If you haven’t booked your planned 2014 European river cruise by now, you may be out of luck — at least for your preferred cruise line, cabin or destination.
European river cruising is the hottest trend in the cruise world right now, with many 2014 cruises already selling out or almost sold out. And its popularity is being driven largely by baby boomer travelers, who can afford to pay more per day than on a typical ocean cruise.
Several river cruise lines and travel agents who book cruises say they’re now more focused on 2015 than on 2014. This despite a rash of new ships being introduced into the market:
* Viking River Cruises, the giant of the industry, is launching 14 new European river ships in March, bringing its total there to 48 ships. Just three years ago, Viking had 18 ships operating in Europe.
* AMA Waterways is launching two new ships in Europe this year, and plans to add two more in the next two years, bringing their total to more than a dozen.
* Tauck is also launching two new ships this year on European rivers, and has only about ten percent of its cabins left for sale in 2014.
* Avalon Waterways is continuing the trend by adding three new suite ships this year and two next year. Avalon will then have a total of ten suite ships, along with five additional ships.
* Other players in the field include upscale Scenic Cruises and the new Emerald Waterways, both owned by the Australian company Scenic Tours. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, CroisiEurope, Grand Circle and A-Rosa add to the growing competition.
Boomers are the main target market for river cruises.
Viking’s founder and CEO Torstein Hagen has stated bluntly that Viking is looking for “grown-up people. They speak English. They are 55-plus. We have no need whatsoever to say we want some younger people onboard…We don’t encourage [inter]generational travel…It is for people like me who want to have a quiet time and travel with people like myself.”
Andy Harmer, the UK and Ireland director of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told a river cruise convention in Cologne late last year that future prospects for river cruising were bright because it attracts baby boomers, who he described as “incredibly impactful for our business….They are a wealthy, active and physically fit generation of consumers. And when they retire, they have time to travel.”
Why is river cruising so popular?
First, it provides a much more intimate view of destinations than ocean cruising. With river cruising, you’re always near shore (which also helps alleviate some passengers’ fears about being way out at sea). Ports assume much more importance, and virtually every day on a river cruise brings at least one port stop. Guided land tours are often included in the price. You can even ride bicycles along shore on some voyages.
Second, the ships are smaller — usually carrying in the range of 120-200 passengers, which many people prefer. And unlike the trend toward mega-ships in ocean cruising, river vessels won’t be getting any larger due to the constraints posed by passing through locks and canals and under bridges. They tend to be long and narrow boats, with open upper decks that allow for sightseeing in every direction.
Third, seasickness is seldom an issue on a river cruise.
But don’t take a river cruise if your ideal cruise involves casinos, lavish entertainments, big swimming pools with water slides, climbing walls, supervised children’s activities, and other amenities you’ll find on many ocean cruise lines. River cruises are more for relaxing on board to save energy for exploring what are often smaller, off-the-beaten path ports.
Among the most popular rivers for European river cruising are the Rhine, Danube, Main, Moselle, Seine, Loire, Po, and Rhone, with Amsterdam, Vienna, Nuremburg, Prague and Budapest among the biggest ports. Viking, Uniworld and others also make runs through European Russia.
In my next post, I’ll cover river cruise line expansions into the U.S., Asia and points beyond.
Answer to Last Week’s Travel Quiz:
VisitBritain, charged with luring tourists to Great Britain, recently offered tips to British hoteliers to help them avoid offending visitors of different nationalities. Which of these was NOT one of those tips:
A. DO Deal promptly with any complaint from German or Austrian tourists
B. DON’T Exchange a smile or make eye contact with anyone from France who you do not know.
C. DON’T Describe a visitor from Canada as “American”
D. DON’T Suggest to Americans that they spiff up their dress when going out to dinner
E. DO Understand that Indians are amiable but have a tendency to change their minds quite frequently
The Answer is D: DON’T Suggest to Americans that they spiff up their dress when going out to dinner