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European River Cruises: More, Bigger, Better

Though some industry experts say that oversupply has hurt bookings

(witness the offers of free air, upgrades and two-for-one offers) others say it’s a temporary glitch due to other factors, like disrupted sailings due to historically low water last year, more itinerary choices beyond Europe, or even the stock market.


Regardless of the slowdown, new ships keep coming to accommodate the expectation of continued strong growth. In 2019, Viking alone accounted for 18 of the new ships that sail in Europe, with AmaWaterways launching 3. In addition to the sheer number of new ships, the river lines are enhancing the size and quality of their offerings to meet the growing demand for luxury on the world’s rivers. AmaWaterways’ new AmaMagna lives up to her name, as she is almost twice the width of the line’s other vessels. This means larger staterooms, multiple dining options, a large spa and fitness area, and other amenities. Uniworld’s River Royale (re-launched as SS Bon Voyage) features an infinity pool.


As cruise passengers are showing a strong and growing preference for some type of wellness program while they travel, virtually every river line is offering some options, starting with lighter, healthier food choices. At Uniworld, for example, there is a “Wellness on the Water” program that includes a wellness coordinator and a variety of exercises (yoga, TRX Suspension Training Classes, etc.), as well as “Let’s Go” active shore excursions (hiking, cycling, kayaking, etc.)


AmaWaterways’ program in Europe has professionally-trained Onboard Wellness Hosts and four to six classes daily (jogging, cardio, yoga, strength training, etc.) along with discussion groups focusing on healthy eating and relaxation techniques, wellness lectures and active shore excursions. 


Avalon Waterways offers Active & Discovery itineraries, where passengers have guided kayak trips, bike rides and jogging tours. Onboard the European ships, adventure hosts run fitness classes and other healthy activities.


All this activity accounts for the growing interest of younger clients, a market that all river lines seek to attract.


Choose Your Cruise
To meet the ever-growing demand for experiential voyages that are customized to passengers’ special interests, theme cruises are bigger and richer than ever. 


When it comes to special interests, Avalon is a leader, with culinary programs, wine itineraries, golf cruises, holiday cruises, photography trips, history packages and much more.


Uniworld has an impressive menu of options, including culinary cruises, art workshops and Jewish Heritage itineraries.


Viking offers various holiday cruises, tulip itineraries and culinary trips.


Emerald Waterways was one of the first lines to offer LGBT itineraries. They continue to feature diverse trips to some of Europe’s most welcoming cities.


AmaWaterways has expanded its popular wine program and now offers in-depth appreciation itineraries in all Europe’s major wine regions. The line’s golf programs have also expanded. The luxurious Exclusive Concierge Golf Program offered on the line’s newest ship, the AmaMagna is a 7-night itinerary on the Danube that includes play at several prestigious courses, with several add-on options that increase the number of courses played.


Scenic continues to offer outstanding itineraries, including theme cruises, in an atmosphere of five-star luxury. Unique to the line are the National Geographic cruises, which offer in depth historic, cultural and scientific experiences, accompanied by expert photographers who advise passengers how to improve their own photos.


Christmas Markets cruises, typically offered in the month leading up to Christmas, continue to be popular and are offered almost industry-wide. Tauck sails these itineraries on both the Rhine and Danube and enriches the cruise experience with an abundance of onboard activities, such as tree-trimming, a special holiday meal and holiday entertainment.


Theme cruises also have strong appeal for the family and multi-generational market, which continues to build. A leader in this market, Tauck has been designing family cruises for years. They currently offer family trips on the Seine, Douro, Rhine and Danube.


AmaWaterways was looking to the family market several years ago, when they launched two ships-the AmaStella and AmaViola, that have cabins designed for family groups.


Award-winning Uniworld has earned accolades for the family and multi-generational travel offerings, which currently include trips on the Rhine, Seine, Danube and Po rivers.


Bottom Line: Apart from the occasional hiccup, expect river cruises to keep building market share, especially among first timers and family/multi-generational clients. Look for innovations such as Avalon’s 4-, 5- and 6-day itineraries-for those who don’t have the time for longer holidays. If those catch on, other lines will surely follow. Riviera Cruises is currently the only line that offers programs for solo travelers. Since many potential clients will not take a river cruise because of the punishing single supplement (occasionally waived), perhaps other lines will follow with a product that works for singles.

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