River cruises trend toward family design, accessibility, fitness

Adventures by Disney river itineraries will offer biking in every port.
Adventures by Disney river itineraries will offer biking in every port.

Each year, the river cruising marketplace continues to expand its reach as river cruise lines innovate and tweak the product to appeal to an ever-widening demographic. And 2016 is no exception.

From AmaWaterways partnering with Adventures by Disney to create a more family-friendly river cruising experience, to G Adventures taking a stab at introducing 20- and 30-somethings to the river cruising phenomenon, next year will see a host of new attempts to please a wider swath of river cruise passengers both on and off the ships.  

AmaWaterways' partnerships with Adventures by Disney inspired one of the biggest hardware developments for 2016: the creation of connecting cabins, which AmaWaterways will be incorporating on both the AmaViola, the vessel that will be used for Adventures by Disney sailings, and the AmaStella.

The 158-passenger sister ships, which are both scheduled to launch next year, will have 12 staterooms that can accommodate up to three family members each; six sets of adjoining cabins that can be connected via an internal doorway, accommodating families of up to five; and four suites with convertible sofa beds that can accommodate families of up to four.

While courting families isn't anything new for river cruising, actually designing a ship around the needs of families is. And it will be interesting to see if the loss of prime cabin real estate to create the adjoining rooms will resonate with families who are traveling together and thus will be a feature other river cruise lines implement further down the line.

Another 2016 development to keep an eye on will be G Adventures' more ambitious play in the river cruise market. G Adventures caters to a notably younger and much less affluent traveler than the core river cruising demographic. And next year it will be chartering vessels on the Mekong and Ganges rivers as well as a Burgundy canal barge, in addition to offering its existing Peruvian Amazon itineraries. Its stated goal is to introduce river cruising to a segment of the market that really hasn't had access until now.

It is likely that the river cruise market will continue to see attempts such as this to create lower-priced, more accessible products to counterbalance the high-priced product that has defined the marketplace until now. For example, Emerald Waterways, the four-star, all-inclusive river cruise line that was launched by Australian parent company Scenic last year, is on schedule to construct a fifth river vessel, the 182-passenger Emerald Belle, in 2016.

Like the four ships before it, the Emerald Belle will be part of Emerald's Star Ships class of vessels and will have some of the same fun features, such as a heated swimming pool with a retractable glass roof that transforms into a movie theater in the evening, and two restaurants: Reflections, the main dining room, and the Terrace for breakfast and lunch.

Finally, more and better fitness options on the rivers will continue in 2016 as river cruise lines anticipate welcoming younger, more health-conscious passengers. Uniworld, Scenic and Avalon have all created more active excursion options, and AmaWaterways partnered with Backroads for 2016 to create 20 cycling-themed river cruises along the Danube.

Next year, Uniworld will also offer complimentary yoga classes and TRX training onboard.


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