Ocean-river combos alluring option for cruise lovers

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It seems like something true cruise enthusiasts could really get onboard with: the marriage of a blue water sailing with one that ventures into the inland waterways.

So, it comes as little surprise that the one company with a solid stake in both the ocean and river markets, Viking, quietly launched itineraries that combine an ocean and river cruise.

Viking currently has three itineraries it calls its Ocean & River Voyages. The 15-day Rhine & Viking Shores & Fjords combines a Rhine river cruise with a North Sea sailing (with both 2018 and 2019 departure dates); the 22-day Grand European & Viking Fjords combines a Danube, Rhine and Main cruise with a North Sea sailing (with departures in 2019); and the 18-day Rhine and Amsterdam to Catalonia brings together a Rhine cruise with a sailing along the Atlantic Ocean (with departures in 2018).

It’s an approach worth watching as a slowly growing number of cruise lines build and offer both ocean and river products. In addition to Viking, Crystal Cruises now has vessels that sail both blue and inland waters, and Scenic is gearing up to make its first foray into ocean cruising with the launch of the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse this summer.

On a smaller scale, Pandaw River Cruises has started to offer coastal sailings in Southeast Asia in addition to its numerous river cruises on the Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers. Closer to home, American Cruise Lines has cruises both along the U.S. and Canada coastlines as well as on U.S. rivers, and UnCruise offers a Columbia and Snake river sailing in addition to its numerous coastal cruises. French river cruise company CroisiEurope has some coastal ships as well. Since for the most part, river cruises can’t go where ocean cruises can and vice versa, it seems the two would work well together as a combined offering for passengers that have the time and the willingness to experience two very different types of cruising.

Perhaps for Viking, there’s a larger goal at play with the combination cruises, too. Travel Weekly’s cruise editor Tom Stieghorst recently reported that Viking’s senior vice president of marketing Richard Marnell admitted that one of Viking Ocean’s core challenges is that the Viking name is still associated primarily with river cruises. Combining the company’s ocean and river offerings could be seen as a way to introduce those river cruisers to the ocean product.

For companies with access to both markets, the opportunity to cross-market and introduce river cruisers to the oceans and ocean cruisers to the rivers is definitely an advantage worth weighing. While some might argue that they are very different markets with distinct passengers, river cruise line surveys of their passengers often find that many of them are ocean cruisers as well, suggesting that there is a potential marketplace for the ocean-river combination cruise.

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River cruise news to watch

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Bohemia Rhapsody New Year’s Eve Cruise | Pragues Eve Cruise | Prague

Last year was a challenging one for river cruising, so as we round the bend into 2017, it’s worth pointing out some buzz-worthy stories on the horizon that could help the industry get its groove back.

When it comes to buzz, we can certainly count on Crystal Cruises, which will unveil two of its first four “river yachts” this summer – the Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler (the Crystal Ravel and Crystal Debussy will follow in spring 2018). The company promises some pretty over-the-top features on its first set of river newbuilds, such as multiple, sleek-looking dining venues with open-seating, and all staterooms built above the waterline – something that hasn’t been done before on a river cruise ship. The renderings released of the yachts last summer evoked chic and contemporary interiors, and river cruise insiders are surely champing at the bit to see how Crystal delivers on its lofty river cruising promises.

Speaking of buzz, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is bound to help reignite some much-needed hype for river cruising in France, which took a big hit following the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris. The company remains committed to launching the latest in its Super Ship class of vessels, the 128-passenger S.S. Joie de Vivre, on France’s Seine River.

In true Uniworld style, the company didn’t hold back with the Joie de Vivre, which will be christened in March. Features include a collection of fine art and antiques acquired from both auction houses and private collections, and a pool area with a hydraulic floor that by night can turn into Le Club l’Esprit, a dance floor or outdoor cinema. Travel Weekly will be there to report on the unveiling of the Joie de Vivre firsthand.

It will also be Adventures by Disney’s second year offering river cruises in partnership with AmaWaterways, and we’ll be watching to see how that product continues to grow and evolve. Disney has already made some tweaks including raising the minimum age from 4 to 6 and adding an adults-only sailing.

