Uniworld’s S.S. Maria Theresa will be a virtual twin of the S.S. Catherine, seen here at Tain-l’Hermitage, France.
From the Danube to the Seine, from the Rhone/Saone to the Elbe and the Rhine, Europe’s waterways beckon past tour clients and ocean cruisers—not to mention repeat river cruisers—eager for a hassle-free, intimate floating vacation. Looking at the new class of 2015 river vessels in Europe, what new ships do agents have to promote and what’s the appeal?
Each new ship is an exciting opportunity to introduce the unique concept of river cruising to travelers, especially in Europe, says Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel/American Express Travel Representative. “While the inventory continues to increase dramatically, we remain very bullish about the demand for such an exceptional product,” Koepf says, adding that his independent affiliates “have had tremendous success selling river cruises, and we expect that those numbers will continue to increase.”
Here’s a sample of the new vessels expected to sail European rivers in 2015. Many are sister ships to very popular vessels already sailing on the continent. For example, Uniworld will launch the new S.S. Maria Theresa, a sister to the S.S. Antoinette and S.S. Catherine, in spring.
Sailing the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, the 155-passenger S.S. Maria Theresa will operate “Tulips & Windmills” and “European Jewels” itineraries, plus two holiday itineraries —“Danube Holiday Markets” and “Enchanting Christmas and New Year’s Cruise.” Onboard, clients will relax in a main lounge with full-service bar, as well as the line’s signature Leopard Bar with the appropriate jungle decor. Other spaces will include an elegant restaurant, terrace, Sun Deck with chess and shuffleboard, heated swimming pool, fitness center, Serenity River Spa, a boutique, guest laundry, a 24-hour specialty coffee and tea bar and more.
Clients who book on the Main and Upper decks can spread out in French balcony accommodations. Whatever room or suite is chosen, they’ll sleep in hand-crafted Savoir of England beds. Marble bathrooms will have L’Occitane en Provence products, plush towels, a towel warmer, bathrobes and slippers. Suite guests enjoy butler service and free in-suite well-being treatment.
Two other new vessels, the 164-passenger AmaVista and AmaSerena, will join the AmaWaterways fleet in 2015 and sail on the Danube, Rhine and Main rivers. They’re sister ships to AmaPrima and AmaCerto, both cited by Douglas Ward, author of the new Berlitz River Cruising in Europe guidebook, as offering one of his top three favorite river cruise experiences worldwide. In addition, AmaPrima is the top-rated river ship in the entire guidebook, with a score of 422 out of a possible 500. Why does Ward like these vessels? “Because the food is outstanding, and features an abundance of local ingredients and fresh fish,” he says, also noting that the vessels have a heated outdoor pool with swim-up bar.
The new sister vessels will also sail the Danube in 2015. Suites are 300 square feet and staterooms range from 210 to 235 square feet; many feature the line’s signature “twin balcony concept,” consisting of a regular French balcony with a second full-size step-out balcony.
“I am most interested in AmaSerena,” says Michael Sinn, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Las Vegas, NV. “I am getting more calls for this brand. I also have interest in Uniworld’s S.S. Maria Theresa.” Sinn says the service level is what sells both brands and creates such interest for the new vessels.
Other agents cite new ships launching for such brands as Tauck, which will add Esprit to its European river fleet in spring 2015, sailing on the Rhine, Danube and Main rivers. Like other Jewel-class ships, it will carry a maximum of 130 passengers.
Esprit will help Tauck gain much-needed capacity—it and two new Inspiration-class vessels will mean a 70 percent capacity jump in just a year.
Scenic Cruises launches Scenic Jasper and Scenic Opal in April 2015. These 169-passenger vessels are the latest generation of what Scenic terms “Space Ships.” They’ll sail the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers and their tributaries. This is a luxury product, so all guests will have private butler service. Suites are 24 percent larger than cabins on other lines’ ships, according to the line. The majority of staterooms will have Scenic Sun Lounges—balconies that can be enclosed to become a solarium.
