River cruising has gone global, in a big way.
In yesterday’s post, we had a look at the phenomenal rise of European river cruising over the past few years, to the degree that many 2014 cruises are already sold out or nearly sold out.
Baby boomer travelers are the primary driving force behind the river cruise phenomenon, which has averaged a 14 percent annual growth over the past decade. (Just 20 years ago, most European river cruises were day cruises only.)
One line alone, Viking River Cruises — which caters mainly to baby boomers — will soon have 48 river cruise ships operating on European waterways, with 30 of them launched in the past three years.
In Russia, a series of waterways links Moscow and St. Petersburg. Viking, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Imperial River Cruises and AmaWaterways are the major lines that ply this route.
But the biggest gains in the river cruising market at the moment are in East Asia, which has enjoyed a 50 percent growth increase in the past two years:
* Vietnam and Cambodia: Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Haimark Ltd. and Pandaw River Expeditions are running ships this year (including several newly introduced ones) along the Mekong River from Vietnam to Cambodia.
* Myanmar (Burma): Pandaw River Expeditions is launching two new river vessels this summer that will cruise Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. AmaWaterways, Haimark Ltd. and Sanctuary Retreats are other lines that will debut new vessels there this year, all helping to fuel the new tourism explosion in that exotic country.
* India: Haimark is introducing a river boat on India’s Ganges River in 2015.
* China: China’s Yangtze remains popular for Three Gorges cruises, operated by Victoria Cruises (which has seven ships on the Yangtze), as well as Uniworld and others.
In South America, the Amazon and its tributaries — in Brazil, Peru and Ecuador — are served by Amazon Nature Tours (Brazil), Rainforest Cruises (Brazil), G Adventures (Peru), Haimark Ltd. (Peru), Aqua Expeditions (Peru), Anakonda Amazon Cruises (Ecuador) and a number of others.
And in Egypt, you can still take Nile River tours via Uniworld, Viking, Sonesta, Sanctuary Retreats and other lines despite the political unrest there (you might have Luxor almost all to yourself).
Finally, don’t overlook the United States and Canada.
*American Cruise Lines operates on more than a dozen waterways around the U.S., with particular emphasis on the Mississippi and Columbia Rivers, where you can sail on authentic modern paddlewheelers or other vessels. Other ACL cruises will take you along the Intracoastal Waterways of the eastern U.S., New York’s Hudson River, and the Northwest’s Snake River, among several others.
*The American Queen Steamboat Company plies the Mississippi, Columbia and Snake rivers.
* Blount Small Ship Adventures carries passengers between Montreal and New York City with a stop in Quebec City and a sail through the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence Seaway, along the Erie Canal and down the Hudson to New York.
Partially because river ships are typically smaller than ocean-going cruise ships — averaging between 100 and 200 passengers each — prices tend to be higher than on ocean-going cruise, which operate more on volume and often charge extra for things (such as shore excursions) that river cruises may include.
Fares typically run from about $200 to $600 per day, and with demand as high as it is, prices aren’t likely to fall anytime soon — but that hasn’t deterred affluent boomers and others from adding these trips to their bucket lists, or smart travel purveyors from building new ships as fast as they can to keep up with supply.
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