Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

Insight

When Scenic Tours announced last week that it was launching a new river cruise line, Emerald Waterways, the lower-priced alternative to its existing river cruise brand, Scenic Cruises, it signaled another river cruise industry first.

For the first time, one company will own two separate river cruise brands with two different target markets, two different sets of amenities and two different price points. It’s a move that is actually reminiscent (albeit on a much smaller scale) of the ocean cruising conglomerates like Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp. that own multiple blue-water brands, each with a different target audience.

MichelleBaranSimilar to the ocean cruising market, the river cruise market is seeing a pull in two different directions. On the one hand, the product is being pushed more toward the luxury end of the scale with new ships emphasizing more suites, more upscale dining options and greater inclusivity.

But what Scenic Tours’ owner Glen Moroney noticed was that there is also a need to develop the four-star river cruise market. The resulting hardware appears to be an attempt to court younger travelers, too.

The two newbuilds, the 182-passenger Emerald Star and the 182-passenger Emerald Sky, that together will officially launch Emerald Waterways when they set sail on April 15 are being outfitted with a heated swimming pool in an area with a retractable roof, which will be transformed into a movie theater in the evening. That alone signals a more playful approach to European river cruising, an industry that has steered away from pools or Jacuzzis of late, mostly because the current clientele simply doesn’t use them.

River cruising has often been referred to as a floating hotel model. The ships amble along Europe’s inland waterways from one destination to the next providing comfortable beds and convenient dining in between sightseeing of both blockbuster and more low-key cities and towns along the way.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Scenic has chosen to make its product less inclusive and more affordable, more like a true floating hotel rather than a fully inclusive, hand-holding vacation product.

Whereas Scenic Cruises offers more excursion options, Emerald Waterways will have fewer. Emerald ships will have just two restaurant options while Scenic ships have five.

And it’s true that retailers often bemoan the prohibitive pricing of river cruises. Will lower pricing make the product easier to sell to a certain segment of the traveling public? An eight-day cruise along the Danube, Rhine and Moselle rivers on Emerald Waterways will start at $2,230 per person, compared to an eight-day sailing through the Netherlands on Scenic Cruises that starts at $2,735 per person (or 22% more than the Emerald Waterways cruise).  

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