Interest in river cruises and traveling onboard ships with a smaller passenger capacity is on the rise among travelers, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
“The small ship sector is a vital and constantly evolving part of the overall cruise industry that excels at creating unmatched travel experiences, making it more popular than ever,” said Cindy D’Aoust, president and CEO, CLIA.
The newest trends showcase itineraries for active travelers, food and wine aficionados, history buffs, wellness seekers, and at least one company is reaching out to convince Millennials that river cruises are not just for their parents.
Here is a roundup of new ships and expanded itineraries being offered by river cruise operators around the globe in 2018.
AmaWaterways was among the first river cruise operators to embrace the active travel trend back in 2006, when the company added 25 bicycles onboard each European ship. Earlier this year, AmaWaterways introduced a wellness program onboard the AmaLyra Paris & Normandy that will soon appear on additional ships in 2018. By 2019, the company will take active travel one step further with the debut of AmaMagna. At twice the width of traditional European vessels, the AmaMagna will feature a retractable water sports platform and expanded fitness and spa facilities. AmaWaterways has also boosted its 2018 Wine Cruise line-up with 50-plus itineraries hosted by North American winemakers.
With American Queen Steamboat Company, travelers may want to start planning their 2018 holidays on the American Queen, the American Empress or the American Duchess exploring the waters and towns throughout the heartland of America and the Pacific. The 2018 season includes family suites onboard the American Queen; new American Duchess itineraries on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers as well as on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River that includes a nine-day Kentucky Derby-focused tour from Louisville to Cincinnati; and Pacific Northwest Adventure themed cruises on the American Empress include soft adventures such as kayaking or ziplining.
Next year, Avalon will expand its ever-growing list of special interest itineraries to include wine, culinary, beer, jazz, music and opera, art, history and Jewish Heritage. The author of the number one New York Times-bestselling Outlander novels and godmother to the Avalon Tapestry II, Diana Gabaldon is hosting an Author Cruise with Avalon Waterways in 2018, an 11-day vacation to the heart of Europe and the towns and cities along the Danube River. Also new for 2018 is a Tulip Time Cruise for Garden Enthusiasts that gains access to some of the spectacular private gardens and courtyards of 17th-century homes.
A family business founded in 1976, CroisiEurope operates 50 cruise boats, including canal barges in France and a maritime coastal ship. The MS Elbe Princesse II, due to be inaugurated in February 2018, will be the third paddlewheel ship in the fleet. Like its sister ship, the Elbe Princesse will accommodate 90 guests in 45 outward-facing cabins. Two existing ships in the fleet, the MS Van Gogh and the MS Renoir, will undergo complete rebuilds and will be transformed to become the latest 5-anchor ships to join the fleet.
The European 2018 itineraries include an eight-day trip around the island of Corsica; a new coastal sail on the MS La Belle de l’Adriatique along the French Riviera; and foodies will delight in CroisiEurope’s new Italian gastronomy-themed itinerary that starts in Naples and travels the coastline of Southern Italy.
Earlier this year, CroisiEurope inaugurated its newest ship, the RV Indochine II, on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Finally, a sister ship to the soon-to-launch RV African Dream is already in the works and set to debut late next year.
Emerald Waterways is adding three new cruise itineraries on the Rhine river in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium for 2018. Additionally, Emerald has upped the ante for the 2018 sailing season with 17 new EmeraldACTIVE excursions taking place on their European itineraries. In 2018, guests can choose from a canoe trip in Pocinho, Portugal; new biking tours through some of Vienna, Bernkastle and Hoorn; and new hiking trips including a tour of some of the picturesque vineyard and orchards around Tournon, France, and a trek to Castle Hill in Budapest.
European river cruise operator Riviera Travel launched four new ships this year, and with a fifth ship coming in the spring 2018, this will double the size of its five-star fleet. The all-suite MS Emily Brontë, MS Thomas Hardy, MS Oscar Wilde and MS Robert Burns will sail the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers, as well as tributaries; while the Douro Elegance will sail the Douro River.
Through a partnership with French-owned cruise line Ponant, Tauck will bring four Ponant new-builds into the fold starting with Le Lapérouse in summer 2018. By 2020, Tauck expects to be sailing a total of eight ships. Tauck’s European river cruises for 2018 include two all-new cruise itineraries, the debut of two redesigned ships, and enhancements to the shore excursions. New itineraries include the Danube and Rhine; the Royal Danube, Berlin & Krakow and the Rhine Enchantment, Milan to Amsterdam; Tauck has merged the Rhone, French Waterways and A Taste of France to form the 10-day “Savoring France: Paris, Lyon & Provence.”
The big news at Uniworld is that it will add a fifth super ship to its fleet. The River Beatrice, first launched back in 2009, is about to receive a bow-to-stern renovation with grand staircase, a private dining area, and three new suites by the time it sets off on its maiden voyage on April 4, 2018. The design team from Red Carnation Hotels will oversee redesign of the public spaces and rooms. High-tech amenities will also be added. The River Beatrice’s transformation will coincide with the official launch of U by Uniworld, the company’s new brand and the first river cruise line exclusively designed for travelers ages 21-45.
Sailings on U by Uniworld's ship dubbed The B, and its other ship called The A, will begin in April 2018 with prices starting at $200 per person per day. Four eight-day itineraries — The Seine Experience, Rolling on the Rhine, Germany’s Finest and The Danube Flow — will sail along the Rhine, Main, Danube and Seine Rivers, with overnight stops and longer stays available in major cities including Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam and Budapest.
Victoria Cruises has transformed a technological improvement into an excursion on its Three Gorges itinerary. After installing the world’s largest ship elevator that allows passengers to bypass the slow and arduous five-stage ship locks, passengers can experience the new ship lift on a specially designed sightseeing boat followed by a tour of the world’s largest hydroelectric dam — another feat of modern engineering. Otherwise, the line will continue operating its current portfolio of itineraries in 2018.
According to a presentation Viking River Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen made earlier this month, Viking has doubled its share of the river cruise market since 2010 to 50 percent of the North American pie. The classic river cruises remain popular, according to Hagen, such as the Grand European Tour from Amsterdam to Budapest, and the Waterways of the Tsars from Moscow to St. Petersburg. However, the company will be returning to Egypt in 2018 with a new ship design and itinerary. Agents can expect to see six new Viking Longships for the Rhine, Main and Danube; and a new one that will set sail on the Douro. Viking River Cruises will add seven new ships in 2019 bringing its fleet up to 69 total, by far the most of any river cruise line.