q – Thanks so much for the best travel site we’ve ever found. The missing ads are not missed at all. My husband and I are off on a twice-delayed trip to Paris and the French Riviera. We’ve had lots of time to prepare and we’ve read everything we can about Paris, particularly the pieces written by your idol, Mr. Bourdain. My husband suggested that I write in with one simple question – what is the first bit of advice you give your clients headed off to France?

    A – Use “ Bonjour” before ever addressing anyone in France. You walk into a bar and the waiter comes up – says “Bonjour”. It is more than a greeting in France. It is an acknowledgment that, unlike your predecessors, you are a polite American who understands that this word or the lack of it, makes an immediate impression on any French citizen. When you first meet a waiter or pass the check-in desk always say Bonjour. It means far more than “hello”. It means that you still value human interaction and polite greetings. It is the start of all human contact in France. Have a memorable journey and thank you for your kind words.


    Q – My wife and I try to keep up with travel and we keep seeing articles in the press that make us think that travel to Italy anywhere near June – July – August is looking for trouble. The heat waves seem to be truly worrisome and we keep reading about long lines. That brings us to a long-delayed driving trip we want to do in Sicily (we are in our mid-seventies and in fairly decent shape). We are thinking about going around the 15th of October and we are wondering if you think that is a good idea? Is Sicily safe? How would we go about booking such a trip?  

    A – It isn’t a good idea – it is actually rather brilliant. There is this thing called “Climate Change” and it has made the southern extremities of Italy heat hazardous in the mid-summer months. About 75% of the tourists will be gone and the heat should be a non-issue in October. But here’s the thing – the Sicilians do not, as a rule, have a summer place in Boca Raton. They will be there and the cafes will be busy. The restaurants will be open but you may be able to snag a preferred outdoor table. 

    Sicily has seen some attacks on tourists but your primary worry will be world-class pickpockets in crowded areas. But as much as the country enjoys a reputation for mibbed-up residents, Sicily is considerably safer than most US cities and their concept of “Freedom” does not include arming every member of the population. You will need to be cautious about where you stay and where you park. 

    The big decision will likely be whether or not to use Palermo or Catania as a base. We vote for Catania, a Baroque town, Sicily’s second largest city, welll-located on the eastern coast of the island. How you book depends on your budget. Many luxury advisors will not handle self-driving trips as there are just too many non-commissionable variables. If you belong to AAA in your state you may find their services for such a trip on your own to be useful. They do offer extensive mapping services and they can make all hotel arrangements. 

    If you want priovate guides, good ones, and some of the best hotels available, use the services of an advisor who belongs to one of the top Travel advisor consortiums. Contact us if you need recommendations for one of the better firms near your place of domicile. Learn some Italian before the trip. Traveling on your own requires this extra step. One final thought – learn how to play a decent game of Bocce before you depart. It will come in handy. 


    • Q- How can Viking Cruises claim it has consistently been voted the world’s best cruise line when, based on Cruisetruth information, it clearly isn’t? Are there any laws in travel related to the claims made by various cruise lines or tour operators as to the quality of the product and whether or not they are actually five-star or something different? I mean they can’t all be “The World’s Best” – can they?
    • A – If you read the wording on the awards they will usually read Reader’s Choice” or words to that effect. That means the readers of the various publications have sent in votes for their favorites in assorted categories. Publications are motivated to list as many awards as possible so the various cruise lines can use them in their advertising. As Viking continues to grow, the sheer number of past guests will grow to provide a nice reserve of potential “Best”  voters. Look for them to win many more “Reader Choice” type awards. There is so much more we can say on this topic but, for today, let’s allow Viking to make their claim. In fact, there are other lines that make far more outrageous claims in their brochures and advertising. For the most part, Viking lists the awards it has won but makes no claims of five-star status that we have detected.  It is sadly true that “Truth in Advertising” statutes have rarely, if ever, been applied to the travel industry. These firms are essentially allowed to use words like “five-star”, “deluxe”, and “top-rated” with impunity. That, by the way, is one reason that we launched Cruisetruth almost two decades ago. 




