Selling river cruises should be a part of any travel agent's repertoire: not only are they an untapped goldmine, but they give you something new to sell your cruise-minded clients. River cruising is like a cheap stock that has the potential to pull a Google and soon the secret will be out and everyone will want to get onboard.
Add the fact that the Cruise Lines International Association last year signed up two river-cruise lines, Majestic America and Uniworld Grand River Cruises to its roster, and we have a bonafide hit on our hands.
With summer in Europe just around the corner, now is the perfect time to start thinking and pushing river cruises for those still in search of the perfect summer vacation. If Europe is less your clients' taste or they've already done it and are looking for something else, why not propose a river cruise in Russia or Asia? Either way, once your clients experience the intimacy (there's that word again) of a river cruise, a repeat booking is sure to ensue.
Here's a look at the various river cruise lines and a sampling of destinations visited:
Line: Amadeus Waterways
The big news from Amadeus Waterways, which operates river cruises in Europe, Russia and Egypt, is the addition of two new ships in 2009, the Amalyra in March and the Amadolce in May. This is on top of the two ships that will debut for the line this year, the Amadante and the Amacello. Reservations are now being accepted for the ships debuting in 2009 and individual bookings made by September 30 will receive a 5 percent discount.
Amadeus just released its 2009 schedule, which offers a selection of 17 vacation programs in Europe, Russia, Portugal and Egypt. Highlights include a cruise along the Moselle and Main River from Trier to Nuremberg, ending in Prague. Amadeus is also touting a new itinerary—a cruise from Budapest to Passau—before ending in Prague.
In March, Amadeus will welcome travel agents aboard Amadagio on a seven-night President's Cruise, hosted by Amadeus' president and river cruising pioneer, Rudi Schreiner, from Trier to Amsterdam. There, agents will participate in an array of seminars about European river cruising. Call 800-626-0126.
Line: Avalon Waterways
Avalon Waterways is a division of tour operator Globus and fairly new to the game, getting its start only three years ago. It will operate six ships in Europe this year, having just added Avalon Scenery. All of Avalon's riverboats have staterooms measuring at least 172 square feet (suites are larger). Another staple of guest rooms are French balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Cruises in Western Europe are along the Rhine, Moselle and Main Rivers through Holland, Belgium, France and Germany; Eastern Europe cruises along the Danube feature stops in Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Call 877-797-8791.
Line: Majestic America Line
Majestic America Line is known not for European river cruises, but rather for its operation of cruises along U.S. waterways on the Mississippi, Columbia and Snake Rivers and in Alaska. It operates six riverboats, a few of which are famous for their rear paddlewheels. Sadly, this could be the last year of operation for the Delta Queen. Congress, for the first time in 37 years, rejected Majestic America Line's request to waive the vessel from the 1966 Safety of Life at Sea Act, which restricts ships with wooden structures from carrying 50 or more passengers overnight. Call 800-434-1232.
Line: Peter Deilmann Cruises
Peter Deilmann owns and operates nine riverboats in Europe, and though historically has skewed toward a European clientele, the river cruise line has recently looked to ingratiate itself with Americans. It also operates one ocean-going vessel, the Deutschland.
From the spring through the fall of 2008, Peter Deilmann's 96-passenger MV Casanova sails the Danube River on seven-, 10- and 11-night itineraries, featuring a mix of storied cities. Travelers can opt for 10- and 11-night sailings from Passau all the way to the Black Sea. For those with a little less vacation time, three seven-night itineraries are available—one roundtrip from Munich and two that sail between Hungary's Budapest and Munich. Cruise-only fares of $1,635 to $4,080 per person include six meals daily. Call 800-348-8287.
Line: Tauck World Discovery
Tauck World Discovery looks to leverage its experience in the land-tour business to promote its river-cruising division. Its new luxury riverboat, Swiss Sapphire, debuts this spring as a sister ship to Swiss Emerald, which launched in 2006.
Tauck is adding two new itineraries this spring, "The Rhine and Moselle" (13 days, from $4,290 plus air) and "Prague to the Black Sea" (20 days, from $7,290 plus air). The former originates in Basel, Switzerland, and proceeds to Strasbourg, France, before exploring a host of villages in Germany. The Prague to the Black Sea combines two Tauck river itineraries and begins with a three-night hotel stay in Prague before passengers begin their cruise in Regensburg, Germany. The voyage highlights towns and villages in Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. Call 800-788-7885.
Line: Uniworld Grand River Cruises
Uniworld is one of two river cruise lines (Majestic America is the other) represented by CLIA. Uniworld likens its vast fleet of ships to floating boutique hotels, which ply rivers in Europe, Russia, Asia and Egypt.
Uniworld is now taking group bookings on its 2009 Europe itineraries and is offering an early-booking discount on them. Group passengers booked and deposited by June 30 will receive double the usual group discount, up to $600. Another incentive includes a complimentary tour guide earned with as few as nine guests. Call 800-733-7820.
Line: Viking River Cruises
Viking operates one of the largest fleets in Europe with 11 ships. It also has eight additional ships plying the rivers of Russia and China. Viking touts itself as the world's largest river cruise line and offers a mix of itineraries. One of its more popular is a 12-day wine cruise, which winds through some of Europe's finest wine-producing regions in France, Germany and the Czech Republic along the Moselle, Rhine and Main Rivers. The cruise operates between March and October.
In China, Viking operates a 17-day Silk Road Adventure from Shanghai to Beijing. The cruise takes passengers along China's famous trade route—Urumqi, Turpan and Kashgar. The itinerary also visits the many riverside villages that abut the Yangtze River. The cruise runs between May and October. Call 800-304-9616. —DE