New ships often have new razzle-dazzle features. Such is the case with Scenic Jasper and Scenic Opal. Clients will likely “ooh” and “aah” at the Sun Deck’s split pool, consisting of both a warm-water pool and a separate swim-against-the-current pool. A redesigned lounge and a restaurant has windows that can be opened in good weather.
Scenic’s sister brand, Emerald Waterways, is sailing its first European season this year with Emerald Sky and Emerald Star. In spring 2015, Emerald will add two more 182-passenger sister ships, Emerald Sun and Emerald Dawn. They’ll sail on the Rhine, Main and Danube. Avalon Waterways is also adding two more of its popular 128-passenger Suite Ships, Avalon Tranquility II and Tapestry II, to its fleet in 2015. Avalon Tranquility II will sail on the Rhine and offer both week-long voyages and a two-week option that also pairs up with another Avalon ship on the Rhone/Saone. Avalon Tapestry II will sail eight-day “Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches” on the Seine and 16-day “Grand France” itinerary that also includes the Rhone/Saone.
These new vessels will have a similar design to what’s on Avalon Panorama or Avalon Visionary. That includes two full decks of the line’s signature Panorama Suites, with a configuration that includes a slanted wall that maximizes space in both the bathroom and the living space.
What’s really unusual, though, is the suite’s open-air balcony—essentially an 11-foot wall of glass panels; they slide aside to reveal seven feet of open-air space, akin to an outside balcony, but without taking that space away from the interior of the suite. Spaces for guests include a fitness center, hair salon, Sky Deck with shade system, whirlpool and the Sky Bistro, which has proven popular with the line’s guests; it serves light al fresco lunches and grilled dishes.
For a vessel that’s new and yet unusual, CroisiEurope will introduce a new river concept on the Loire, France’s longest river. The region is home to many UNESCO World Heritage sites; among them are Nantes, Saint-Nazaire and castles of the Loire Valley.
CroisiEurope’s new 96-passenger Loire Princesse is a paddlewheeler with a very low draft. It’s the first time a cruise vessel with cabins has ever cruised along the Loire. This new three-deck vessel will operate six- to eight-day cruises. Upper Deck cabins have balconies and accommodations have the latest technology, including Wi-Fi, individually controlled air conditioning/heating and a plasma screen TV. The restaurant will accommodate guests for single-seating dining, and guests can enjoy a lounge bar with dance floor.
Another European river operator, Lüftner Cruises, will launch the Amadeus Silver II next April, increasing the line’s European fleet to 12. It’s the next version of the Amadeus Silver that launched last year. Popular areas such as its Cafe Vienna and outdoor glass-shielded River Terrace will be incorporated into the new river boat. Originally, the design had 90 staterooms, but that’s been reduced for this ship to 84 to create more space for larger cabins and public areas. Cabin bathrooms will offer more space and special luxury furnishings.
The most prolific new-ship operator, Viking River Cruises, has ordered 12 new vessels for 2015, including 10 additional Longships and two other smaller boats designed to sail on Germany’s Elbe River. Viking is building at a fast pace; its fleet will total 64 river vessels in 2015. The Longships have a patented corridor design, an all-weather indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace and green upgrades—such as solar panels and organic herb gardens. Energy-efficient hybrid engines also reduce vibrations for a smoother ride.
Upscale guests can book one of two Explorer Suites, the largest on Europe’s rivers. Or, they might select from seven two-room Veranda suites with a full-size veranda in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom, 39 Veranda staterooms with full-size verandas and 22 French balcony staterooms.
Viking says the new Longships will sail its most popular itineraries in Europe, while the two Elbe River vessels will operate the only river itinerary to sail through eastern Germany, with stops in Magdeburg, Wittenberg and Dresden.
The Panorama Suite is Avalon’s signature accommodation, seen here on the Avalon Visionary.