Over the last couple of years, river cruise operators have been gradually repositioning more ships to serve itineraries on southern France’s Rhone and Saone rivers, or bringing vessels to northern France on the Seine.
The lift hasn’t been dramatic compared to the explosive growth on rivers like the Danube and Main, but France has seen a steady increase in passengers and capacity, which is continuing into 2013.
For the 2012 sailing season, Ama Waterways upgraded its product and added capacity in the south of France, replacing the 122-passenger Swiss Pearl, built in 1993, with the 150-passenger Amadagio, built in 2006. In 2013, Ama will move the 150-passenger Amalegro from the Danube to the Seine for a new, seven-night itinerary between Paris and Normandy, as well as for a 14-night itinerary that combines the Paris and Normandy cruise with a seven-night Rhone and Saone cruise.
Consequently, Ama will have 43.6% more capacity in France in 2013 compared with 2012.
Scenic Cruises, too, is repositioning its 169-passenger Scenic Emerald ship to France for the 2013 season. Scenic has been chartering the 144-passenger Symphony, built in 2003, for its river cruise program in France, which it will continue with through the end of the 2012 season. The Scenic Emerald launched in 2008 and has been sailing the Main and Danube rivers.
Starting next April, the Scenic Emerald will sail several itineraries throughout France, including the 11- and 14-day Paris to Nice & France itineraries; a 14-day South of France itinerary; and a 15-day Rhine and Rhone cruise.
Avalon Waterways already has two ships in France: the 140-passenger Avalon Creativity in northern France and the 138-passenger Avalon Scenery in southern France. And while the company isn’t adding capacity in 2012 or 2013, Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon, said that load factors in France are on the rise. He expects to end the year with load factors just above 90%, and a further increase in load factors is anticipated in 2013.
Additionally, Tauck’s river inventory in France more than doubled this year after the company operated a partial season on the Rhone River last year when it deployed the 118-passenger Swiss Emerald there in August. In 2012, it is running river cruises in France for a full sailing season, and demand has been strong in France, according to a Tauck representative.