River cruises offering more personalized, experiential excursions

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European Waterways features a private tour of the French military stables of the Chateau de Fontainebleau.
European Waterways features a private tour of the French military stables of the Chateau de Fontainebleau.

As a more diverse and increasingly luxury-focused group of travelers turns to river cruising, demand is growing for more customizable and private excursions that go beyond the traditional group tours.

European Waterways, which operates luxury barges, says demand for experiential excursions is at an all-time high, prompting it to expand its 2019 offerings to include an assortment of guided tours led by local dignitaries such as counts, baronesses, even members of the French military.

Among the new additions in France is a private tour of the French military stables of the Chateau de Fontainebleau, a 1,500-room architectural marvel that was the opulent "country house" for French monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon III.

Other options: a stroll around the Chateau de Commarin, accompanied by Count Bertrand de Vogue, the 26th generation of the de Vogue family, which has maintained continuous residence there since the 13th century, or a champagne tasting and gastronomic lunch with the Baroness at the historic Chateau de Ricey-Bas, a stately home in Les Riceys.

The line's classic Italy cruise features a unique dining experience at Villa Ca'Zen in the heart of the Po Valley, where Lord Byron wrote some of his most celebrated works while on a romantic retreat.

Other river cruise operators have been responding as well to demand, particularly among luxury travelers, for options beyond the traditional microphone-in-the-ear group motor coach tour.

Last year, for instance, Crystal River Cruises introduced options for its guests to customize their outings or join smaller groups on more intimate excursions.

Cruise lines are also offering more experiential-based sailings, from those for wine enthusiasts and serious bicyclists to golf-based itineraries.

The change is also evident in the everyday offerings of river cruise lines. Uniworld, for instance, on sailings between Bucharest and Budapest, takes groups of no more than 10 to lunch in a village with families in homes they had to abandon for more than seven years during the brutal Balkans war in the 1990's.

Walter Littlejohn, vice president and managing director of Crystal River Cruises, says more personalized cruises and experiences are a trend that is only expected to grow as river cruise lines put more effort into differentiating themselves from one another.

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