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On Your Clients' Holiday List: River Cruises with a Theme

December 1, 2014 By: Susan Young


In addition to scenic beauty -- Durnstein, Austria, is shown above -- those booking a themed cruise enjoy specialty perks related to music, beer, golf, wellness or other interests. // Photo by Susan J. Young

As clients are starting to buy holiday presents for family and friends, it's a great time to suggest a themed river cruise that the entire family or a group of like-minded friends can enjoy together. River cruises are more intimate than big ocean ships, plus they sail into the heart of a country. 

For 2015, the river lines have ramped up their offerings of themed cruises – everything from beer to jazz, tulips to history.

Themes to Entice

Golf, Anyone?: Departing July 17, 2015, Avalon Waterways offers an “Austrian Highlights and Bavaria River Cruise,” which operates from Vienna to Munich with golf as the special theming. River cruisers will tour such destinations as Vienna, Melk, Durnstein and Grein and visit such sites as Germany's impressive Neuschwanstein and Linderhof castles. What's different on this cruise date from the normal itinerary? A local golf expert will join guests onboard and arrange tee times at three courses along the river route. Roundtrip transportation to the golf courses is included. Greens’ fees, carts, caddies, and equipment are extra. 

Shake, Rattle and Roll: Cruisers can enjoy the memories and music of Elvis Presley in a themed Elvis sailing on American Queen Steamboat Company on December 5 from Memphis to New Orleans. Passengers will enjoy tribute artist performances; appearances and stories about Elvis by movie co-stars Marlyn Mason and Chris Noel as well as Elvis’ personal bodyguard and friend Sam Thompson; Elvis movies in the Grand Saloon; and trivia contests with prizes and other perks.

Delving into American History: American Cruise Lines has many specialized cruises focused on the Civil War on multiple dates in 2015, including those focused on the war’s “Western Theater.” Voyages depart roundtrip from New Orleans or from New Orleans to Memphis and reverse. Dates in 2015 are February 28, March 7, April 4, April 25, June 6, July 11 and July 18. 

Guests will mix and mingle with Civil War experts and guest speakers, enjoy guided excursions of Vicksburg’s battlefield, tour with Civil War expert John Darnell at the Helena Museum, visit the Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, LA, and tour the Civil War exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge, LA.

Family Fun: Families seeking quality time together can consider the eight-day “Castles on the Rhine: Family Riverboat Adventure” from Basel to Amsterdam aboard Tauck’s new InspireFamilies will venture outside Basel, Switzerland, to travel on the world’s steepest cogwheel train to the 7,000-foot summit of Mt. Pilatus in the Swiss Alps.

Cruising along the Rhine, they'll visit sites in France, Germany and The Netherlands, plus the line has many family-friendly activities planned, including fondue and chocolate tastings, a French cooking demonstration, a riverside cycling adventure, and a canal boat cruise and visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

Jazzing it Up: AmaWaterways introduces its first jazz-themed cruise on AmaLyra, departing from the U.S. on September 19, with the ship setting sail on September 22, 2015. Conducted in partnership with Jazzdagen Tours, this seven-night cruise along the Danube will feature exclusive jazz performances onboard. Ashore, guests will take walking tours and enjoy music-themed sightseeing or other options at such ports as Vienna and Durnstein. 

The Hills are Alive: Singer Elisabeth von Trapp, granddaughter of Maria and Baron von Trapp, whose story inspired "The Sound of Music," is teaming with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises for several themed cruises to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film. Von Trapp will host the line's July 26 and August 2, 2015, “Enchanting Danube” departures. She'll greet guests with a welcome reception and perform at a concert and “Evening Sing-Along” onboard. 

Alternatively, select May through September “Enchanting Danube” departures will feature an onshore concert at the Mirabell Palace Chapel in Salzburg, Austria, where the “Do-Re-Mi” scene was filmed in the gardens. For those with more time to travel, a private onboard performance by Von Trapp will occur on select “Danube Discovery & Prague,” “Delightful Danube & Prague,” “Grand European Discovery,” and “Grand European Explorer” sailings.

Enhanced Lewis & Clark: Typically, Columbia and Snake River cruises delve sizably into the heritage of 19th century American explorers Merrwether Lewis & William Clark. That said, certain dates for Un-Cruise Adventures’ river cruises in the Pacific Northwest region will have “enhanced” activities focused on the duo and their legacy. For example, historican Todd Webber, a Lewis & Clark expert, will sail on May 16, May 23, October 31 and November 7 voyages.

Families might consider a Christmas Markets themed cruise for 2015. // Photo by Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.

Holiday Family Traditions: The holidays are a theme unto themselves. Many vessels transport guests to the Christmas Markets of Europe during late November and December. River cruisers will stroll through historic marketplaces of stalls offering freshly baked pretzels, Bavarian treats, local brews, gluhwein and a cornucopia of gift items -- everything from handicrafts to woolen goods, from local products to holiday ornaments and decorative items.

Most European lines, including Viking River Cruises, A-RosaScenic CruisesEmerald Cruises, Amadeus Waterways and many others (including others mentioned elsewhere in this story) take guests into the heart of Europe for Christmas Markets cruises. 

Theming in a Different Way

Not every cruise is traditionally "themed." Yet, in some cases, voyages may exude a theme all their own. Here are a few of those types of voyages if agents look beneath the surface. 

A Focus on Wellness: While onboard a Haimark cruise in Asia, guests have the opportunity to embark on a personal wellness journey as the line has fitness centers on every ship, plus some ships also offer sunrise yoga or Thai Chi on the Sun Deck. In addition, the line features holistic therapies in the spa. Select Haimark sailings also offer spa menus, cooking classes, and health seminars to help guests continue healthy lifestyles upon their return home.

Coastal Exploration: Sometimes it’s a themed cruise all unto itself when a river vessel sails on what's often considered an ocean itinerary. In Europe this winter, that's the case with CroisiEurope’s new eight-day coastal cruise  between Athens and Istanbul, offered on multiple dates through March 2015. Guests visit the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian at Patmos, Greece; ancient Greek and Roman ruins at Ephesus and Pergamon, Turkey; and tours of such sites as Istanbul’s Galata Tower, Grand Bazaar and Spice Market.

Off-the-Beaten Path: Sometimes an itinerary that appeals to experienced river cruisers seeking the absolute most exotic offering out there becomes a themed cruise unto itself. That's the case with Pandaw River Expeditions' new "River Expedition in Northern Vietnam" sailings, going where no other line goes. For the first time travelers will visit sites in Northern Vietnam (including Halong Bay, Hanoi and many remote villages in the Vietnam interior and Highlands) as the Angkor Pandaw traverses the Red River delta and its main tributaries. The ship will sail up the Song Red River as far as possible and then down the little-known Da or Black River

So with the advent of December, it's a good time to check out the database. Who knows what Santa might have in store for family and friends?  


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About the Author

Susan Young
A veteran of 100-plus cruises, Susan J. Young, is senior contributing editor for cruises – covering ocean, river and niche cruises for Travel Agent and

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By Susan Young | December 1, 2014
It's that time of year. Agents interested in selling more before year's end should consider pitching a themed cruise to clients as a holiday gift to give the family or a group of close friends with a hobby or special interest. Here are a few ideas...