5 Red-Hot Luxury River Cruise Trends

river cruise trends: tauck

Interest in river cruising, such as this Tauck journey, is growing rapidly

When the average person thinks of cruising, they likely conjure up an image of a large ocean-going vessel with thousands of passengers voyaging to popular destinations such as the Caribbean and Mediterranean. But interest in a different type of cruising is skyrocketing.

River cruising is growing even faster than ocean cruising due to its smaller ships, convenient ports, appealing itineraries and all-inclusive nature.

Why Book a River Cruise?

“People like the fact that the ships are smaller,” explains Marilyn Stanek, a Virtuoso travel advisor in Green Valley, Arizona. “You get to meet more people. You’re seeing things closer—you’re not just seeing water.”

Travelers want a change from ocean cruising, comments Pat Horvath, a Virtuoso travel advisor in La Jolla, California: “Plus, on the small ships there is a nice camaraderie. Everyone gets to know everyone else, and it becomes a very personal, memorable experience.”

Other pluses:

  • Ships dock in the heart of cities, so they offer easy access to sightseeing and less time wasted getting to attractions
  • Because ships carry fewer passengers, there are no long lines for disembarking and embarking
  • Most river cruise lines include shore excursions, as well as wine and beer with meals. Some lines even include gratuities and other services such as airport transfers.
  • Rivers offer smooth sailing, with no motion sickness

Trend #1: New Ships

river cruise trends: avalon

Cabins on Avalon’s Suite Ships are larger than typical ones on other river cruise ships

River cruises tend to sell out quickly due to their popularity and their limited capacity. To address the capacity issue, companies are building new boats at a speedy pace. 2014 has been a big year for new ships: two from AmaWaterways, three from Avalon Waterways and two from Tauck River Cruises.

Modern river cruise ships are offering larger cabin options, including Avalon, whose Suite Ships have cabins 15% larger than standard river cruise ships. Tauck offers multi-level loft rooms and luxurious suites. Lines are also improving their public areas, including dining rooms. Viking River Cruises gives passengers the choice of dining indoors or outdoors. Some lines offer fine-dining restaurants as an alternative to the traditional dining rooms.

Trend #2: New Destinations

River cruising’s stronghold is European destinations such as France and Germany. While those continue to ride a wave of popularity, more exotic destinations are capturing the imaginations of river cruisers. Consider these off-the-beaten track possibilities:

  • Aqua Expeditions was the first to offer five-star cruises along the Amazon River in Peru, and Avalon also offers luxurious Peruvian river cruises.
  • This fall, Aqua Expeditions will begin sailing up and down the Mekong River between southern Vietnam and Cambodia. AmaWaterways and Avalon also offer Vietnam and Cambodia voyages.
  • AmaWaterways and Viking River Cruises launched new itineraries to Myanmar in 2014, joining Avalon in cruising the Irrawaddy River.
  • Viking and Avalon offer cruises in China along the Yangtze River between Beijing and Shanghai.
  • AmaWaterways offers a combination African safari and cruise on the Chobe River, covering Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
  • Viking also offers Egyptian river cruises along the famed Nile between Luxor and Aswan.
river cruise trends: exotic destinations

Destinations beyond Europe, such as those offered by Viking River Cruises, are capturing the imagination of passengers

Trend #3: Theme Cruises

Indulge both your interest in travel and another passion on a theme cruise. Many river cruise lines offer voyages focusing on everything from music (classical music and jazz are popular) to food (chocolate, anyone?) to wine to wellness.

Trend #4: Immersive Experiences

On board, passengers enjoy everything from culinary demonstrations to learning opportunities. Once the ship reaches shore, passengers have a host of authentic experiences available. Typically, river cruise lines include shore excursions in the fare, but some are adding distinctive offerings, generally for an additional cost.

Two examples: astronomically minded cruisers can take a hands-on cooking class in a restaurant with AmaWaterways, or visit a cognac house and blend their own bottle of spirits on a Viking sailing.

Many lines have bicycles on board, and some offer guided bike tours. Ambitious cruisers can even opt to pedal from one port to the next.

Trend #5: New Types of Cruisers

river cruise trends: younger passengers

River cruises including those offered by Avalon Waterways are a great way for couples and families to celebrate milestones

River cruise passengers are getting younger, especially on shorter cruises of 10 days or less. What used to be a 70+ demographic is now 40+.

Those younger passengers are also bringing their children along. Some lines even offer family-focused voyages. A river cruise is increasingly viewed as a great option for celebratory travel to mark milestones such as graduations, weddings and family reunions.

River cruising is also adapting to become more welcoming to solo travelers. AmaWaterways and Tauck have waived the single supplement on select European cruises and cabins.

Want to Find Out More?

Visit virtuoso.com to learn more about luxury river cruise trends, including the latest ships and hottest destinations.

Ready to start planning your river cruise, or even booking it with the help of an advisor? Click here to see a list of river cruise specialists on virtuoso.com.

Virtuoso’s Annual Chairman’s Event: An AmaWaterways’ Cruise on the Danube River

jf_VIP_Ships_Bow_Vips_R1_e (2)As the Amacerto, AmaWaterways’ newest ship, slipped through a lock on the Main-Danube Canal connecting Europe’s Rhine and Danube rivers, passengers standing on the top deck watched the process in awe. Massive walls, mere inches from the boat, rose up around us as water drained from the chamber of the lock (used to manage water levels and make rivers navigable), slowly lowering us 20 feet or more so that the 82-cabin ship could pass through and continue its journey. Such a spectacular feat of engineering – both the canal locks and the ship’s precise design to sail them – would impress anyone.

We were onboard for Virtuoso’s annual Chairman’s Event, a trip recognizing 60 top agencies from the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, and Australia. More than 130 executives and their guests gathered in Budapest, Hungary, to set sail on a weeklong Danube river cruise that called on ports in Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. Ama Waterways, recently voted “Best Cruise Line” by Virtuoso advisors, hosted the sailing so that attendees could personally experience the biggest trend in luxury travel today: river cruising.

Many attendees had not sailed on a river cruise, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, from the new ship’s high-end décor and amenities to the quality of the food and service, to the excursions (all included) and the ease of being able to come and go as you wish. Here’s a sampling of our activities – and the special receptions honoring Virtuoso.

Budapest, Hungary: The cruise kicked off with an evening sail-away while the Pearl of the Danube glowed along its banks.

Bratislava, Slovakia: Some attendees followed a guide through this capital city, while others wandered into shops and pubs. Everyone gathered for a private reception with government dignitaries at the Primate’s Palace, the mayor’s home.

Vienna, Austria: Ama’s culinary excursion included a tour of a sparkling-wine cellar and a taste of the city’s famed Sacher torte. We also toured the Kunsthistorisches (fine arts) Museum (which can craft private visits for Virtuoso clients) and dined at the Hotel Imperial.

Dürnstein and Melk, Austria: Morning walking tours and wine tastings preceded an optional 20-mile bike ride to the next port stop. Who knew river cruising could be so active?

Linz and Salzburg, Austria, and Passau, Germany: The two-hour drive to Salzburg was worth the trip.

Regensburg, Germany: Choices, choices: a visit to the Audi factory, a sausage-and-beer culinary tour, walking, and biking were among the options.

Nuremberg, Germany: After crossing Europe’s Continental Divide, we visited Courtroom 600, where the Nuremberg Trials took place, and met with dignitaries at the Palace of Justice.

Look for a full report on the event – as well as river cruising tips from the advisors who attended – in the January/February issue of Virtuoso Life.