By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
2018 is the year of the Dog in the Chinese Astrological Calendar. The cycle is every 12 years. According to the legend, 12 animals raced to cross a swift river. The dog, although a strong swimmer, came in 11th out of 12. When ask why, he replied, he need a bath and took advantage of the opportunity to take one.
The dog chose to take advantage of a great opportunity and that’s what this blog is all about—your chance to take advantage of a great opportunity to take a European River Cruise.
So, let’s learn about the opportunities in 2018 and trends in Europe river cruising.
Trend # 1—Book Soon or Lose Out
There are over 300 river cruise vessels sailing on the river waterways of Europe. Even with the increased capacity, we have noticed less availability on almost all rivers. Why?—river cruising has exploded in popularity. Already this year, I couldn’t find a cruise for a client whose schedule precluded him from making plans early and then we couldn’t get his travel dates matched with availability. Many cruise lines are already accepting bookings into 2019. If you want to cruise in Europe, especially in the peak summer months, you should book now—waiting will result in a less than ideal outcome (no availability and higher prices).
Trend # 2–New Ships will sail but Viking will not add new river ship this year
By my count, there will be 7 new riverships sailing in 2018. 3 will be completely new ships and 4 will be refurbished. Here are the new ships:
In 2018, AmaWaterways will christen their 20th vessel in Europe. It will start on the Tulip Time (Netherlands) in the spring and then move to the Danube, sailing from Vilshofen to Budapest or the reverse. It is a 135 meter ship (443 ft) with 78 staterooms and has a capacity of 156 passengers with a crew of 51. In my opinion, AmaWaterways has expanded in a smart fashion—they bring on one or two new ships in Europe each year, make sure they are properly staffed and maintain their exacting standards. Having sailed on 14 AmaWaterways cruises, the standards never change—it is a consistent brand.
Crystal will expand their fleet to 5 with the addition of the Crystal Ravel and the Crystal Debussy. Each ship will carry 106 passengers in 53 suites, with all staterooms above the river line. Among the features are a glass-domed Palm Court atrium, a fitness area, a spa and open-seating eateries such as the Waterside Restaurant, Bistro cafe, the Vintage Room and the Palm Court. Crystal has tried to copy the features of their ocean going vessels, as much as possible, in their river cruise ships so many venues carry the same names and features.
Their rooms range from the Petite Suite at 188 square feet and the River Suite at 253 square feet to the two-bedroom Crystal Suites at 759 square feet. Several suites are connected. Accommodations have king-size beds with walk-in closets (a first among river cruise lines) and large bathrooms with double sinks. The rooms also have with wall-mounted flat-screen HD televisions and Nespresso machines.
Tauck is refurbishing 2 of its ships. Both the 98 passenger riverboats, the MS Treasure and the MS Espirit have been updated.
Uniworld is refurbishing the S.S Beatrice. She will carry 156 passengers. The biggest news for Uniworld is the launch of the A and B—cruising designed for the 21-45 year old crowd. I wrote more about U by Uniworld as trend # 6 later in this blog.
Not to worry Viking fans—my sources tell me that Viking will add 7 new riverships in 2019, so this may just be a small pause on their part, especially since they are expanding their Ocean cruise fleet. With 59 riverboats in Europe by my count, there may not be any reason to build a new ship this year.
Trend #3–More Active and Wellness Activities will be offered
We have already noticed this trend on recent sailings. As we reported earlier, here is one of our client’s thoughts about what is happening on AmaWaterways ships:
“They had a pilot program with a fitness instructor (Selina). She provided stretching, core workout, exercise band, hiking, etc. classed and events. It was great. She will implement this on another six boats for next year, hiring and training the new personnel. It is a great addition to the AMA activities.” AmaWaterways was the first to add bikes to their riverboats in 2006 and they continue to expand bike tours and active walking tours. They have even partnered with Backroads to offer high end bike tours on special cruises.
Crystal will also follow this trend. Each of their ships have a pool and carry an array of complimentary equipment for active travelers, from electric bicycles to Jet skis and kayaks.
Scenic and Emerald also follow this trend. Scenic has electric bikes and Emerald also carries bikes. Emerald has expanded their offerings for active guests—it is called Emerald ACTIVE and features bike tours. The heated, pool, with a retractable roof, on Emerald is special—they actually convert it into a movie theater at night, complete with popcorn!
Avalon has added their new program called Active Discovery. This program is on the Rhine and Danube Rivers and offers hiking and biking activities.
The only line not following this trend is Viking—they believe the walking done on tours is enough and they do not offer any extra exercise or wellness activities.
