Also known as “The City of Three Rivers,” Passau, Germany, is among river cruise ports gaining in popularity. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Feature image (above): Outside of Europe, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is a favorite destination. // © 2015 Thinkstock
As a part of its annual Cruise Trends Report, Cruise Holidays surveyed 1,300 travel agents to find the river cruise destinations that are highest in demand. All of the top 10 are in Europe, but agents noted growing demand among travelers who have discovered that river cruising is a comfortable and convenient way to visit more exotic destinations.
“Beijing and Shanghai, China, along with Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, have been perched in the top three positions in this category for two years running,” said Kevin Weisner, senior vice president of sales for Vacation.com, the parent company of Cruise Holidays. “Meanwhile, two destinations in Myanmar have gained a foothold in our top five [outside Europe], as the country opens its doors to visitors eager to experience sacred sites, local markets and ancient monasteries. We believe the growth of the European river cruise traveler has created this demand from those looking to collect new destination experiences.”
The overall top three river cruise destinations are centered on historic cities and landmarks along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, plus the scenic waterways of the Netherlands. Agents reported that Passau, on Germany’s border with Austria, jumped into the top 10 thanks to increasing interest in exploring the Danube as it flows through Central Europe. Lyon, France, also climbed into the top 10 as a result of travelers’ growing interest in its world-class cuisine and wines.
Interestingly, agents reported that the “windmills and tulips” itinerary through Holland on the Mosel, Rhine, Main and Danube rivers was again the most popular route among river cruisers in 2015 bookings. Sales included seven- and 14-night cruises, and agents reported that 41 percent of river cruisers booked this itinerary.
The classic 14-day sailings out of Budapest, Hungary, on the Rhine, Main and Danube and the shorter version on the Danube took second place, with agents reporting 36 percent of sales for 2015 in this category.
Rhine River Valley with Basel, Switzerland, as a city magnet came in third. Paris/Normandy, France, cruises came in at fourth place, including seven-day itineraries and 14-day sailings that combine the Seine and Rhone rivers.
For fifth place in bookings, agents reported a tie between Prague, Czech Republic (the Main, Danube and Elbe rivers) and Nuremberg, Germany (also on the Main and Danube).
Cruises in Provence, France, with Avignon as the top destination, placed seventh. Portugal’s Douro River Valley, with Porto as its star attraction, came in eighth place.
The well-preserved historic buildings of Passau, Germany, anchor cruises on the Danube. This destination placed just ahead of cruises on the Saone River that feature the French capital of culinary arts, Lyon.
Cruise Holidays’ top five river cruise destinations outside Europe were all in Asia. Beijing and Shanghai tied for first place as preferred destinations on combined land/river trips. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, came in third place. Two destinations in Myanmar tied for fourth place: Mandalay and ancient Pyay.
The report noted that, because of the popularity in river cruising, as well as ocean sailings, Cruise Holidays’ travel agent experts are advising their clients to lock in details as early as possible, to ensure the best selection of itineraries, staterooms and excursions.
“If you wish to have adjoining staterooms, a suite or other special accommodations, these room types are consistently the top sellers on any given ship,” Weisner said. “We are also seeing a trend whereby the cruise lines are really rewarding the early bookers with complimentary beverage packages, pre-paid gratuities and shipboard credits, and this is helping them better manage their pricing and removing a lot of inventory from last-minute sale pricing.”