As European river cruise vessels file into winter dry-dock this week, closing up the 2015 season, there is bound to be some nervousness for an industry waiting to see how the 2016 season will play out once it gets underway in the spring.
The dormant winter season offers an opportunity to spruce up older vessels and make final arrangements for the launch of new ones, investments that will hopefully pay off throughout the season. And this coming year has a lot to offer; Both Crystal Cruises and Adventures by Disney (through a partnership with AmaWaterways) will introduce new river cruise products in Europe, and all the major river cruise lines are adding new vessels to their fleets.
There’s a lot to look forward to, and yet 2015 ended with a bit of a question mark in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks in terms of how much the attacks will impact travel in Europe (and consequently river cruising) this year. Surely the hope is that a quiet couple months – fingers crossed – prior to the start of the 2016 season will help keep pre-existing bookings on the books and reinvigorate the flow of new ones to get 2016 back on track to being as robust as it promised before the attacks.
Meanwhile, there are a lot of exciting developments elsewhere in the world to distract from the situation in Europe. Uniworld is starting its first cruises on India’s Ganges River this month, a new product the company has said has exceeded its expectations in terms of how successful the bookings have been.
And back in the US, it will be interesting to see if we hear anything more from Viking about its plans to launch modern-style Mississippi River vessels in 2017 and from the Delta Queen Steamboat Company about whether the fabled 89-year-old Delta Queen will receive the Congressional exemption it needs to sail again.
Indeed, despite some uncertainty as we start off the year, 2016 still promises to be an exciting and interesting one in river cruising, both in terms of the announcements we already know about and in terms of the surprises we’re always counting on the industry to provide us.