Viking River Cruises and Amawaterways will sail the Mekong River in 2011. // © 2010 Allie Caulfield
River cruising is growing up and commanding a much larger clientele, drawn by the increasingly sophisticated onboard features and the cultural journey it provides. Younger cruisers, ocean-going passengers and independent clients who want to see the real life of the countryside are drawn to new river cruise ships — with their balconies, suites, elevators, fitness rooms and alternative dining plans. With the popularity comes expansion, both to open up the growing fleet to new passengers and to please repeat guests who want new adventures.
Recently, there have been several announcements of an exciting variety of cruises outside the more traveled Europe and China itineraries. These new cruises add to the appeal for river cruising, both for veterans of the European rivers and for those who are drawn to expedition travel. Among the new offerings are the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia, increased presence on the Volga River in Russia, cruises along the Saloun River and Gambia River in West Africa and new cruises on the Amazon River and Orinoco River in South America.
Amawaterways pioneered the Mekong to Vietnam and Cambodia last year with the 92-passenger Marguerite and is bringing in a second ship in 2011 that will carry 124 passengers. Meanwhile, Viking River Cruises has chartered Pandaw River Cruises’ 66-passenger Tonle to operate Mekong cruises, starting in January 2011.
Interest is growing again for Russian rivers after a quiet period, and Amawaterways has announced that it is leasing the newly renovated Amakatarina to sail next May, while Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has chartered the River Victoria on the Volga for the next five years, also launching in May.
Variety Cruises, which provides small yacht-like cruises on both rivers and the sea, has announced a new, week-long Rivers of West Africa cruise out of Dakar, Senegal, from Dec. 24 through March 4, 2011, cruising to ports in Senegal and Gambia on the 46-passenger Pegasus, which was completely refurbished in March.
Finally, Compagnie du Ponant’s elegant 90-passenger Le Levant will sail the Amazon and Orinoco rivers from Nov. 14 to March 7, 2011, on 10 itineraries ranging from seven to 13 nights that include Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela and the islands of Grenada, Martinique, St. Lucia, Trinidad and the Grenadines.