As Americans think about traveling once again, close-to-home options are top of mind for many consumers. So, here’s a sampling of what’s new on U.S. rivers for 2021 and beyond.

The Mighty Mississippi & Heartland

Delivered in late August, the 190-passenger American Jazz is the third “modern riverboat” in American Cruise Lines’ (ACL) small-ship fleet. Sailing the Mississippi, it offers contemporary, elegant design; a multi-story glass atrium; and an art collection by New Orleans-based Greg Creason, including new oil paintings and line-commissioned sculptures. It also has the modern riverboat series’ patented opening bow and retractable gangway — allowing guests to walk easily from ship to shore. 

Interior spaces include lounges, a grand dining room, fitness center, a new Wellness-Yoga studio and more. Outside are lounges, a casual dining café and Sun Deck. All staterooms/suites have private balconies plus independent HVAC air systems (no shared ductwork); public spaces also have the latter.

Roomy standard staterooms range from 300 square feet to 350 square feet, all with sliding glass doors. Suites are up to 650 square feet, and single staterooms (available without single supplement) are 250 square feet. Really desire to cruise in style? New Grand Suites include two glass walls and a wraparound private balcony. 

American Jazz will sail on several 2021 itineraries, including Lower Mississippi (New Orleans to/from Memphis), New Orleans roundtrips and totally new for ACL’s portfolio in 2021, the seven-night “Music Cities” itinerary between Memphis and Nashville. Calls are at destinations “oozing” with musical heritage, culture and “live” music including the blues, rock ‘n roll and jazz. 

Guests also can book a two-night Graceland Signature pre-cruise package, which gives them the opportunity to enjoy daily breakfast, a complimentary shuttle to downtown destinations such as Beale Street, a private welcome reception in the Jungle Room Bar at the Graceland Exhibition Center (viewing Elvis’ artifacts/memorabilia not normally on public display), a VIP Entourage Tour of Graceland, plus a Memphis city tour.

In 2021, ACL also will offer new branded luxury motorcoaches for guest touring and transport. On “Music Cities” and “Music Theme” cruises ending in Memphis, guests can choose the new “Sun Studios Experience” in Nashville. Founded by rock pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950, this spot is where Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and others began their recording careers.

Also new next year, ACL will add pre-cruise Four Seasons Premium hotel options in several U.S. cities, including St. Louis and New Orleans; those are in addition to the complimentary one-night pre-cruise stays already available on all ACL cruises. In addition, American Melody, a sister to American Jazz, will begin service in 2021 and sail on the Mississippi River. 

The Grand Lobby on American Countess. // Photo: American Queen Steamboat Company

Also sailing the U.S. heartland is American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) whose latest vessel, the 245-passenger American Countess, will debut later this year or in 2021. Formerly the Kanesville Queen, this vessel was stripped down to the studs, rebuilt with totally new interior spaces and décor, and a new 60-foot section inserted in the middle. The result is a totally updated, elegant river vessel plying the Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio and Cumberland rivers. 

One new American Countess itinerary is the week-long “Heart of the Mississippi” sailing from Memphis to New Orleans on February 14, 2021, including a pre-cruise Memphis hotel stay on February 13. In addition to shore excursions in such ports of call including Vicksburg and Natchez, MS; St. Francisville and Baton Rouge, LA, guests can enjoy new activities. One new outing for this sailing is a private 5K/3K run with race participants who will receive a souvenir T-shirt and be welcomed at a “finish line celebration” at Nottoway Plantation, an AQSC exclusive port; all guests will be invited to that celebration. 

American Countess also sails another new itinerary, the nine-day “Lincoln’s Illinois,” along one of America’s less traveled river cruise waterways — the Illinois River. Routing is either Memphis to Chicago (Ottawa) or Chicago (Ottawa) to St. Louis (Alton, IL). During this cruise guests will explore the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln and American heartland traditions as well as visit Chester, Grafton, Havana and Peoria, all in Illinois, as well as Columbus, KY.

New AQSC shore trips in 2021 include “Stories of the Great River Road,” a premium excursion available at Nottaway, LA on select Memphis to New Orleans itineraries; guests tour Houmas House and explore the Great River Road Museum and Interpretive Center on the grounds of that plantation home. Another new excursion is “General George S. Patton: A Legacy of Leadership,” a premium excursion available in Brandenburg, KY on select Ohio River Itineraries. Guests will tour the General George Patton Museum of Leadership at Fort Knox, KY, and then visit the Boundary Oak Distillery to sample spirits, including “Patton Armored Diesel.” 

In 2022 and 2023, Viking Mississippi will sail the Mississippi. // Photo: Viking River Cruises

Separately, Viking is prepping to enter the U.S. river cruise market. In 2022 and 2023, Viking’s new Viking Mississippi will sail the Mississippi. The eight-day “New Orleans and Southern Charms” itinerary will operate  roundtrip from New Orleans (and begin with a night there). Then it’s on to Darrow, St. Francisville and Baton Rouge, LA, as well as Natchez and Vicksburg, MS. Six tours are included in the cruise fare with optional tours also available. 

