Traditional European cruises are seeing more enriched itineraries. // © 2011 Shutter Stock
As the river cruise industry grows, traditional destinations are seeing new and enriched itineraries with more beautifully appointed ships and more choice in shore excursions. At the same time, companies are moving their ships into different rivers and planning cruises that will take guests into areas that have only been penetrated by land-based tours in the past.
AmaWaterways president, Rudi Schreiner, noted that there are special considerations when expanding beyond the three traditional cruise areas of Europe, Egypt and Russia.
“People are attracted to well-known places,” said Schreiner. “When you are looking at new regions, you need to anchor itineraries with places that people want to go.”
Having spearheaded cruising on the Mekong River, AmaWaterways is headed to Africa next year, chartering the 28-passenger Zambesi Queen to sail safari cruises on the Chobe River between Namibia and Botswana.
Clients spend four nights on the river with land trips to Chobe National Park followed by two nights at Victoria Falls.
Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways, emphasized the once-in-a-decade Floriade World Horticultural Expo in the eastern Netherlands next year. Avalon has scheduled more Tulip Time cruises as a natural horticultural companion for these visits, and Clark said that the response has been exceptional. Through Monograms, the Floriade option can also be added to other itineraries.
Guy Young, president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, said a star among Uniworld’s new offerings is the line’s January debut on the Mekong with River Saigon.
“Within two months of the initial announcement, 60 percent of the inventory was sold, so we plan to have a second ship there in 2013,” he said.
Katharine Bonner, vice president of marketing for Tauck, said that the line’s transfer of a vessel onto the Rhone River this year was highly successful. The two new Rhone itineraries were sold out. For 2012, Tauck is offering enhanced food and wine experiences on the Taste of France.
“What is really important is exclusive access, the all-inclusive aspect and our 110-passenger boats with more space and elegance and lower numbers of guests,” she said.
Exclusivity and authenticity are keywords for Viking River Cruises in Russia, where the line is capitalizing on the decades of experience of Karine Hagen, daughter of Viking founder Torstein Hagen. Her relationships allow Viking to take guests behind the scenes at The State Hermitage Museum and visit a typical Russian apartment. Viking is also doubling its capacity on the Passage to Eastern Europe route between Budapest and Bucharest.
“As river cruising grows in popularity, we venture farther,” said Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing for Viking.
Janice Tully, U.S. brand manager for Scenic Cruises, stressed authenticity as well. Scenic includes all shore excursions and brings guests into village life with the Scenic Village Experience where passengers can work in shops and eat with villagers. Other choices include meeting a wine-producing family or baking with locals.
In China, some of the most beautiful destinations are linked to ancient myths, and Larry Greenman, manager of public relations and customer service for Victoria Cruises, said that when the line goes back to Wuhan, guests will see Guqin Terrace, the site of an ancient tragic story abut a famous musician, on the upstream cruise from Shanghai. However, Greenman said that the towns along the Yangtze River represent the biggest changes, transforming so rapidly that cruise directors find dramatic differences from week to week.
American Safari Cruises’ sailings on the Columbia/Snake rivers are focusing on wine and culinary themes, now offered on the 24-guest Safari Spirit in the fall. Tim Jacox, executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the experience is very much like barging in Europe. In spring 2013, the line will bring in the refurbished Spirit of ’98, which will become the Safari Legacy and hold 88 passengers. Safari Spirit will specialize in the charter business.
Meanwhile, the Mississippi River will offer overnight cruising in 2012. Charles Robertson, president of American Cruise Lines, is building a 140-passenger sternwheeler, the Queen of the Mississippi, to debut next year on the Mississippi River system. He said that booking levels are considerably ahead of what they expected. The Memphis, Tenn.-based Great American Steamboat Company will relaunch the enhanced 436-passenger American Queen sailing similar itineraries.
Blount Small Ship Cruises is introducing a nine-night Boston to the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, cruise in August 2012 as well as two departures from Memphis to Nashville — the Tennessee Traditions cruise and the new nine-night Great Explorations cruise travels from Toronto to Chicago.
With all of the new developments and increased diversity, travel agents can profitably expand their pool of potential clients accordingly.