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Crystal River Cruises has its Crystal Mozart, and AmaWaterways will soon tout AmaMagna. But beyond such double-wide European riverboats, vessels are not likely to increase in size exponentially like mega ocean cruise ships have. That is to say you shouldn’t anticipate a “Symphony of the Rivers” on relative par with Royal Caribbean International’s current largest cruise ship in the world, Symphony of the Seas.
The main reason is clearance. Unlike ocean ships, riverboats are, by definition, landlocked. While ocean cruise vessels are occasionally limited by the size of the Panama Canal or Suez Canal, they are capable of bypassing these shortcut routes entirely. River craft do not have this option, and some sailings must regularly encounter dozens of locks in a single itinerary.
What’s more, riverboats frequently have to navigate under low bridges. Ocean ships also occasionally sail below overpasses, but with less difficulty. Tides can change their vertical clearances, but river levels can vary significantly. Some seasons suffer from substantial flooding, periodically prohibiting river ships from passing at all. (In those cases, modified tours often continue with the boats acting as floating hotels.)
The result is a pretty standard set of riverboat dimensions. They often appear like floating limousines, stretched in length but narrow in width and short in height. European varieties generally measure about 400 feet long and around 30 feet wide, not exceeding four decks tall. Usually accommodating under 200 guests, these common specifications limit river cruise lines to intimate vessels across the board. Rivers such as the Douro restrict these even further.
Some parts of the Danube, however, feature locks that are designed to accept two such vessels side by side. That’s why Crystal Mozart and AmaMagna exist as rare exceptions to the rule, as they maximize their amenities within the allotted opening and fill said locks’ entire width.
Similarly, there are so-called Panamax ocean cruise ships that are uniform among competitors who choose to transit the Panama Canal, which has recently expanded for larger Neopanamax vessels. But since they can sail elsewhere, that engineering marvel hasn’t stopped mainstream lines from pursuing the biggest cruise ship in the world seemingly ad infinitum.
Many clients actually relish the fact that river craft cannot race to the top in the same way. Riverboats must cap off their capacities and accommodations without the hustle and bustle of mega ocean ships. (In fact, this has prompted Viking to craft its ocean ships as smaller alternatives to the behemoths.)
Competition in the river market is more challenging as lines are thus required to innovate within shared confines. While quantity of venues is limited, quality of unique spaces is not. There is still room for imaginative ways to craft fresh concepts therein. That’s why swimming pools, cinemas and specialty restaurants have made their way onto the rivers. What additional creative options are available to passengers in the future are to be determined.
Proving opportunities still exist is the likes of the Water Sports Platform coming to AmaWaterways’ AmaMagna. Zodiac boats, canoes and other recreational equipment will all be on hand. Rather than automatically stuffing the larger riverboat with more cabins, it will delightfully showcase expanded ones individually for even greater personal space.
In other words, for those who shy away from the potentially overwhelming nature of a massive ocean cruise ship, there will continue to be intimate and innovative alternatives awaiting travelers on the river.