CroisiEurope is among river cruise lines sailing the Po River in Italy, despite obstacles such as drought and fewer docking options. // © 2014 CroisiEurope
Feature image (above): UniWorld will debut its first India itineraries in 2016, sailing the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. // © 2014 Thinkstock
River cruise lines are looking for a few good rivers. Growing numbers of repeat passengers are hungry for new experiences on different river itineraries, and river cruise lines are eager to meet the demand.
While some lines examine options for new rivers to cruise, others are stepping up their North American marketing efforts to promote river cruises in less traveled destinations, including the nearly 40-year-old, Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope, as well as Haimark Luxury Cruises, the new Colorado-based company that launches its first ships next year.
One key factor all river cruise lines need is good airlift from the embarkation and debarkation points. The lines also need a river that has a fairly consistent water level, along with ports or features close enough to be reached on successive sailing days and infrastructure allowing passengers to readily access local sights and cultural attractions.
Prospective rivers also need to support ships that are large enough to provide the amenities and space available on ships sailing existing itineraries, said Richard Marnell, Viking River Cruises’ senior vice president of marketing for North America .
Here’s an overview of some of the river contenders for getting new or additional river cruise sailings in coming months.
Although CroisiEurope operates cruises on the Po River to Venice Lagoon islands and Padua, Ferrara, Bologna, Verona and Mantua, some lines have reservations about sailing the Po.
Rudi Schreiner, president of AmaWaterways, noted that after several seasons of drought in the region, some lines that sailed the Po between Cremona and Venice pulled out. Another obstacle is docking options.
“On the Po, you have a spectacular docking place in Venice, but then there’s a lot of sailing,” said Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways. “It’s more like being a floating hotel.”
Amazon River, Peru and Brazil
Avalon Waterways started sailing on the Amazon this year with space on Aqua Expeditions’ Aria. The line will continue the partnership another year before deciding whether to make longterm plans.
“We did better than expected [during] the first year,” Clark said.
Avalon’s current product is a three-night cruise on the Peruvian Amazon, coupled with and touring to bucket-list destinations. These destinations include Macchu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Cusco, Iquitos and Lima.
Similarly, Marnell said Viking is considering adding cruise/tour itineraries in the Amazon, similar to its present model in China.
Wanda Kowalczyk, vice president of product development at Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, said Uniworld is interested in the region but hasn’t found the right partner on the Amazon yet.
“As much as I love Peru, I think we will need to look to Brazil where the Rio Negro meets the Amazon,” Kowalczyk said.
Marnell noted that Viking is doubling its fleet on the Elbe River next year, adding two 98-passenger, custom-built vessels propelled by water jets in order to provide the needed shallower draft.
Other lines are more circumspect about the prospects for sailing the Elbe.
“On the Elbe, you have a great itinerary — Berlin, Meissen, Dresden, Prague — but the fluctuating water levels are a real deterrent,” said Clark of Avalon Waterways. “You’re really at the mercy of the weather.”
In recent years, the Nile River has lost most North American river cruise business due to political and social unrest in the region, but cruise line executives are hopeful that the situation will change soon.
“I think once the region is deemed stable and there is a perception that the government in power is lasting, you will see a huge pent-up demand,” Clark said.
Though a storybook river lined with magnificent chateaux, the Loire River has not attracted river cruise lines because of its shallow water. This might soon change: Next year, CroisiEurope will launch a new side paddlewheel ship design on the Loire, and other cruise lines will carefully monitor the result.
The big news here is that Uniworld will launch cruises in India in 2016. Guy Young, Uniworld president and CEO, said the company will offer seven-night cruises out of Calcutta on the 56-passenger Ganges Voyager II, preceded by a five-night land stay at the Oberoi hotels in Calcutta and Agra and the InterContinental Hotel in Jaipur. The cruise will launch with a shorter season from January through March 2016, before settling into a regular six-month season September through March.
Schreiner of AmaWaterways said his company is waiting before sailing the Ganges, although there are several other lines operating on the Brahmaputra and on the lower Ganges, either roundtrip to and from Calcutta or from Calcutta up to Simariya.
“For me, the interesting part would be seven-night cruises between Patna and Varanasi, but frequent dredging is needed to make it a navigable stretch of the Ganges,” said Schreiner. “When that happens, I will take another look.”
Marnell said Viking is actively working on bringing a radically different ship to the Mississippi, one that is a departure from the Victorian-style sternwheelers currently operating on the river. He said the company hopes to make an announcement in 2015.