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This year, more than 20 new river vessels will sail into the North American market. The majority are designated for Europe, where travel agents report the bulk of demand remains focused.
Although the major cruise lines have settled on their distinctive ship designs, there are some interesting new developments that reflect expanding markets, as well as new itineraries on rivers that have their own limitations and requirements. And as new ships come in, some of the existing vessels are being moved or even retired.
One of these shifts is occurring with American Cruise Lines, which is renaming its 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi to American Pride and sending it to join Queen of the West in the Pacific Northwest on the Columbia and Snake rivers in April. The company’s new 185-passenger America will take over on the Mississippi River.
In addition, Avalon Waterways’ 166-passenger Passion will debut in April on the Danube River, as will the 128-guest Imagery II on the Rhine River. At the same time, Avalon will retire the 138-passenger Avalon Scenery; it will be replaced in France by Avalon Affinity, which has the same capacity.
A very significant development this year is AmaWaterways’ new design, appearing on two 158-passenger ships, AmaStella and AmaViola. The ships include special features for the family and groups markets, designed partly in conjunction with a new partnership with Adventures by Disney. Each vessel has 12 staterooms that can accommodate up to three family members and six sets of adjoining cabins that can be connected with an internal doorway, providing space for families of up to five people. Four suites have convertible sofa beds to sleep families of up to four. In addition, the line is responding to demand for more Twin or French Balconies and suites, moving the fitness room and salon on the newbuilds to the lower deck create space for these rooms.
Forty-year-old CroisiEurope continues its move into shallower European rivers, bringing out the 80-passenger paddlewheeler Elbe Princess this May. This will be the company’s second ship that uses the new side paddlewheel design, introduced on the Loire River last year. CroisiEurope will also launch the new colonial-style, 60-guest Princesse Apsara as the company’s fifth vessel on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.
In July, Crystal River Cruises’ 160-passenger Crystal Mozart will make its debut, along with the launch of Crystal Cruises’ river operations. The company is kicking off its new river cruise brand earlier than originally planned by refurbishing the largest river vessel in Europe and operating it on the Danube. Carrying 160 passengers, the ship’s accommodations will range from 203 to 860 square feet, and the company promises alternative dining, an indoor pool, electronically assisted bikes, Jet Skis, kayaks and more.
Scenic is launching varying-sized ships in different regions. The 68-passenger Scenic Spirit debuted on the Mekong in January, and its companion on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River, the 68-passenger Scenic Aura, will be in service this September. The 169-passenger Scenic Amber is bound for the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, and the 96-passenger custom Scenic Azure will be the company’s first ship on the Douro River, debuting in April.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has decided to offer only all-suite ships in Asia; the company debuted its sailings in India this January with the 56-passenger Ganges Voyager II. In Vietnam and Cambodia, the line will introduce the all-suite Mekong Navigator with the same capacity. In China, Uniworld will place guests in Executive Suites on the Century Legend.
While initiating its Asia program with charters on Mekong Navigator, Emerald Cruises’ 182-passenger Emerald Belle in Europe will follow the pattern of the company’s previous ships.
Likewise, Viking River Cruises’ six new Longships will be virtually identical to their sister ships, apart from decor, but Viking Osfrid, the seventh newbuild for 2016, will be a smaller design for the Douro, with a small pool on the sundeck.
Lastly, Tauck’s new 130-passenger Grace and Joy, coming out April and June respectively, will be true sister ships to Inspire and Savor, as they will share the same features, including a second dining venue — Arthur’s — and eight Loft Cabins on the lower deck.
American Cruise Lines www.americancruiselines.com
Avalon Waterways www.avalonwaterways.com
Crystal River Cruiseswww.crystalcruises.com
Emerald Waterways www.emeraldwaterways.com
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection www.uniworld.com
Viking River Cruises www.vikingrivercruises.com