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While ocean cruise ships are touting everything from Broadway productions to Bellagio-style fountain shows, river cruise entertainment pales in comparison — but that’s to be expected. By virtue of their much smaller size, riverboats can’t house lavish theaters. However, that doesn’t stop river cruise lines from offering as many diversions as they can.
At their most basic, riverboats all have some sort of music offering — usually a house pianist playing a small upright or electric equivalent. It’s enough to fill the observation lounge with live tunes and invite the occasional couple to the dance floor. The same space is often outfitted with a projector and a screen that can play a movie, but some brands up the ante with cinemas.
Aft lounges at the stern sometimes convert from indoor swimming pools during the day to small screening rooms at night. Such is the case on Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s Joie de Vivre, for example.
The line’s newest brand, the recently renamed U River Cruises, is pushing the limits even further with its programming. When I was onboard The A, passengers could take part in a silent disco, where they put on headsets and sync up to one of three different tracks of music. The experience sets up a unique way to mingle on the dance floor. Other onboard activities include karaoke, foosball and listening to a DJ accompanied by a live riffing saxophonist.
But the millennial-focused brand is not stopping there. A pair of themed cruises will launch this summer: Tattoo on U, and U in Drag. Departing July 6, the U in Drag itinerary will feature drag queens Jiggly Caliente, Darienne Lake and Phi Phi O’Hara. Besides performances, the hosts will present a karaoke night, makeup lessons and a bar crawl in one of the ports.
The Tattoo on U itinerary departs Aug. 17 and features celebrity tattoo artists Steven Tefft, Reese Hilburn and Bobby Moss, along with tattoo model Heather Moss and tattoo expert Paul Gambino. The artists will be on hand to ink willing participants and interact with passengers during a welcome party, a shoreside tattoo parlor crawl, brunch panels and even contests to win a free tattoo from one of the artists.
(Likewise, ocean brand Virgin Voyages will offer a tattoo parlor and a drag brunch when it launches in 2020.)
Other river cruise lines are hosting themed sailings, too. Take, for instance, Tauck’s upcoming culinary cruises on the Danube River, and AmaWaterways’ jazz voyage.
Tauck guests will be able to interact with celebrity chefs Luca Manfe, a contestant on the television show “MasterChef,” and Jacques Haeringer, a restaurateur and cookbook author. Manfe will join an Aug. 14 sailing, and Haeringer will host an Oct. 28 cruise. Passengers can expect cooking demos, tastings and wine-paired dinners.
Just in time for Europe’s annual Christmas Markets, renowned trumpeter Rick Braun will bring holiday magic to AmaWaterways’ AmaSonata on its Dec. 13 cruise. The weeklong cruise will include four performances by the popular smooth jazz artist, who will play both holiday classics and his own hits.
As river cruise lines continue to compete for customers, travelers can expect to see more innovative entertainment, especially in the form of variety acts, comedians, magicians and dancers.