Despite the challenging economic climate, the river cruise segment continues to show signs of growth. Several river cruise companies have plans to introduce new ships in the coming year, while others are investing in their existing ships with renovations and updates.
Here is a roundup of what's new in the market for 2010 and beyond.
Avalon continues on newbuild path
Avalon Waterways, owned by the Littleton, Colo.-based Globus family of brands, will continue adding ships to its young fleet of leased ships into 2010.
This spring, Avalon plans on launching two new, 138-passenger ships, the Avalon Felicity and Avalon Luminary. The vessels will be virtually identical to sister ships Avalon Scenery and Avalon Creativity, which launched this year.
As with their sister ships, the Felicity and Luminary will be built with sky grills (a new feature on Avalon ships), an alternative lunch dining option on the outdoor roof area of the ship that can accommodate up to 40 passengers. They will both also feature elevators, which not all river cruise ships have.
The ships will both feature 65 staterooms (172 square feet each) and four junior suites (258 square feet each).
Avalon is not letting any of its existing leases lapse in 2010, so the Felicity and Luminary will bring the company's total fleet size to 10.
On deck: one additional ship in 2011 and two more in 2012. No specifics on those ships have been released, nor has Avalon said if it will let go of some of its older vessels.
AMA keeps pace
Next year, Chatsworth, Calif.-based AMA Waterways will launch the Amabella, a newbuild, which will bring the company's fleet size to 11.
The Amabella will be the seventh ship that AMA owns, in addition to the four ships it leases. The company also plans to launch another ship in Europe in 2011, though no further details have been confirmed about that vessel.
Last month, AMA Waterways offered Southeast Asia's Mekong River for the first time with the launch of the 92-passenger La Marguerite, built by Indochina Sails of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and being leased by AMA. The company is tentatively looking to expand its Mekong River program with a second ship in 2011.
After renovating and launching the River Beatrice in Europe this year as well as introducing its first newbuild in Egypt, the 42-suite River Tosca, Uniworld River Cruises does not have any newbuilds launching in 2010, but it is planning on touching up some of its existing vessels.
Of the notable projects for the coming year, Los Angeles-based Uniworld is adding French balconies to the River Countess and River Duchess ships; refurbishing staterooms on the River Empress; refurbishing all the public areas on the River Baroness; and refurbishing the public areas and cabins on the River Queen, according to Uniworld President Guy Young.
Viking vessels set for overhaul
At Los Angeles-based Viking River Cruises, the emphasis will be on further renovation of its Russia vessels. According to the company, the Viking Pakhomov in Russia will undergo a total renovation, similar to the overhaul of the Viking Surkov and Viking Kirov, which will result in larger staterooms with hotel-style beds, among other updates. The Viking Lomonosov, too, will undergo an interior refurbishment, and both are slated for completion in 2011.
Tauck adds itineraries
Tauck World Discovery launched its third vessel in three years, the Swiss Jewel, in April.
The Norwalk, Conn.-based tour operator has no plans for additional new ships in 2010, but it does plan on adding two Europe itineraries next year: the 12-day Strasbourg to Prague Serenade (sailing from France to the Czech Republic) and the 19-day Romance of the Rhine and Danube (sailing from France to Hungary), bringing its portfolio of Continental river cruise itineraries to nine.
All three Tauck ships -- the Swiss Jewel, Swiss Sapphire and Swiss Emerald -- accommodate just 118 passengers (about 15% to 20% less than other ships of the same size) and are leased.
This article has been edited to reflect the correct number of passengers for Tauck's ships.