Making a run at the cost-conscious consumer

At a time when other river cruise lines are scaling back on growth, French river cruise company CroisiEurope this week announced it will launch seven new river cruise vessels this year and next.

Granted not all seven are full-size European river cruise ships — two are 22-passenger canal barges, and one is launching on the Mekong — but still, seven ships is worth noting, especially for a company many of us here in the U.S. didn’t know much, if anything, about as recently as a couple years ago.

By the time these seven vessels are launched, CroisiEurope will have 46 company-owned vessels in its fleet. In 2014, the company carried some 200,000 cruise passengers (compared to the approximately 250,000 passengers carried by Viking River Cruises), although only about 8,000 to 9,000 of those hailed from the U.S. But CroisiEurope is growing its U.S customer base, and quickly.

So, what’s the deal with Croisi? Well, the company saw an opening at the lower end of the river cruise market and it is clearly going after it. For a long time, river cruising has grappled with a reputation of being a bit pricey. Travel agents would lament that while they wanted to sell more river cruises, especially since the very inclusive vacation style generally offers lofty commissions, not all of their clients could afford it.

Therein lies the opportunity for CroisiEurope, which after 40 years of building river cruise ships in Europe, is banking on its home-turf shipbuilding ties and a more pared down version of river cruising to bring lower prices to market. And while CroisiEurope’s older vessels do not compete with the sleek newbuilds being churned out by U.S.-facing river cruise lines such as Viking, AmaWaterways, Avalon, Uniworld and all the rest, the company has upped its ship design game and its newest batch of river cruise ships is focused on chicer interiors and enhanced amenities.

Another line going after this segment with arguably even chicer ships is Emerald Waterways, the lower-priced sister brand to Scenic. And it is having a good deal of success too. Having only launched in 2014, Emerald is on pace to have seven river cruise ships in Europe by 2017 (its fifth vessel, the 182-passenger Emerald Belle, was slated to launch this spring, but has been set back by a fire in the shipyard).

As river cruising piques more travelers’ interests, and the travel style opens up to a wider audience, there is clearly going to be more demand for and thus greater opportunity to provide a more accessible river cruising experience.

Emerald Waterways to build fifth vessel

Emerald Waterways will construct a fifth river cruise ship, the 182-passenger Emerald Belle, for 2016.

The new vessel is currently under construction in the Netherlands with an expected launch in early 2016. Its debut will come on the heels of the 2015 launch of its 182-passenger Emerald Dawn and Emerald Sun.

Emerald Waterways is one of the newer lines to have come onto the river cruise scene, having been launched by Australian company Scenic Tours as a four-star, all-inclusive river cruise operator in 2014.

Like the four ships before it, the Emerald Belle will be part of Emerald’s Star Ships class of vessels and will be built in the same configuration as its four sister vessels, although the company stated that it is still deciding on possible new innovations and enhancements.

All of the Star Ships house 72 suites and 20 staterooms, including two cabins built for solo occupancy. Staterooms will feature a floor-to-ceiling panoramic window that with a push of a button drops down to create a French balcony.

Emerald Belle will feature a heated swimming pool with a retractable glass roof that transforms into a movie theater in the evening; and two restaurants — Reflections, the main dining room, and The Terrace for breakfast and lunch.

Emerald ships also feature an onboard hairdresser, massage therapy room and fitness area.

Emerald Waterways has not yet said where the Emerald Belle will sail.