CroisiEurope’s ongoing and arguably aggressive expansion will continue in 2017 with four new ships: a 132-passenger vessel on Portugal’s Douro River; the 106-passenger Symphonie II on the Rhine; the 135-passegner Douce France II on the Danube; and the 60-passenger Indochine II on the Mekong. The French company is coming on strong and it definitely has our attention.

In fact, Portugal’s Douro River has been experiencing growing interest of late, with Emerald Waterways also launching a new ship there this year: the 112-passenger Emerald Radiance (the Scenic-owned company is also launching the 138-guest Emerald Liberte on France’s Rhone and Saone rivers this year, hopefully also sparking renewed interest in France).

Closer to home, the American Queen Steamboat Company will be adding the 166-passenger American Duchess on the Mississippi River in June, a former gaming vessel that is being converted into an all-suite paddlewheeler with unique loft suites.

Lastly, we’ll have our eyes on developments on exotic rivers. Momentum seems to have quieted a bit on rivers such as Southeast Asia’s Mekong and on China’s Yangtze, so we’ll be watching to see how much and whether river cruise lines invest beyond Europe, including in places such as India where it’s rumored that AmaWaterways may be eyeing the possibility of a new ship in 2018.

More lines are betting on adventure cruises

A rendering of one of Crystal’s forthcoming river yachts, which will feature excursions such as “flightseeing” tours on helicopters.
They may not be evolving into all-out expedition cruises, but just like their oceangoing cousins, river cruises are being infused with a greater sense of adventure.
From more demanding activities in Europe, to more exotic destinations farther afield, it appears that river cruisers are ready to be taken a bit further out of their comfort zone.
In Europe, combining biking tours with river cruise itineraries has been gaining in popularity for several years. But now river cruise lines are taking the off-boat activities a step further and incorporating more innovative ways to see and experience the people and places that line the banks.
For example, Avalon Waterways has added a nine-day Active Discovery on the Danube cruise that will give cruisers the opportunity to bike, hike and canoe along the river. It will also include options to explore an ice cave, take an archery lesson, descend into an underground salt mine or ascend a mountain on a guided climb.
When Crystal Cruises unveils its first river cruise vessel, the Crystal Mozart, on the Danube this July, the itineraries will be chock full of adventurous extras for an added price. Standard sightseeing excursions as well as plenty of included hiking and e-biking tours will be complimentary, but those in need of a bit more of an adrenaline rush can splurge for helicopter and small-plane “flightseeing” tours or opt for river rafting experiences.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection recently expanded a partnership with Butterfield & Robinson to add several biking cruises along the Danube this year and next. Uniworld also has a kayaking excursion on the Gardon River on its Burgundy and Provence itinerary.
Similarly, AmaWaterways has a partnership for more active river cruises with hike-and-bike specialist Backroads.
For those seeking even more adventure, there continues to be more options for river cruising in exotic destinations.
For example, French river cruise company CroisiEurope this spring said it is building a river vessel that will sail the Chobe and Zambezi rivers in southern Africa in 2017. The 16-passenger boat will operate six-day cruises on the Chobe and Zambezi, which wind through and along several countries, including Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, followed by a four-day land tour that includes safaris and a day at Victoria Falls.
Pandaw River Expeditions has introduced an itinerary on the Kapuas River System in western Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo.
Pandaw River Expeditions has introduced an itinerary on the Kapuas River System in western Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo.

Pandaw River Expeditions has been continuously pushing river cruise boundaries in Southeast Asia, where earlier this year the company introduced an itinerary on the Kapuas River system in western Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo.

The seven-day Into the True Heart of Borneo expedition is being offered on the company’s 32-passenger Katha Pandaw. It will sail more than 300 miles along the upper part of the Kapuas, and will traverse the Danau Sentarum system of lakes, a national park that connects to the river.

The Borneo rain forest is home to numerous species of flowering plants and animals, including the Bornean orangutan, the Bornean elephant, the Eastern Sumatran rhinoceros, the Bornean clouded leopard and the Dayak fruit bat.

Pandaw is also building a ship for the upper Mekong River, the 28-passenger Yunnan, which is set to launch in September with a 14-night itinerary from Vientiane in Laos to Jinghong in China, a product that Pandaw introduced last year on the Laos Pandaw.