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Here’s a new image: a large group of cyclists in full, colorful gear finishing a long day of biking, leaving their custom bikes to go to their staterooms on a river cruise ship, where they mingle with the other passengers, enjoy dinner and drinks and listen to music.
Thirty-seven-year-old active travel tour operator Backroads recently found a winning combination in river cruising and bicycling, hiking and kayaking. And its success and quick expansion could do for the industry what Royal Caribbean International’s rock climbing walls did for bluewater cruising: break the sedentary image.
The company launched its river program last year, opening up groups of 10 to 15 staterooms on four AmaWaterways departures. According to KC Hoppe, marketing partnerships manager for Backroads, it sold out in three days, and Backroads and AmaWaterways had to scramble to arrange more options, ending up with 21 sold-out departures. This year, there are 39 river cruises scheduled, and next year, customers can expect 59 river cruises, including a full ship charter.
“There is great synergy between the companies, and with river cruising in general,” Hoppe said. “We both stay in one area and explore thoroughly, in depth, with insider experiences and interchange with the people who live there.”
River cruising has been growing to meet the taste of guests who often prefer to extend themselves physically, regardless of age. And there are degrees of activity: hikes, walks, running trails, onboard conventional bicycles for independent and group use and e-bikes. But Backroads is known for serious active group travel; so for its river cruises, which can be booked through its site or through reservation agents, Backroads will bring its own group leaders onboard while support vans trail the ship with specialized equipment.
Participants can bike along the Seine River; tour Salamanca, Spain, from a Douro River cruise; ride the bike paths in Dounau-Auen National Park between Vienna and Bratislava, Slovakia; enjoy a guided walking tour in the Carpathians; cycle through the Bavarian forest; and more. Some cruises are more flexible in terms of skill than others, and Backroads’ reservation agents are great at guiding appropriate choices.
In 2017, Backroads will launch a new Ecuador itinerary, Ecuador: Galapagos, Andes & Amazon River Cruise Walking Tour, which will combine hiking in the Galapagos and the Andes and exploring the Amazon from the ship, on foot and by kayak — all in versions for adults and families and offered almost every month next year.
Guests can swim and snorkel in the Galapagos with sea lions, sea turtles and even reef sharks and hike in the Andes among snowcapped volcanoes. They will cruise in luxury through the Amazon, where they’ll encounter some of the most unique creatures on the planet, sailing on Anakonda Amazon Cruises’ Anakonda, with private balconies, jacuzzis and panoramic windows in staterooms up to 215 square feet. The line was twice nominated as the World Travel Awards’ best boutique cruise line in South America.
“It’s an amazing trip, combining three bucket-list experiences,” Hoppe said. “And this is a great way to penetrate the Amazon, coming back to great comfort, delicious food and good company. River cruising is really a good fit with active travel.”