Anyone who has been on a fair amount of new river cruise ships knows that the inaugural sailing isn't always the best one. From construction delays like those experienced on the American Duchess to ironing out service issues, it can take a while for a river cruise ship and its crew to come into their own.
That being said, there have been plenty of times when I have returned to a ship after a couple of sailing seasons to find that it had hit its stride, both in terms of the interiors and the staff. Both the people and the spaces on the vessel felt like they all just jelled better, real-world experience resulting in better solutions to onboard offerings and the greater confidence among the crew.
But of course, it all has to start with a maiden voyage. And that voyage is often a very exciting prospect for the passengers who book it. For many, this is a chance to be the first to see something that is brand spanking new. So, how do you manage that excitement or even try to encourage passengers to perhaps postpone it for a later sailing date?
For river cruise lines, disappointment caused by unfinished hardware or inexperienced personnel is often managed by offering onboard cruise credits, upgrades or future cruise credits depending on how unsatisfactory the experience.
Which isn't to say that inaugural sailings can't go off without a hitch. I have also attended plenty of christenings that unveiled well-polished vessels that appeared to be truly ready to roll. So is it a total gamble? Not necessarily. In Europe, where river cruise lines have been churning out a high number of river cruise ships for years, the process appears to be more hit than miss.
In more exotic locations such as Egypt and Southeast Asia, where the vessels are often chartered from local builders, a launch should definitely be taken with a grain of salt. And there are, of course, some warning signs: the ways in which previous launches proceeded as well as communication from the river cruise line leading up to the launch that could indicate that there will be some delays.
Ultimately, it's up to the customer if they want to take the risk. For my part, I am often required to be there as the veil is lifted. But honestly, I often wish I could wait.