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River cruising is moving into a slightly different pattern for 2017: The huge stream of newbuilds has slowed down, but new and existing ships are being polished with state-of-the-art amenities and luxury features.
Although there are fewer brand-new vessels being introduced in 2017, the industry will, nevertheless, see landmark ships coming to the fore: Crystal River Cruises will launch its first branded vessels, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is debuting its latest “super ship,” Joie de Vivre, for itineraries on the Seine River in northern France. The Iberian Peninsula’s Douro River is seeing two new ships from CroisiEurope, which also has a newbuild for the Chobe and Zambezi rivers in southern Africa.
Here’s what’s new for river cruising in 2017.
AmaWaterwaysAmaWaterways will debut its 158-guest AmaKristina on Europe’s Rhine and Danube rivers in March. The line continues its relationship with Adventures by Disney with 15 seven-night family cruises, along with Disney’s new adults-only food-and-wine-themed sailing on AmaKristina, departing Oct. 21 from Basel, Switzerland.
American Cruise LinesAmerican Cruise Lines will bring out its 170-guest American Constellation on New York’s Hudson River in June, with a sister ship following in 2018. Constellation is designed for the inland waterways of the East Coast, top to bottom, while the 2018 ship will be a coastal vessel. The company has also cut steel for a new 195-guest river vessel.
American Queen Steamboat CompanyAmerican Queen Steamboat Company will launch the first all-suite paddlewheeler in June: The 166-passenger American Duchess will cruise the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois and Cumberland rivers to destination cities such as Nashville, Tenn., and Chicago. Duchess has 83 suites, including 4 two-story, 550-square-foot loft suites.
Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Waterways is expanding the image of river cruising with a focus on active, health conscious travelers with the introduction of Avalon Fresh: vegetarian and healthful dining designed by Viennese chefs Karl and Leo Wrenkh. Paired with this is a broad emphasis on active travel for any age group, including an array of bicycle tours that appeal both to the active traveler and the guest who wants to explore like a local. Avalon’s themed Active Discovery cruises give passengers a chance to try experiences from learning to waltz in Vienna to canoeing on the Danube.
CroisiEurope Fast-growing CroisiEurope is the exception to the overall trend of producing fewer newbuilds. The company has five ships launching in 2017, including three 106-passenger vessels in April alone: Douce France and Symphonie on the Rhine and Miguel Torga on the Douro. The renovated 60-passenger Indochine II will sail the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, and the 16-passenger African Dream itineraries combine cruising the Chobe and Zambesi rivers with land and water safaris in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Value pricing and rich shore excursions are bringing more Americans onboard this extensive network of river cruises. An executive from another cruise line quipped, “If there’s more than a drop of water, CroisiEurope will have a ship there.”
Crystal River Cruises Crystal River Cruises is set to launch its first branded all-suite vessels: the 110-passenger Crystal Bach on the Rhine and Moselle rivers in June and the 110-passenger Crystal Mahler on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers in August. Both onshore and onboard, the company is launching new features for the decidedly luxury passenger.
Emerald Waterways Emerald Waterways is offering a premium product for a younger demographic. The company is adding three new ships in 2017, including two in April: the 138-guest Emerald Liberte for the Rhone and the 182-guest Emerald Destiny for the Rhine, Main and Danube. In May, the company will launch its first ship on the Douro River, Emerald Radiance. Emerald also is offering a dedicated LGBT cruise on the Danube onboard Emerald Sky in July.
Luftner CruisesAmericans have been much slower than the Brits to discover Luftner Cruises’ Amadeus fleet. The 140-passenger Amadeus Provence will launch on France’s Rhone and Saone rivers in April. The company also offers European river cruises on the Rhine, Main, Moselle, Seine and Danube rivers; its ships are certified sustainable and ecologically sensitive by Green Globe.
Scenic With the locks and bridges of Europe dictating limits to ship size, some river cruise lines are emphasizing luxury by reducing capacity onboard while instead offering more suites, alternative dining, pools and more. Scenic, for example, is bringing a pool, new dining areas, a culinary center and new suites to Scenic Diamond (cruising the Dordogne and Garonne rivers in France’s Bordeaux region) and Scenic Sapphire (cruising France’s Rhone and Saone rivers).
TauckLike Scenic, Tauck is changing its existing ships. The line is reducing the number of passengers on its Sapphire vessel on the Seine and Emerald ship on the Rhone to 98, with fourteen 300-square-foot suites, each with room for a family of four and the addition of alternative Arthur’s restaurant. Tauck is also doubling its family cruises from 10 to 20 in 2017, with both the newly enhanced Bon Voyage! France Family River Cruise on the Rhone and the new Family Fun Along the Seine: Paris to Normandy.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionUniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection will inaugurate its 128-passenger Joie de Vivre this spring on the Seine River in Northern France. At the same time, Uniworld is adding facets to its product in all directions, from its biking partnership with Butterfield & Robinson, to pre-cruise voluntourism opportunities in India and a new immersive Jewish heritage tour in Germany. New 24-hour room service and rates that include port fees also are in store this year.
Viking River Cruises Viking River Cruises, which has pretty much reached its goal in river cruise share, is bringing out two 190-guest Rhine ships in April — Viking Herja and Viking Hild — for the Western market, as it puts a toe in the water of offerings for the Eastern market in the form of European cruises specifically for Mandarin-speaking passengers on existing capacity.
As the focus sharpens and differentiation among river cruise lines grows clearer, industry executives stress that the travel agent’s role is even more important. That’s good news, considering this sector typically pays high, inclusive commission.