Preview 2020: River cruise

Next year promises to be another year of growth for the river cruise industry, with more new ships, new destinations and new activities.

From Europe's rivers to the Nile, Mississippi, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Amazon, operators will be launching new itineraries and new boats to supplement and replace older vessels.

And as the fleets grow, particularly in Europe, operators continue to expand beyond the traditional routes that visit major cities such as Amsterdam, Vienna and Budapest, with more ships venturing into Portugal, south on the Danube through Eastern Europe and off the Rhine onto the Moselle.

Avalon Waterways managing director Pam Hoffee said the moves arise from an evolution and maturation of the industry as return cruisers seek new destinations.

The lower Danube sailings, which travel south from Budapest through the countries of Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, are drawing more ships each year. Still, Hoffee said, "we don't seem to be able to keep up with demand there."

She added, "We are also seeing good demand on the Moselle, which is probably still unknown to some extent. It's another one that's not for your first-time river cruisers."

Crystal Cruises was among the first to branch out onto that river in 2019, with five new ports of call, including several in Germany: the Mosel wine region in Bern-kastel-Kues, the medieval charm and Roman ruins of Trier and the stunning architecture of Reichsburg Castle in Cochem.

AmaWaterways was among others who added sailings there, and company co-founder Kristin Karst said the one new ship it will launch in 2020, the AmaSienna, will operate mostly on the Rhine and the Moselle. "The Moselle is an area that has a lot of very charming, colorful villages that have not been so much on the radar in the past," she said.
Among the hottest tickets for 2020 are sailings that include the Passion Play produced every 10 years in Oberammergau.

The industry will also see continued growth on Portugal's Douro, where Tauck will launch its first new ship in four years, the Andhorina.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is also launching a new ship on the Douro as well as two new ones to replace older ships on the Mekong and the Nile. And it is refurbishing its River Countess, based in Venice. The new ships, the company said, will be in line with the "best of Uniworld's custom-built Super Ships in Europe, reinforcing the brand's commitment to having the most luxurious cruise fleet on the world's rivers."

Amadeus and Avalon will each add one ship to its European fleet in 2020, while Viking will add six, including two Longships on the Rhine, Main and Danube and four ships on the Seine.

Viking joins others in expanding to the Nile, with the launch of its second ship there, the Viking Osiris.

Tauck will launch its first ship in four years on the Douro River, the Andorinha.
Tauck will launch its first ship in four years on the Douro River, the Andorinha.

"The exotics are absolutely on fire," said Uniworld CEO Ellen Bettridge. "Egypt is absolutely our best performer across the entire fleet. It's really interesting to see people go after these exotics in a way that we have never seen before."

Also in 2020, Bettridge said, Uniworld will offer its first cruises on the Amazon on one of Aqua Expeditions' luxury ships, the Aria Amazon. Meantime, Aqua Expeditions plans to launch a second luxury ship there in August, the Aqua Nera, which it says will be the most state-of-the-art ship to sail the Amazon.

And in China, Victoria Cruise Lines in spring will launch the six-deck, 287-cabin Victoria Sabrina, which it says will be the largest river ship in the world.

Domestically, American Queen Steamboat Co. and American Cruise Lines will continue to roll out ships. In April, American Queen will christen its fourth paddlewheeler, the American Countess, while American Cruise Lines expects to double from two to four its fleet of modern, European-style ships with the launch of the American Jazz and the American Melody.

Travel advisor and river cruise specialist Peter Larson said the move "away from the nostalgic paddlewheeler and more toward contemporary designs  will help pick up sales in the USA markets."

Correction: American Queen Steamboat Co.'s fourth paddlewheeler will be the American Countess, not the American Duchess as noted in an earlier version of this article. The American Duchess is already active in American Queen's fleet.

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