River cruise customers are generally upscale travelers, and the industry is moving quickly to provide high-end staterooms and suites to satisfy them, including accommodations with features such as heated tile floors, hot tubs, walk-in closets and butler service. Size also matters to the upscale river cruise client, so cruise lines are also designing larger rooms and suites — some offering more than 1,000 square feet.
The boom in upscale accommodations for high-end river cruise clients is perhaps most apparent on vessels sailing on the Mekong, Yangtze and Irrawaddy rivers, where the lines are adding itineraries at a fast clip. Here, where stateroom designs in the colors and textures of the East are merged with cutting edge technology, the result is extraordinary.
Following are my picks for six outstanding examples of high-end accommodations on vessels sailing on Asian rivers.
Century Paragon, Yangtze River
Removed from the design restrictions on other rivers, the 392-passenger Century Paragon, offered on both Avalon Waterways and Uniworld itineraries, has two spectacular presidential suites at the front of the Promenade Deck. Each is 1,140 square feet and offers a huge wraparound balcony, a shower and a bathtub and dining privileges in the Executive VIP Restaurant on the Sun Deck. Decor tied to the region is exotic, with geometric patterns on the walls and ceilings covered with beautifully crafted rugs.
Yangzi Explorer, Yangtze River
Veteran agents, from Tom Baker, co-owner of the Houston-based CruiseCenter, to Rick Kaplan, president of Premier River Cruises in Los Angeles, swear by Abercrombie & Kent’s Sanctuary Retreats and the company’s 124-passenger Yangzi Explorer. The ship’s elegant Celestial and Imperial Suites each run 1,184 square feet and have a queen-size bed, two LCD televisions with satellite programming and a video-on-demand system. The private balcony is fitted with a chaise lounge, armchairs and a drinks table, and there’s 24-hour room service.
Viking Emerald, Yangtze River
On Viking River Cruises’ 256-passenger Viking Emerald, top honors go to the two 603-square-foot Explorer Suites, each with a separate sitting room and private wraparound veranda. The sizeable bathrooms have a bathtub and shower and guests have two flat-panel televisions with a premium entertainment package that includes CNN and other English-language programming. If guests want to relax in custom-made Chinese silk garments, there is a traditional tailor onboard.
AmaLotus, Mekong River
AmaWaterways’ 124-passenger AmaLotus boasts the largest suites on the Mekong, with two at the bow on the Sun Deck at 624 square feet. The suites have the line’s proprietary twin balcony design, which includes a full step-out balcony and a French balcony in the suite’s separate sitting room and bedroom. Guests relax in the polished wood interior with bentwood chairs and elegant French colonial decor, combined with regional Khmer artifacts. Each suite has a king-size bed with hotel-style, white-on-white plush bedding. Bathrooms feature a shower and Whirlpool bathtub.
Avalon Siem Reap (launches 2015), Mekong River
The all-suite Avalon Siem Reap, Avalon Waterways’ forthcoming 36-guest ship, will launch in 2015 on the Mekong River. Like its counterpart on the Irrawaddy River, the vessel is being built by local craftsmen who incorporate regional symbols and traditions into the design. Each of the 18 Avalon Suites includes 245 square feet of living space. Avalon is bringing its signature open-air balconies to the new ship; the balconies can turn the guestroom into an outdoor space by using retractable 14-foot panoramic windows.
Sanctuary Ananda (launches Nov. 2014), Irrawaddy River
At 721 square feet, the Aloungpayah Suite on the 48-passenger all-balcony, all-suite Sanctuary Ananda claims the title of largest suite on the Irrawaddy River. The suite comes with butler service, a private guide, private dining and complimentary laundry service. Cutting edge technology, including an iPod docking station and iPad TV connectivity, is combined with traditional handmade fabrics, plus Burmese teak and lacquer ware. The living and dining areas have panoramic views of the river, but guests can also relax on the veranda on sun loungers. The bedroom has a king-size bed and separate dressing area. Even the bathroom is unusual, with a freestanding bathtub, a monsoon shower and his-and-hers sinks.