I recently spent time in Paris at the CLIA River Cruise Conference 2018. It was a great opportunity to learn about river cruising and to visit a number of river vessels docked on the Seine, and spent the night on Avalon Waterways Tapestry II. As my first real experience of river cruising, this has given me real insight into the appeal and draw of river cruising.
Much like cruising as a whole, river cruising is going through a renaissance at the moment, with huge growth in the sector. Last year the river cruise industry grew 21% from the previous year, with currently 19 new ships being delivered in 2019. There’s a variety of reasons for this including people looking for new experiences, freedom to do what they want and when they want, great value and where passengers wanting to be at the heart of a destination.
So here’s my top reasons why your next cruise should be a river cruise.
At the very core of river cruising is the emphasis on immersion into a destination. This isn’t like ocean cruising, think of it more like river city-hopping. While the ships are luxurious, the focus is on the destination. Expect your ship to be in a new and exciting place each day, enabling you to spend more time experiencing and immersing yourself in its culture and sights.
As river ships tend to dock in the centre of big cities, expect to be able walk straight out into the hustle and bustle of some of the most world-renowned places. On a typical day you could expect to visit some historic sites, sample local markets and cuisines, perhaps explore a vineyard or get to know the local culture and learn how they live. Or perhaps you’re in a port overnight, so why not hop off the ship and experience the night-life on offer. Sounds appealing, right?
It is also a very humbling experience. When you are sailing, you can just sit at peace on the beautiful meandering rivers and watch the picturesque world go by.
Design, amenities and quality
River ships are like boutique hotels where a lot of attention to detail has gone into not only the design of the ship and spaces, but perhaps more importantly the rooms. These are upscale offerings that for the most part put their ocean cousins to shame. For me, some of the best designed cabins have to be found on Viking. The scandi-design is spacious and elegant, with large windows that let light pour into the room, comfortable beds and bedding, heated bathroom floors and premium bath products.
If the suite life is more of your thing, then river ships have you covered. Expect opulence like no other, with really well considered spaces, luxurious amenities and butler service. Take a look at some of the images below found on board Uniworld, Emerald and Scenic to get an idea of river suites.
Due to their small size, river ships have had to innovate to provide comfort to passengers. Examples of this include Emerald and Avalon who have thought about how to bring the passenger closer to the experience. Whether this be fully retractable glass doors, or panoramic windows that become balconies.
Many people assume that just because you are on a river ship, there won’t be any facilities. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, with new ships featuring a whole host of amenities including full balconies, Wi-Fi, alternative eateries, gyms, spas, swimming pools and expansive art collections. Take a look at this pool on board Emerald ships. Featured at the back of the ship, it overlooks the wake – just imagine sitting here watching the beautiful backdrop of the Danube go by. This space is not wasted, as at night it cleverly transforms into a cute cinema.
The one thing that strikes me about river cruising is the sheer value. While typically a river cruise can cost more than other holidays, you have to consider almost everything is included. Expect flights, spacious accommodation, all on board meals (and most drinks), VIP transfers, gratuities, enrichment and wellness programmes (more on that shortly) and daily excursions, including visits to UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Variety is the spice of life
I have to say I had some preconceptions around river cruising being just one typical product, but how wrong was I! There’s a whole range of different types of river cruising to suit all tastes, budgets or styles. For instance, what about a river barge holiday? Croisieurope offer a number of barge-based holidays on canals across France. A home away from home, these are intimate cruises for a few guests which visit towns and villages in Alsace-Lorraine, Burgundy and the Loire Valley, Provence and the Camargue, Champagne and the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris. Sounds incredible!
Or thinking a little further afield, how about a journey down the Mekong river. In fact, this cruise is perhaps right at the top of my bucket list of any cruise (and that says a lot). Take a journey from Vietnam and Cambodia visiting mystical temples and floating water villages, all set within a lush tropical landscape. Topped off with a visit to the world famous Angkor Wat temple at sunset or sunrise – I can’t think of many things more special than that.
Activity and wellness
Wellness is another area of growth on river cruising, with guests wanting to participate in wellness activities and keep healthy. One such line at the forefront of this is AmaWaterways, who have invested in a whole wellness programme on board, which includes a variety of fitness classes, including core strengthening and circuit training, as well as occasional health and wellness-related lectures and discussions through AmaWaterways’ Wellness Programme. Take a look at their wellness programme in the video below.
Many lines and ships even have spas, gyms and hairdressers so you can pamper yourself through the course of your adventure – pictured below on board Scenic and Emerald ships.
In terms of excursions, more and more is being offered. On some lines, such as Avalon, you can select excursions and onboard activities based on your interests. From 2019, there will be three types of included excursions available: Classic, where local expert guides you through the history and heritage of local destinations and the “must see” sites. Discovery features Inspiring and interactive hands-on activities designed to speak to your interests – you spend your day immersing yourself in the destination’s unique culture. Finally, Active lets you Embark on energetic excursions keeping you in motion and on the go — from a guided jogging tour, to biking, paddling, and hiking your way through scenic locales. The amount of choice on offer is incredible.
Food and drink
One of the reasons I advocate cruising is the sheer quality of food and drink. River cruising is no exception to this and is well-known for its quality.
Of my time on board recently, I can attest to this, it’s exceptional. Expect breakfasts with a wide variety of freshly made choices and (at least) three-course lunches. At dinner, expect fare that has been drawn from regional specialities, featuring local cuisine as much as possible. A few lines and ships also feature alternative dining options, such as Le Bistrot on board Uniworld ships.
If you’re still peckish after all that you can still get snacks, such as cookies, muffins and fresh fruit in lounges, along with tea and coffee. Some lines, like Avalon, Uniworld and Scenic, also feature all-day cafes which serve some hot foods such as hot dogs and baked goods.
So would you choose to go on a river cruise?
What do you think? Is river cruising for you? Leave a comment below or ask me on social media.
I for one cannot wait to go on a river cruise. In fact, I’ll be taking my first one next year. Watch this space as I’ll be announcing more details of this soon. I cannot wait to share this adventure with you!