    Q –  7.28.22 –  I really need some help with this one. In five weeks I am scheduled to do a 12-Day cruise on Regent Seven Seas to the British Isles. Well, as it happens, I am 82 and rather susceptible to Covid. In addition, the temperatures in London and other parts of the UK are in record territory with hardly any air conditioning.I just don’t want to risk my health for this cruise and would like a refund but Regent is refusing. I would switch to another sailing and I don’t see why they are being unreasonable. I did not take out any travel insurance for this trip. I have little interest in being forced to endure England’s heat wave. Had I known that Regent treated its customers in this manner I would not have booked with them. This cruise cost me $29,000 so this is no small thing. How do they get away with this?

    A – Let’s try to unwind this piece by piece:

    You are 82, have medical conditions, and you never bothered to take out travel insurance?  Poor judgment call.

    The major cruise lines were forced into financial hibernation by Covid. The ships were tied up or anchored with no place to go. What we are trying to say is that they made no money!

    As a result, as the cruise lines started sailing again they have all rather rigorously enforced their cancellation policies. You would be in 100% cancellation with virtually any of the leading luxury lines this close to sailing. This is current industry policy and it is by no means limited to Regent.

    Your reference to weather issues when canceling a cruise is irrelevant. No travel supplier is responsible for the fact that 91% of the population of England lives without air conditioning. They will also have to live without Boris Johnson but neither the weather or  Boris are reasons for a refund.

    Given your health concerns, we suggest that you have your travel consultant send a strong note on your behalf to the Guest Services Department. If you booked direct, try to get Guest Services to take your call.

    Since you feel this cruise would now be a “health risk” we suggest you remain at home and take the loss.




    Q – We are scheduled to join friends on our first river cruise with Scenic. We are scheduled to sail out of Passau and “float” down to Budapest. We found that all of the river cruise lines smelled like cinnamon until we came to your site. You have some very nice things to say about Scenic but they are ranked below several other lines. We’re committed to this cruise and if we have to “sail along” on a 40-passenger bus I am sure it will be an adventure and we’re up for it. (we live in Northern California and we tend to roll with the punches) But just wondering what we’ve stepped into as river levels decrease and we’re booked on a river line you identify as having customer service issues? 

    A –  Good to hear from you and congratulations on your low unemployment and a record-breaking budget surplus. You’ve asked a fairly complex question. Here are one or two observations we hope will be useful:

    Scenic is based in Australia. It has, in the past, taken a fair amount of time to make decisions regarding water levels so guests can “be in the know”. Everything had to go through the home office.

    The Scenic product is currently under review and we believe they will be rising in the ratings. They have beautiful ships, a rare contemporary feel, and some of the best cuisine on the rivers. They also hire and train their own crews.

    It is true that Scenic has enjoyed a reputation for screwing up last-minute bus touring when water levels prevented sailing. We do not, at this time, feel that they handle last-minute planning any worse than anyone else and they may have one advantage. You see they recently lost a class action suit brought by a large number of Aussies who felt that their bus touring was not at all what they had paid for. The court in Australia agreed. Now, Scenic has that legacy to live down so we believe they may strive a bit harder than the next bloke to make things right when the rivers go amiss.

    You should also be aware that Scenic has been more proactive than its competitors in canceling cruises on the Rhine when the river became clearly unnavigable. 

    Stay chill and keep the attitude.


    Q – We are desperately trying to get information about our Danube Cruise on Scenic that begins in Budapest in two weeks. Nothing from Scenic yet and the news reports we have been reading seem to specify the Rhine. Can you help us understand the situation in Budapest? Great site!!! 

    A – The Danube is challenging to describe for one primary reason – the river flow in Austria is well-managed with a number of dam projects in place to assure smooth river cruise passage. This is not the case in Hungary where major projects to deal with low or high water issues have just not been in Orbin’s “front of mind”. (We realize there is an interesting assumption in that statement).

    Right now, on stretches of the Danube in Hungary, 1600 ton vessels can only make it along the low water if they are not carrying cargo. Just north of Budapest, some stations located between Szentendre and Visegard, where the Danube takes a major loop, have been closed for two weeks. There are current reports that some Danube river passengers have discovered that their ship could not make it to Budapest. Instead, guests have been bused to Komarno to board their ship. This port is an hour outside Budapest in Slovakia. They will tour Budapest by bus and then be bussed back to their ship in Slovakia.


