Once viewed as only for the affluent and Baby Boomers, river cruising has broken through those stereotypes in the past several years and has become a luxury travel option of choice for a much broader and younger segment of travelers. Post-COVID, the appeal is even greater because of the intimate size of river cruise ships, the opportunity to tick off wish-list destinations, and the well-deserved indulgent luxury experience.
When promoting river cruising as a travel option to prospects or current clients, travel advisors would do well to share with them these excellent reasons to reserve a river cruise for their next journey.
1. Ships pull right up to the heart of the destinations
The top motivator for travelers to choose a river cruise is the specific destinations and itinerary of the cruise, according to TMR’s Outlook on Trends in River Cruise for 2022, with 82% of those polled identifying this as the No. 1 reason for taking a river cruise. River cruisers also tend to be experienced and educated travelers who enjoy the cultural interaction with the locals.
With this in mind, a key selling point is that “you go through the heart of most cities, towns and villages, and dock in many cases right downtown, verses a coastline port on an ocean cruise,” says Rick Amsden, independent travel advisor and co-owner of Luxury Vacations, an affiliate of Avoya Travel.
Along the same lines, Foy Renfro, CEO, Journey To & Fro Travel, shares with clients “the fact that your ship is a floating hotel that pulls right up and becomes part of each destination.”
2. Unpack only once while seeing multiple destinations
“The biggest benefit of river cruising versus taking a tour is the amount of additional time you can spend exploring the destination without having to waste time checking in and out of hotels, packing and unpacking,” says Melita Hein, CTC, luxury travel advisor, and independent affiliate of CADENCE, a Virtuoso agency. On a river cruise, you unpack once … and done.
Furthermore, Joan Sell, concierge travel advisor at Dream Vacations, comments: “Ocean and river both have the benefit of unpacking once. However, have you ever seen someone from an ocean cruise ride their bicycle through the wine country and return to the ship in time for lunch? Probably not, which is just another unique option with river.”
3. Gourmet locally sourced food and wine
River cruising is known for its locally sourced, gourmet food and wine offerings. TMR’s Outlook on River Cruising found that the No. 1 factor (80%) determining travelers’ satisfaction on a river cruise is the quality of the food and wine. The river cruise brands are well aware of this fact, and they consistently meet high culinary standards.
“For my foodie clients, the meals have more flair and finesse than large ship main dining, and there is almost always a surprise to delight the palate and have you wondering what that secret ingredient is that you just can’t identify,” explains Sell. “For my wine connoisseurs, most river cruises have at least one wine tasting on shore, and wines poured onboard are wines you wish were sold in the States. Wine cruises with wine hosts are a triumph for those river cruise companies that offer viniculture immersion.”
Sell adds that one of the things she personally enjoys most about river cruising is that “as a foodie, I seek out elevated dining experiences such as the Captain’s Gala dinner and the Chef’s Table with Michelin Star-eligible cuisine, which are available with the right river company.”
4, Intimate ship size and atmosphere
Something that Hein personally enjoys and talks about with clients is “the intimate size of the river ships. They foster a congenial and friendly atmosphere onboard. My favorite memories are meeting my fellow passengers, getting to know them, and forming bonds and friendships that have even lasted beyond the trip.”
She continues: “When discussing the various river cruise options available in the market today, I always stress that all companies are traveling on the same rivers; the ships all have similar dimensions because the size of the boats are determined by the rivers and the locks they need to pass through. I recommend booking the ships with fewer cabins and lower passenger count as they offer larger staterooms and more spacious common areas. People are aware of low/high water issues that have made the news in the last few years. I provide them with the ships that are designed with a shallow draft and can navigate even in very low waters. Also, fewer passengers mean less weight.”
5. Top-notch personalized service
The second most important factor (at 75%) determining travelers’ satisfaction on a river cruise is the service level of the staff, says TMR’s Outlook on River Cruising. The travel advisors we interviewed for this article concurred with the expectation of high-quality service that is part and parcel with a luxury travel experience. Hein pointed out that she even “had clients ask me to plan their next cruise, but only if they can be sure to travel with the same cruise director.” River cruise lines do exceptionally well with creating lasting bonds with their guests.
6. Excursions for everyone and every level
“My client base is primarily Baby Boomers and I always point out the variety of excursions and the pace. On a river cruise, you can always find a ‘gentle walker’ group and a group of avid bicyclers ready to race the ship to the next port. There is almost always an abbreviated version of the day’s activities for the late risers, so no one misses out,” says Sell.
She also points out that “river cruising personalizes the travel experience by offering a variety of small group, in-depth tours to venues often unavailable to ocean cruising guests because of the numbers of people that need to attend.” Another benefit of the small passenger count of river cruises.
7. Easy pre- and post-land options for extended stays
Combining land vacations pre- or post- river cruise is also a top influencing factor (at 74% of those surveyed for Outlook on River Cruising) for travelers to choose river cruising. Travel advisors play a crucial role in ferreting out which options are right for their clients and handling all the details on their behalf.
8. Fast and easy embarkation and debarkation
Embarkation and debarkation on a river cruise is easy and typically takes 15 minutes tops. On an ocean cruise, even with the appointment system in place since COVID, travelers can be stuck for hours in a holding area while waiting for their number to be called.
9. An ambiance of relaxed elegance
River cruising offers an ambiance of relaxed luxury, sophistication, and refinement, without being stuffy. Yes, it tends to be a higher priced travel option, but the experience and value are well worth the price tag.
As Sell sums up so well: “Until you cruise river, you won’t know what relaxed-elegance cruising is all about. River cruising is the perfect way to enjoy historical cities and towns, participate in a local cheese or wine festival, and interact with locals at your own pace and with a small group of newfound friends with similar interests … What could be better than sipping wine on a luxury long boat as you glide down one of the many beautiful rivers of the world?”
FROM THE SPONSOR:
AmaWaterways’ Unparalleled River Cruise Experiences
Oceans take people to countries, but rivers take people through them, where castles were built and cities were born. On a river cruise with award-winning AmaWaterways, guests unpack once and explore up to five different countries during an unforgettable 7-night journey. They enjoy the luxury of choice with a variety of enriching guided excursions offered each day, including hikes, bike rides, culinary tastings, and walking tours offered at three different activity levels. Guests are also treated to exquisite locally sourced cuisine, hand-selected regional wines, nightly entertainment, and unparalleled service.
For a limited time, travelers may extend their river cruise vacation in a bonus city or country with AmaWaterways’ incredible Complimentary Land Package offer on select 2023 Europe and Egypt sailings. With 2-, 3- and 4-night packages available in such sought-after destinations as Prague, Amsterdam, Paris, and Dubai, now is the time to ensure your clients take advantage. Each land package includes stays at world-class hotels, daily breakfast, excursions, convenient transfers, and portage service between the hotel and river cruise ship, and is accompanied by an AmaWaterways Cruise Manager.
For all the tools you need to grow your business, visit your Travel Advisor Portal at AmaWaterways.com.