Trend # 4—More Tour Options will be offered
Of all the trends I am writing about, this is the one trend that every river cruise line seems to have adopted. As you already know, one of the greatest advantages of a Europe river cruise is the included tours. There is no doubt there will be more offerings. Some will come with an extra fee. Only 2 cruise lines offer all tours without a fee—they are Scenic and Tauck.
I really think this is a logical progression of the industry. Most river cruisers want more authentic experiences and it also appeals to repeat cruisers who want to do something different on the same stretch of river.
Trend # 4–More Themed Cruises will continue to be offered.
Already the list of themed cruises is growing. On AmaWaterways, the wine themed cruises just improves the vacation experience for many guests. They are up to 50 a year now—a lot of good choices all throughout Europe. The wine cruises include a wine host. These folks are wine industry experts who want to share their knowledge and passion for wine both onboard the vessel and at the local wineries during the cruise. The best part—there is no additional charge for their services—another free enhancement for you to enjoy. AmaWaterways also has a great partnership with Disney called Adventures by Disney and will offer 8 cruises for families this year. A word to the wise, it is almost completely sold out for 2018, so if this peaks your interest, start planning for 2019.
Uniworld is solidly behind this trend to offer more specialty cruises. It has added several Jewish themed cruises. It is part of their “Bespoke Themed Voyages.”
Crystal’s website states they offer over 225 different tours and 80% are included in the fare. That’s a lot of tours for only 5 riverships.
Scenic is also solidly behind the expanded tours offerings. We have first-hand experience with Scenic tours—all are included and they are excellent. I got to experience Cesky Krumlov on a sailing in 2015. It was awesome!
Scenic even calls their staff who create the tours Journey Designers and their brochure defines their mission as “curating the best of what Europe has to offer.”
Many industry writers single out Tauck for their tours. Each ship has 3 dedicated tour specialists who accompany the voyages. The also emphasize privileged access to sights after hours or by exclusive arrangements.
Viking is also expanding tours. Their new program, called The Viking Way, offers three new options—Local Life, Working World and Privileged Access.
Trend #5—Better Cuisine
I think it is safe to say there is an increased emphasis on food and wine in the competitive river cruise industry in Europe. Not only does this include enhanced food offerings but it has also expanded into cooking classes.
AmaWaterways is, in my opinion, the leader of this trend. I have written extensively about the quality of the food and the Chef’s table, so I won’t belabor the point. The best news is that there are no extra charges for the meals on AmaWaterways and all guests can enjoy the Chef’s Table at least once during the voyage. They have also always done cooking demonstrations during some cruises. I already wrote about many of these, including the “sip and sail” free cocktail hour in this blog: AmaWaterways in 2018
Scenic is offering on board cooking lessons in their new Scenic Culinaire program. However, it is limited to only 8 guests.
Crystal and Scenic offer exclusive dining options but both have limitations. Crystal’s includes a hefty fee and Scenic’s require you to purchase a diamond level (most expensive cabin).
Avalon has become the leader in vegetarian cuisine. Their Avalon Fresh program consist of locally sourced food prepared in innovative manners. I wrote about this earlier in my River Cruise Vibes blog. Here is the link River Cruise Vibes
Uniworld’s ship, the Joie de Vivre, offers a 7 course meal that is paired with wines at their La Cave du Vin that includes a cooking demonstration and then you get to enjoy the meal.
Trend # 6–Will a Younger Crowd Embrace the New U by Uniworld?
The travel agent community is split on this—some think it is a great idea, others think it won’t work as well as traditional river cruising. The 2018 addition of U by Uniworld–they are converting 2 riverships to their newest brand. They are called A and B. Uniworld is using words like “social, relaxed, fun, connected, scenic, and enriching” to describe the new brand. Gone will be the opulent interiors on some of their redesigned riverships, there will be DJ’s, more emphasis on night life—even bean bag chairs and hammocks on the top deck. To keep a lower price point, the ship will offer only 2 meals each day. The idea is to appeal to the younger generation (21-45).
My Final Thoughts
Do not lose the opportunity to go on a great European River Cruise this year by procrastination. Think ahead—call us soon. We are travel and river cruise experts. We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you. We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.
When you are spending around $10,000 or more for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.
Don’t miss an opportunity to take a Europe river cruise. Think like the dog—act now and don’t miss your opportunity!
Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you! We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel. Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to help you: Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years. He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years. He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees. His other Certifications:
- AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
- Viking River Cruise Specialist
- Scenic River Cruise Specialist
- Emerald Waterways Specialist
- Avalon Waterways Specialist
- Brit Agent