The river ship industry is growing by leaps and bounds with companies regularly announcing the upcoming launch of new ships. Fifteen new river cruise ships will be christened in 2018 with plans for more than that in the works for 2019.
While most of the expansion is taking place on the main rivers of Europe, more and more plans are in place to build customized river “ships” to sail on rivers worldwide. In addition to the European rivers, exotic itineraries are available in Africa, Vietnam and Cambodia, and the Nile. American Cruise Lines is set to bring modern riverboats to U.S. rivers — as opposed to the more traditional paddle-wheel.
Just about every river cruise line is also working to improve its excursion choices, focusing on activities that either keep passengers active with biking, hiking or canoeing or in-depth experiences, like culinary tours or music-intensive tours. Theme programming remains popular, wellness and gardening joining wine, art, Jewish heritage and more.
Avalon Waterways, famous for its panoramic French balconies that guarantee great views of the river, is expanding its Active Discovery cruises on the Rhine in 2018. New theme cruises include sailing on the Dutch waterways for gardening enthusiasts, and a sold-out author cruise with “Outlander“ writer, Diana Gabaldon. Their sister company provides choices in pre- and post-cruise city stays that are personalized for the traveler.
In 2018, Tauck will be completing the refurbishment of its older ships, making almost every cabin larger, reducing the number of passengers and adding an alternative restaurant. Other updates include adding more active choices to its shore excursions, giving passengers the opportunity to kayak or bike. Additionally, the line is adding more enhanced tours, such as a pre-opening to Versailles, an after-hours tour of the Louvre or lunch at the Alain Ducasse restaurant on the premises, Oro. Tauck includes everything in the price.
While none of the company’s signature Longships are coming out this year, Viking is making a renewed push into Egypt with Viking Ra. Viking has offered Nile cruises for numerous years, but they have taken place on chartered vessels. Viking is also expanding its active excursions and adding for-fee options such as bike and e-bike tours and canoeing.
Uniworld is introducing a “millennial” line, U by Uniworld for the ages 21 to 45 years. The vessel has been re-done with black interiors, revamped décor inside, a few triple cabins for friends who want to travel together, a craft cocktail bar and rooftop lounges. The shore-side experience is also different, focusing on late-night trips to nightclubs and bars and interesting excursions such as a roof-top tour of Paris. Uniworld itself is refurbishing its older ship into a “super ship.” The bow to stern redo will add new suites, including an Owners Suite, and several connecting cabins suitable for families.
Launching in Spring 2018, AmaLea will be the next in the series of dual balcony river ships from AmaWaterways with connecting cabins for groups or families traveling together. Also new for 2018 is the line’s Sip and Sail cocktail hour, with includes soft drinks, beer and wine, and spirits. AmaWaterways is also expanding its wellness theme cruise to six vessels. They will have healthy dining options, active excursions and fitness classes on board. Finally, the line is continuing to court new river cruisers with wine theme sailings — a culinary cruise with PBS star Joanne Weir and itineraries for Spanish-speaking passengers. Disney has even contracted with AmaWaterways to use its vessels for eight Adventure by Disney river cruises.
I find that the same river cruise companies are all focusing on the same things … working to give the passenger an all-inclusive, cultural-rich cruise with something for everyone while enjoying the food and the sights of the region. Sounds like a great way to spend your vacation to me!
Marci DeWitt owns a local travel agency, Anchor and Away Travel, a Dream Vacations franchise. She can be reached by email at mdewitt@DreamVacations.com.