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Despite the steady increase in the number of river cruise ships over the past five years, supply is still not meeting demand — travel agents know that bookings must be made very far in advance if clients are to get what they want. In an effort to feed the hungry market, river cruise lines are launching more than 30 new vessels in 2014. Here is a quick look at some of the major players in the sector and the variety of new tours on offer.
Ama WaterwaysIn Europe, AmaWaterways will launch the 164-passenger AmaSonata and AmaReina, sister ships of the recent AmaPrima and AmaCerto. Both vessels will feature twin balcony staterooms and suites, Chaine des Rotisseurs culinary creations, complimentary wine and beer at lunch and dinner, a heated pool with swim-up bar, a massage and beauty salon, a fitness center, free Internet and Infotainment in every stateroom and a fleet of bicycles for guest use in port cities. AmaSonata will sail the Danube and Rhine on seven itineraries, while AmaReina will be dedicated to the Rhine.
Aqua ExpeditionsAfter recently launching two vessels on the Amazon River, Aqua Expeditions will debut the 20-suite Aqua Mekong this fall. The ship will sail between Siem Reap and Vietmam and was designed with local and sustainable materials and artisanal touches. Amenities will include an outdoor pool, a spa and a lovely library with an artistic spiral staircase. Four auxiliary aluminum launch boats will take passengers to shore for group excursions, each one by a local professional guide.
Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Waterways will introduce three all-suite ships this year: the 164-passenger Avalon Impression and Avalon Illumination and the 128-guest Avalon Poetry II. The two full decks of 200-square-foot Panorama Suites have become an Avalon signature, and other features include an alternative dining option in the Panorama Bistro and an expanded fitness center.
The newbuilds will sail on a range of itineraries on the Seine, Rhine, Danube, Main, Moselle, Rhone and Saone. Avalon is also promoting a new set of themed cruises, from beer tasting and golfing to yoga and well-being. The company has also planned a centennial World War I history tour.
Emerald WaterwaysEmerald Waterways, a new and more affordable brand launched by Scenic Cruises, will debut two newbuilds in 2014: the 182-passenger Emerald Star and Emerald Sky. The ships will launch in April and June and will cruise seven- to 14-night itineraries on the Rhine, Main, Danube and Mosel rivers. In a new design twist, the rear of each ship will house a heated pool with a retractable roof and a movie theater. These types of amenities are expected to appeal to a younger demographic.
Luftner CruisesAmericans may not recognize the name of 30-year-old Luftner Cruises, but they are likely to have heard of its Amadeus brand, which is often marketed through tour operators such as Abercrombie & Kent. With English as the first language on board, the passenger mix tends to be the familiar North American, British and Australian combination. In Asia, Luftner is launching cruises on the Mekong and in Myanmar and in 2015 will be offering sailings on the Ganges. Fares do not include shore excursions, but passengers can purchase a shore excursion package if they wish.
Sanctuary RetreatsSanctuary Retreats, a division of Abercrombie & Kent, will introduce the 48-passenger, all-suite Sanctuary Ananda in Myanmar in late 2014. All 25 suites will have private balconies, and the top categories will offer private butler service. Ananda’s decor reflects the region with local fabrics and decorative items, while more modern touches include iPod docking stations and iPad TV connectivity. There is also an alfresco lunch restaurant, in addition to the main dining room.
Scenic CruisesScenic Cruises is bringing out two additional SpaceShips in 2014: the 126-guest Scenic Gem on the Seine and the 169-guest Scenic Jade on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Personal butler service and Sun Lounges – walkout balconies that can be glassed in – are hallmarks of Scenic, and high definition televisions that link to mini Macs and complimentary minibars are among in-room features.
Uniworld Boutique River CruisesUniworld Boutique River Cruises will debut the 159-passenger Catherine in France this year. Catherine is the sister ship to the Antoinette and will be one of Uniworld’s largest ships with five suites at 305 square feet and one Royal Suite at 410 square feet. Some suites and staterooms have open-air balconies; other accommodations have French balconies. Staterooms on the Avignon Deck (categories two and three staterooms) will also feature French balconies. All suites and staterooms will have one-of-a-kind touches such as handcrafted Savoir of England beds, beautiful marble bathrooms and the very individual interior design that distinguishes the line.
Viking River CruisesBy 2020, Viking River Cruises aims to have 100 longships under its name. Fourteen 190-passenger vessels will debut this year and, by shifting the central corridor to the side, a greater number of large suites will be on offer. Other recently introduced features include onboard herb gardens, solar panels and the Aquavit Terrace, an indoor/outdoor restaurant and lounge. New cruising regions for 2014 include Bordeaux and Myanmar.