November 28, 2014

See What's New in River Cruising

A passenger's guide to the latest
trends, ships and destinations

By Alexis Loyd

Vacations Magazine: See What's New in River Cruising
Elard Aranibar Meza/G Adventures
River cruising is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry, with an average of 10 percent annual passenger growth during the past five years, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. Hoping to capture the hearts (and business) of those who long to see the world from its waterways, operators continue to expand their fleets, add onboard comforts and edge into fresh territories. This year already has seen a feat recognized by Guinness World Records -- Viking River Cruises earned bragging rights to the "most ships inaugurated in one day by one company" in March with its christening of 10 new riverboats that it calls Longships. (Eight vessels qualified for the honor; two had already entered service last year without an official send-off.)

Also new in 2013: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection introduced Italian trips along the Po River, while Viking River Cruises made its first foray into Portugal's wine region, the Douro River Valley. And there's more to come.

Here, we've compiled some of the newest developments in the river cruise industry, from upcoming ships to added extras on board.

Onboard Perks
The on-ship experience gets even better. As part of the recently released Avalon Choice program, which allows vacationers to customize their cruise experience, Avalon Waterways' new Avalon Expression features the Panorama Bistro, an intimate eatery serving four courses of regional, tapas-style bites. The venue seats 24 people and is available two or three times per weeklong sailing, so travelers will want to reserve a spot. Or partake of Avalon's other alternative dining options, such as alfresco lunch on the top deck.

Part of the allure of river cruising is paying one upfront price for accommodations, excursions, meals and drinks with dinner. Both AmaWaterways and Scenic Cruises stepped it up a notch in 2013, now providing complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with both lunch and dinner on their European ships. Scenic's extra bonuses: access to a private butler, included gratuities and a personal GPS device that provides commentary and directions. Next year, Uniworld takes its inclusivity further; the line's European trips will cover gratuities and all onboard alcohol.

New Horizons
Keep an eye out for new itineraries in 2014. Stateside, Blount Small Ship Adventures introduces a 16-day sailing on the Mississippi River System between New Orleans and Chicago aboard the 88-passenger Grande Caribe. Meanwhile, American Queen Steamboat Co. is expanding westward, commencing Columbia and Snake river sailings in Oregon and Washington on the 223-guest American Empress in April.

Farther afield, in January Viking will become the first major cruise line to venture into Myanmar (Burma) along the Irrawaddy River aboard the refurbished 60-passenger Viking Mandalay. Guests of 16-day "Memories of Mandalay" will travel round trip from Bangkok, stopping in Myanmar ports such as 11th-century cultural capital Yangon (Rangoon), the colonial forts of Minhla and Gwechaung, and Bagan, once home to more than 10,000 Buddhist temples. AmaWaterways will follow suit in the fall of next year, launching a new 76-passenger ship -- tentatively named AmaPura -- on the Irrawaddy.

Next year also will bring Viking and Uniworld to the famed Bordeaux wine region of southwestern France. St. Emilion, Sauternes and Medoc are stops along the route that will resonate with oenophiles. Both lines will offer weeklong itineraries round trip from Bordeaux beginning in March 2014: Uniworld's 132-passenger River Royale is set to cruise the Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde rivers until November, while Viking's new 190-passenger Viking Forseti sails through the end of the year.

The exotic Amazon gets its own newcomer when Avalon's 11-day "From the Inca Empire to the Peruvian Amazon" starts in February. Travelers embark on a round-trip excursion from Lima that includes a three-night cruise aboard the 32-passenger Aria as well as explorations of Machu Picchu, Cuzco and the Sacred Valley.

Themed Sailings
Tailor your travel with a theme cruise. Many riverboat operators now pair stunning destinations with hobby-centered activities. AmaWaterways planned more than 30 "In Celebration of Wine" itineraries in Europe for 2013 and 2014, with wine tastings, lectures and vineyard excursions. AmaWaterways' Dec. 27, 2014, sailing from Vilshofen, Germany, on the Danube brings knitters together for New Year's. Hosted by Barry Klein, textile expert and owner of Los Angeles' Trendsetter Yarns, the itinerary aboard the 161-guest AmaBella includes fashion forums and classes on patterns and techniques.

Confectioner Norman Love will be the expert on hand for AmaWaterways' first chocolate-centered cruise, an eight-day Danube vacation from Vilshofen to Budapest on the AmaCerto leaving April 28, 2014. A 12-day version starts a few days earlier with sightseeing and a hotel stay in Prague.

Avalon Waterways also has announced its new special interest cruises for 2014, like a beer-tasting trip in Austria and Germany departing Oct. 13. Travelers on this six-day jaunt on the Artistry II will discover regional suds, learn local beer-making techniques and visit historic breweries; a nine-day option includes three nights in Munich after the sailing. Avalon is rolling out several other new themed sailings, including cruises focused on wellness, golf and World War I for the 100th anniversary of the Great War.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in September/October 2013. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 510-4002 for current rates and details.


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