River cruise lines up the ante with cabin designs

By Michelle Baran

Aboard the Inspire and Savor, lower-deck cabins will have higher ceilings, larger windows and a raised platform seating area.With such limited space on river cruise vessels, river cruise lines have to get creative in order to evolve and differentiate their cabin designs. But this season, there will be no shortage of innovative stateroom concepts as river cruise operators roll out everything from tricked out lower-deck cabins to stunning suites.

River cruise lines often put a great deal of emphasis on their upper-deck staterooms, a showcase of competing balcony concepts, creative cabin layouts and sprawling suites. But one area of the river cruise ship that often gets neglected is the lower deck.

Because the lower deck dips partially below water level, the cabins on this level can usually only accommodate smaller windows that do not open.

But with its two new Inspiration Class ships, the 130-passenger Inspire and Savor (launching in April and June, respectively), Tauck has addressed the oft-overlooked lower-deck cabins with a new lofted lower-cabin design.

On both ships, eight of the lower-deck cabins will feature a raised platform seating area with a small table and two chairs and a raised ceiling that will accommodate a much taller window, the upper portion of which can be opened for fresh air.

The Category 3 cabins will be 225 square feet each, and the larger windows will measure 8 feet by 9.5 feet.

According to Tauck, suites are often the first class of cabins to sell, and other river cruise lines have confirmed a similar selling pattern on their vessels. But the lower-deck cabins are just as critical to filling the ships and achieving strong load factors. While they might not be as alluring as the more spacious suites or as upper-deck cabins that usually feature full or French balconies, they usually represent the lowest-priced cabins and thus open up river cruising to passengers who might be more budget-oriented, are traveling alone or are traveling with family.

The loft design is the strongest (if not the only) attempt to date at making these lower-deck cabins considerably more enticing and pleasant than they have traditionally been in the past.

Emerald Waterways Indoor Balcony designBoth ships will be 443 feet long with 22 suites at 300 square feet each, complete with two French balconies with floor-to-ceiling windows, a pullout couch, walk-in closest and bathroom with rainfall showerhead. There will also be 32 cabins at 225 square foot each and an additional 13 cabins ranging from 150 to 190 square feet. Four of the 150-square-foot cabins are being set aside for solo travelers.

Upper-deck developments

And while Tauck has made a big push to overhaul lower-level cabin design, developments are continuing throughout the upper-level staterooms on this year’s forthcoming newbuilds.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s 159-passenger S.S. Catherine, which is being christened this week in the South of France, features a 410-square-foot Royal Suite that joins the ranks of the Viking Longships’ 445-square-foot Explorer Suites as being among the few river cruise suites in Europe that top the 400-square-foot mark.

If preview photos of the S.S. Catherine are any indication, the Royal Suite (along with all of the vessel’s cabins, for that matter) promises to be not only spacious but a feast for the senses, featuring Uniworld’s trademark boutique hotel interiors that are designed by sister company Red Carnation Hotels. Think bold textiles, textured wallpaper and details galore.

Emerald Waterways, the river cruise line being launched by Australian parent Scenic Tours as a four-star alternative to the company’s existing river cruise line, Scenic Cruises, will officially come to life next month when its two debut vessels, the 182-passenger Emerald Star and Emerald Sky, set sail.

Rendering of a bathroom onboard the Mekong Princess.The vessels’ 180-square-foot Panorama Balcony Suite concept will feature an indoor balcony design, similar to a concept introduced by Uniworld several years ago, which involves a retractable window that with the touch of a button enables passengers to convert the room into an open-air balcony. The idea is to maximize limited cabin square footage.

Lastly, while it isn’t launching in 2014, Haimark Ltd.’s 24-passenger Mekong Princess, slated to deploy in Vietnam and Cambodia in September 2015, is worth mentioning for its all-suite spa concept that will place an emphasis on luxury spa treatments, services and details throughout the vessel.

Early renderings of the suites indicate over-the-top Indochina glamour coupled with relaxing spa amenities.

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