Selling river cruises to first-timers is getting easier, thanks to advancing ship features and onboard perks. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Feature image (above): On Uniworld’ s intimate 82-passenger River Tosca, guests enjoy a luxurious sundeck with cabanas and a pool. // © 2015 Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Selling river cruises requires time and education, but it is very rewarding for both the client and travel consultant. Here are a dozen reasons for recommending river cruise vacations to existing and new clients.
1. River cruising brings the advantages of the cruise experience inland, along waterways, where some of the oldest and most intriguing centers of human culture developed. There is no packing or unpacking during the trip as the traveler visits multiple destinations.
River cruising also makes it easy to explore places that might be difficult in terms of logistics, expense or perceived safety, from India to Russia and France. Without question, river cruising gives guests exceptional access local features and people.
2. Most river cruising takes place on intimate ships, a setting that allows the staff to give warm, individualized attention to each guest. For example, the number of passengers on Europe’s waterways is around 200 per ship maximum.
3. Single travelers as well as couples find river cruising very friendly, with a culture that promotes easy conversation and new friendships. The ships also have staterooms designed for singles or special sailings without a single supplement.
4. Food on river cruise lines gets high satisfaction rates from the guests, who particularly appreciate local ingredients offered in regional specialties. Since the staff is often from the local areas, they can offer recipes, stories to accompany particular dishes and advice about where and what to eat in the ports of call.
River cruise ships also cater to special diets and food preferences, and keep specialty coffees and teas available at all times (often along with pastries or snacks).
5. River cruising is highly inclusive. Details vary from line to line, but they provide shore excursions; free Wi-Fi connectivity; entertainment and lectures; alternative dining; and complimentary drinks, from wine or beer with dinner to premium beverages throughout the cruise. Some lines cover gratuities onboard and in port.
6. River cruise ship design hopscotched beyond seagoing ship elements to include various glassed-in or removable configurations for balconies and sunrooms, heated floors in bathrooms, walk-in closets, suites and VIP sections with special restaurants. Forward, aft and top deck public spaces feature pools and alfresco dining.
7. Because it is a highly inclusive product, river cruises yield generous commissions, and these rise to 20 percent at times. In addition, more travel agents are able to book full ship charters on smaller vessels, particularly for multigenerational groups on landmark occasions.
8. Seasickness, one of the often-cited barriers to seagoing cruise sales, is not a problem on the rivers. Additionally, new engines are very quiet, offering a ride so smooth that guests often don’t realize the ship is underway when it starts to sail.
9. There is no tendering in, and river cruise ships often dock right in the heart of their port cities. Guests just step off and they are there — in a riverside park, an easy stroll from the city center or right up against a local landmark.
10. Travelers tend not to worry about safety on river cruises, where they are so close to the banks that they can smell cut grass and hear conversations. As one cruise executive quipped, “If there should be a problem, it’s so shallow here that we could just walk to shore.”
11. The independence of river cruises appeal to many people, especially those who have taken land-based vacations in the same region they are sailing.
River cruise lines offer walking tours; bicycle tours or use of onboard bikes; drop-off/pick-up services; meals in the homes of locals; and even GPS devices that provide information about local features on demand. Guided shore excursions use audio listening devices, so participants can linger or wander a bit without missing the information.
And, in many cases, guests can (and do) explore on their own and catch the ship at the next port.
12. Combined experiences are the latest wrinkle; cruise lines are expanding the pre- and post-cruise days into rich land-based stays.
In fact, Celebrity Cruises recently announced a program with Amras Cruises (the North American face of Lueftner Cruises’ Amadeus ships) to combine sea and river cruising for maximum penetration of local culture.