Still Rolling On The River
No longer emerging, river is still in a growth phase

by Vanessa Lee

Avalon christening

AmaKristina

AmaMagma stateroom

cruising on a river


U by Uniworld

There is so much going on in the river sector of the cruising biz that I thought it was high time for a review.

This segment is no longer an emerging one,  but still in a solid growth phase although some aspects have plateaued. The lines have differentiated their offerings somewhat, as ocean did previously -- there are river players in the luxury segment with the balance mostly in what I would call mainstream and contemporary.  

There is still much that is new and I really like the fact that all the major players are striving to raise the bar on a consistent basis.  I am also intrigued by how often I am asked about river cruising and how much interest there still is -- a good sign. It still comes mostly from baby boomers or older right now but there is a definite fascination and a strong desire to try it.

If you have NOT been on a river cruise yet, may I respectfully suggest you have missed the boat and that you should get yourself on a ship and a river soon!

With such a big audience and so much continued growth, you really need to see and experience what it is all about so you can be a positive reinforcement and recommender. I take a river cruise at least once a year and I notice the difference in inclusions and standards each time. We all have to keep up with developments.

One of those is the exciting venture into a younger market by Uniworld with its U by Uniworld ships launching in Spring 2018 for 21 to 45 year olds only.   It’s certainly a game-changer though I would feel more comfortable though if the age range were, say, 25 to 40. A 45-year-old could ostensibly be cruising with a son or daughter of 21. And I don t think thats what they have in mind.

We have butlers on Scenic and also on the new Crystal ships the Mozart, and the newly launched Crystal Bach. With three more purpose-built river vessels coming within the year from Crystal, that s a lot of new inventory. And we have Active Discovery tours from Avalon which also has a new ship sailing the Mekong next year.

There are lots of affinity group opportunities, especially with AmaWaterways and its various itineraries which have a strong focus on wine as well as many other interests. Wellness is big on the rivers too -- look for bigger spas on some ships, along with healthier food, yoga and fitness options.

There are all-inclusive cruises Uniworld is one of the leaders here -- and Tauck features fewer guests and larger staterooms on some ships. There s a recent entry in Emerald, offering a solid 4-star experience as opposed to big sister Scenic, which has gone way up the luxury scale.  

Viking still has many ships on the rivers but has shifted some of its focus to ocean cruising and have done a mighty fine job.  Then there are Europe-based river lines like Amadeus which have solid 4-star ships that offer a more a la carte experience by NOT including shorex. Unusual, but they are creating an audience.  

Some ships are growing in size. AmaWaterways will build the widest ship on the rivers and launch it next year. Due to her size, the AmaMagna can only sail the lower Danube, but I saw a mock up stateroom and it was beautiful very spacious at about 300 sq. ft. This ship will have extensive dining options, a big spa and a watersports platform.

So what can river lines still do to improve?

There are enhanced dining choices but some ships still need more. Most now offer wine and beer with both lunch and dinner -- a positive. Some have small staterooms and they need to enlarge them. For a couple on a 14-day cruise 200 sq. ft. is simply not enough.

Some ships must invest in more interesting, creative evening entertainment. AmaWaterways had two talented singers doing an ABBA show on the Kristina this year and literally most guests were dancing.

On Uniworld’s River Royale theres a covered restaurant on deck genius. Available a few nights a week and by reservation, it offers a wonderful evening. More on deck opportunities, like a casual bar or on-deck bbq lunch/dinner would add allure.

I am clearly a river ship fan and enjoy the sense of relaxation as one journeys along beautiful waterways amidst bucolic countryside. What I also like is that the segment is being thoughtful, separating their offerings and achieving wonderful onboard service, cuisine and accommodations.

Vanessa Lee

Vanessa Lee Columnist

An internationally-known luxury cruise expert, Vanessa is publisher and editor of Cruise and Travel Lifestyles magazine. She contributes a column every other Friday for OJ’s Splash News and appears with Nina on the bi-monthly video Cruise Factor.




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