When Adventures by Disney announced it was going into river cruising, the myth that children could never love this type of holiday went out of the window.
When U River Cruises unveiled The B, the myth that millennials could never be interested in sailing inland waters similarly disappeared.
Now new ships, more shore excursions, combination itineraries, celebrity partnerships, culinary favourites and better entertainment have all led to an amazing growth across all segments of the market.
New rivers are always a drawcard for adventurous travellers. Being one of the first to sail a river not only earns bragging rights, but also rewards with the first glimpse of unspoiled landscapes.
Asian cruisers are going beyond the Yangtze, Mekong, Irrawaddy and Ganges to less-travelled waters like the Chindwin River on the Myanmar –Assam border and the Red River in North Vietnam. Just a few months ago, the very first tourist vessel sailed through Bangladesh to Kolkata on the Brahmaputra,
a route that will be officially launched this fall by Exotic Heritage Group.
While Asian rivers are all about exploring the lifeline for the people of the region, in the Amazon, cruisers can experience the jungle from the comfort of a luxury liner.
The legendary Nile in Egypt is also receiving strong renewed interest with sold-out seasons.
Viking Cruises is expanding its program with a new ship, Viking Osiris, which debuts in September 2020.
The line is launching two London-based pre-cruise extensions that include exclusive experiences designed to enhance guests’ knowledge of Egyptology prior to even arriving in Cairo. They offer privileged access to places like the Egyptian Collection at the British Museum, and Howard Carter’s archives which detail the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Viking’s itinerary is a stellar example of the new style of travel river cruise lines are offering.
It’s customisable, exclusive and enhances your experience with experiential itineraries.
Gone are the days where shore excursions meant herding a group on and off a coach to grab mandatory snaps at tourist spots. Instead, there are plenty of options for cruisers to pursue their own interests.
It could be a relaxing wellness experience, a culinary event, classes with local artisans, discovering regional culture with hands-on experiences, or getting your heart pumping with a guided hike, e-bike tours, kayaking or even a round of golf.
Combination itineraries are perhaps the biggest trend of all. Australian cruisers are looking to extend their cruise and maximise their time in Europe to make the most of their long journey there. This could be a combination of land tours, ocean cruises or even another river cruise with their first river cruise itinerary.
Scenic has a new fully guided four-night land tour extension around mythical Transylvania on their Danube Delta Discover, while APT’s Classic Journeys land tour, designed to connect seamlessly with their river cruises, has been very popular for 2020.
Viking Cruises is also finding increasing interest in river-ocean combination cruises. Their Bergen to Budapest/Basel itinerary is running for a second year in 2020 and already there is only limited availability remaining. These 15- and 22-day itineraries take guests to the landscapes of the Norwegian fjords on an ocean cruise and experience the classic European river cruise all in one holiday.
These combination itineraries can get long but lines are also offering shorter cruisers to cater to time-poor younger cruisers. Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope and A-Rosa Cruises have four- to six-day itineraries on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers in 2020. These sampler itineraries are also perfect for new cruisers who want to dip their toes in the water without committing to a longer journey.
Efforts to draw in a younger crowd don’t stop there. APT is fitting out their ships with fitness and wellness centres, offering yoga sessions, putting on live entertainment and organising gourmet-themed experiences to appeal to millennial guests. On U River Cruises, they take it one step further with mixology sessions, silent discos, karaoke nights and barbecues.
Across the board, river cruisers want more out of their onboard experience, and cruise lines are answering with bigger ships, larger suites and more amenities. AmaMagna, which began sailing the
Danube in May, is nearly twice the width of traditional European river ships and the extra space allows AmaWaterways with APT to offer multiple dining venues, a larger spa and gym, enhanced evening entertainment and even a water-sports platform.
Avalon Waterways’ wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows in the Panorama Suites promise excellent balcony views while maximising space in the suites, and the line has just launched Avalon Envision.
This year, eight of Scenic’s Space-Ships will also be upgraded to have larger but fewer staterooms.
It looks like the luxury of space is making a comeback – or did it just never go out of style?