    Q – Our travel agent told us that mid-October was a great time to do the Rhine because the tourists have left and the temperatures are cooling off. So here we are, scheduled to leave on October 13th on Viking with no recourse until they, on their own, decide to cancel our cruise – which of course they won’t, given how much money is at stake. So we are, according to our agent, facing some likely changing of boats or, worse, ending up on a bus tour from hell. We are going with another couple and they are having tee shirts made that will read “I paid $16,400 and all I got was a lousy bus ride”. We will wear them when/if appropriate. Comments? Should we change travel agents – perhaps working with you instead?

    A –  We would not suggest changing travel agents yet. Our clientele does not wear tee shirts in public so we may not be a good fit. Actually, your agent tried to have you avoid the drought – although October is often a time of high water levels as the rains come to northern and central Europe. You were given factual information about Viking’s policy – full cancellation is charged unless they cancel your sailing. So, yes, a bus tour is totally possible, at least for a part of your journey. Going forward, and looking at current weather patterns, we prefer to have our riverboat guests back home no later than October 20th. But that is an arbitrary figure and very subject to environmental change.



    Q – My family and I have been really upset by the article we read from CNN Travel which came out quite recently. It seems to say that river cruising is, for all practical purposes, over with. This article makes us think that our planned family cruise next August along the Seine River may be inoperable. Wondering if you have seen the article and wondering if you agree with its premise.  Really enjoy your websites. 

    A – This article has gone “mature people viral”. The title of the piece, “Europe’s Drought Could Signal the Death of River Cruising” is, we think, based on fact, along with some opinions by a professor of tourism. The conclusion seems to us to be rather dark.

    The first paragraph states that “Europe is having another cataclysmic summer”. Given that 63% of the land mass across the EU, as well as Great Britain, is operating under drought warnings or the more serious “alerts” we think this is quite literally true. Add in the record-breaking heat waves and we have to wonder what river cruising in the seasons to come will look like.

    This is a big topic and we don’t want to spend a lot of time responding to a piece on CNN written by someone who does not, as far as we know, work in the industry. But at its heart, the article correctly points out that the management of these river cruise lines has nothing but the ravages of climate change to work around. Next summer may be much better. And even the summer after that. But sometime in the near future, this will happen again and with more severity and riverboat companies on Europe’s rivers will have to re-examine their business models. 

    From our perspective, this will not mean the end of an industry. It will, we think, mean a reallocation of seasons. October may become the most desirable month to cruise the Rhine or the Danube, or perhaps April before the drought has typically begun. 

    The Seine is still standing at the moment. France always survives and there are many harder-hit localities. Continue planning what we are certain will be a really enjoyable family vacation. 



    Q –  In four weeks we are supposed to be off to Budapest to begin a Danube Cruise. The little I have read about this on some of the “boards” has me really scared and my husband and I want to cancel for a refund. Some of the “boarders” seem to suggest that Uniworld will allow us to either get a refund or switch to a similar sailing next year. If we have those options – great. But can you verify this information?

    A – We would love to – but we can’t! The information is totally bogus. The policy at Uniworld, and most of their competitors, is that they will cancel any sailing where passage and the delivery of a satisfactory experience is in peril. If they cancel, they will move you to another date in the future and they will price protect – this represents significant savings. 

    Unless Uniworld specifically announces cancellation, their stated cancellation policies will remain in effect. Going forward, the vast majority of guests booked on European rivers have made full payment and so are in full cancellation. 

    Sorry about the posted misinformation on the site you were looking at. One reason we do not open our rivertruth site to unknown posters is that there is absolutely no way to verify the information presented. Much of the travel chatter originates overseas where some folks are simply thrilled to see their thoughts posted on a well-read American site. 


    Q – Really enjoy this ad-free site. Congratulations. I am a Minister in Michigan who is slowly retiring. I’ve long thought about how much I would enjoy performing Sunday services aboard a cruise ship in exchange for free or reduced-rate passage. The problem is that I don’t know who to contact to set up, this kind of position. Can you help me or recommend how I might best pursue this? I think I am good with people and I could add a lot to life at sea. (Trust you will not use my name without authorization)

    A -Clergy are sometimes offered reduced rate passage in exchange for officiating at weekly services. You would be considered a part of the entertainment component aboard the ship and normally the hiring of clergy is handled by the line’s Director of Entertainment. You will need to present videos of some recent sermons as they like to keep it light on vacation ships.