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.