The rising tide of river cruise travel is sweeping in as a mainstream vacation choice for Americans who enjoy a convenient and hassle-free way to travel at an unhurried pace.
They also love the multiple ports-of-call with easy access to city-centers, hotel-style accommodations and gourmet dining. In fact, frequent cruisers report that river cruising is more sociable than ocean-going cruises, because of open seating dining rooms and small group excursions, and they praise all-inclusive features from wine with meals to daily touring and activities ashore.
From the Danube and the Rhone to the Yangtze, the Mississippi to the Amazon, and the Nile to the Mekong, the popularity of the river cruise is driving expansion. In addition to a massive ship-building spree, river cruise lines are introducing a bevy of new itineraries, and polishing traditional routes with a glow of wine, cuisine and art-themed cruises, seasonal treats from tulip time to Christmas markets, and slow- to fast-track touring tailored to all passenger speeds. Without doubt, river cruising is coming of age, following in the footsteps of its ocean-going counterparts with all-suite vessels, verandah staterooms, elevators, spas and gyms, alternative dining and ship-wide Internet access—creating a clear path for travel agents to confidently jump aboard this booming cruise market.
At AmaWaterways, the AmaCerto made her debut this year; in April of next year, she will be joined by its 164-passenger sister-ship, AmaPrima, cruising first in Dutch waters on Tulip Cruises, then moving to the Danube on a variety of itineraries, including Celebrations of Wine cruises and Christmas markets at the end of the season.
“Together, these ships are both our largest and most imaginative on the great waterways of Europe,” states cruise line founder Rudi Schreiner. “The overall quality of river cruising is changing, and AmaWaterways continues to lead the industry in vessels that feature spacious cabins and staterooms with our exclusive ‘twin balconies,’ heated swimming pool, complimentary Internet, gourmet fine dining and unforgettable tour excursions that immerse travelers in the local culture and history.”
Also joining the company’s fleet in 2013 is the AmaVida, a newly built, 108-passenger vessel with balconies in the majority of staterooms and suites, which range up to 323 sq. ft. AmaVida will cruise in Portugal’s breathtaking Douro River Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two itineraries are offered: the 10-night Enticing Douro, starting with three nights in Lisbon, then cruising roundtrip to Porto and visiting Regua, Barc d’Alva, Vega de Terron, Pinhao and Bitetos, with countryside excursions including Salamanca in Spain.
The 13-night Port Wine and Flamenco itinerary starts with three nights in Madrid, then travels to the Spanish border at Vega Terron to embark on the Douro River Valley cruise, finishing up with three nights in Lisbon. AmaWaterways’ themed Celebrations of Wine cruises in Europe have some special entries this year aboard AmaVida, including a 7-day Harvest Wine Cruise, visiting charming quintas and private wine estates and with experts aboard to guide tastings of port and vinho verde wines (Oct. 4 and 11; from $2,799 pp dbl). On Oct. 22, chef Bob Blumer will host guests at delicious special events and cooking demonstrations during a 7-day Gourmet Cruise in the Douro River Valley (priced from $2,600 pp dbl).
Avalon Waterways is cruising onto a new waterway, the Mississippi River, and stepping into the U.S. market with the debut in a partnership with American Queen Steamboat Company on 10 departures aboard the 436-passenger American Queen paddlewheeler. While European-rivers focused Avalon has partnered with cruise companies to offer sailings on the Yangtze, the Nile and in the Galapagos Islands, this is its first U.S. venture. Avalon holds 20 outside cabins on each of eight departures next year between March and December for the 12-day America’s Heartland: From Music City to the Big Easy, starting in Nashville and ending in New Orleans (priced from $4,629 pp dbl). Additionally, Avalon will be offering two departures, Sept. 25 and Oct. 9, on the 11-day Fall Foliage Spectacular: From the Windy City to the Twin Cities itinerary, starting with three days in Chicago, and ending in Minneapolis-St. Paul (cruise costs start at $4,249).
Steve Born, v.p. of marketing for Avalon’s parent company, Globus family of brands, advises that each cruise will be accompanied by an Avalon leader and will feature several special Avalon-sponsored shore excursions. Additionally, Avalon will offer pre- and post-cruise land packages in Nashville, New Orleans and Chicago.
According to company spokespeople, high demand is a very good reason for Europe’s only fleet of suite ships to expand once again. Come 2013, the cruise line will launch the 83-suite Avalon Expression to cruise on the Danube and the 67-suite Avalon Artistry II to Rhine River itineraries. Also coming from Avalon next season are five new itineraries.
According to Avalon Waterways’ managing director Patrick Clark, “Our choice of cruise options will now include more journeys through northern Holland, Austria, Central Europe and Germany, as well as expanded offerings of themed cruises based on wine, music and art.”
For instance, a new 8-day Tulips of Northern Holland program (from $2,449 pp dbl) combines well-known sights with those off-the-beaten-track (including the Friesland region) in the river cruise itinerary, offering three departures, while the new Capitals of Central Europe itinerary offers 10- and 12-day options between Prague and Budapest.
New culinary-themed cruises are also on Avalon’s cruise menu: The 16-day Grand France, departing Oct. 22 and priced from $4,999 pp dbl, and the 11-day Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches, departing Oct. 29 and priced from $2,399.