Another new week-long Viking itinerary, “Heart of the Delta” will operate between New Orleans and Memphis in late 2022 (voyages now sold out) and on many 2023 dates. Five tours are included in the cruise fare. Travelers wishing to “do the whole shebang” by traveling the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN have a 15-day option, “America’s Great River,” with 11 guided tours included. Calls include Natchez and Vicksburg, MS, Memphis, TN, Hannibal and St. Louis, MO, Dubuque, IA, and La Crosse, WI, among others.

Pacific Northwest Rivers

Both ACL and AQSC offer a robust cruise line-up on the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia and Snake Rivers as do several small-ship oceangoing lines, among them UnCruise Adventures. Its newly renamed, week-long “Rivers of Adventure and Wine” itinerary operates roundtrip from Portland, OR between August and October 2021. Also renamed is the ship operating that itinerary, the 86-passenger Wilderness Legacy, the former S.S. Legacy. The new name is designed to better reflect the ship’s adventures, including hiking, kayaking, rafting, paddling and skiff activities. 

Let’s just say this isn’t your grandfather’s typical river cruise. Guests can opt to river raft down the Class II and Class III rapids of the Deschutes River. Adventure aside, though, guests also will sample local wines and culinary delicacies and visit a Walla Walla, WA, winery. Starting in 2021, the ship will have an onboard sommelier to set up onboard tastings and wine-focused enrichment. 

Another small-ship oceangoing line sailing on the Columbia and Snake rivers with several vessels is Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic. One highlight of the April 14-21, 2021 and April 21-28, 2021 cruises of the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Lion is that acclaimed professional photographer Melissa Farlow will sail and offer photo enrichment. She’s a winner of the Pulitzer Prize (as part of a Louisville Courier-Journal team) and has had her photos published in National Geographic and more than 70 books. 

One new Lindblad 2021 offering is the “Lewiston Wine Country Extension,” a two-night pre-voyage or one-night post-voyage program. A sommelier/historian will provide commentary and guests will explore a traditional Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) home, have lunch at Ampersand Oil & Vinegar Taphouse, and taste regional wines.

New on European Rivers

What’s happening on European rivers? In 2021, U by Uniworld will introduce its new “GenZ on U” family program, designed for teens and their parents. On six select sailings, teens can socialize with fellow teens at a designated onboard teen lounge; enjoy karaoke contests, foosball tournaments, rooftop camping and movie nights, trivia nights, onboard pretzel demonstrations, and bond with mom and dad during teen-friendly shore excursions. 

Sister brand, Uniworld, is partnering with Golden Eagle Luxury Trains on new cruise and rail journeys. Debuting in August 2021, these itineraries — the 12-day “Cruise & Rail: Venice & The Swiss Alps” and  the 16-day “Cruise & Rail: Milan, Venice & The Swiss Alps” — will include a voyage on the newly renovated S.S. La Venezia, the train experience, tours and all transportation. 

For the first time, AmaWaterways will sail in France’s Burgundy region in 2021. Operating between Chalon-sur-Saone and Arles, the 144-passenger AmaCello will sail a new “Essence of Burgundy & Provence” itinerary, a wine-themed journey. Guests will visit elegant chateaux and a Romanesque abbey, enjoy wine tastings, explore Roman history and head out for active, wellness and culinary activities.

Starting in May 2021, Emerald Waterways will offer a new river-ship, the recently refurbished Nizhny Novgorod, to its schedules. During the 11-day “Imperial Charms of Russia” itinerary, guests will explore villages and cities as they sail the Volga River between St. Petersburg and Moscow. Sister line Scenic will debut new 2021 itineraries with French gastronomic delights, the “Tastes of Southern France” (Rhone River) and “Flavours of Bordeaux” (Garonne River). Guests enjoy such activities as an onboard dinner prepared by Michelin-star chef Didier Goiffon and cooking class at three-star Michelin chef Georges Blanc’s restaurant. 

The lounge on U by Uniworld’s The A. // Photo: U by Uniworld

On the Lower Danube in 2022, Crystal River Cruises has maiden calls in Vidin, Bulgaria and Giurgiu, Romania on its new “Treasures of Southeast EuropeDanube River itinerary. In 2021, Avalon Waterways will offer new nine- to 16-day Danube itineraries with maiden calls at Ilok, Croatia; Golubac, Serbia; Ybbs, Austria; Constanta, Romania and Hainburg, Austria. In addition, Viking River Cruises’ “Passage to Eastern Europe” and “European Sojourn” itineraries will include a 2021 maiden call in Golubac, Serbia, where guests will be treated to a Golubac Fortress tour.

On the onboard product side, in 2021, Riviera River Cruises will introduce “Riviera Plus” benefits to guests in deluxe and superior suites and all upper-deck cabins. Perks include a chilled Prosecco bottle; L’Occitane en Provence toiletries; fresh fruit platter; an appertif each evening; and smart handset use (onboard/ashore) with maps, translator, currency converter, unlimited calls, texting and Internet. 

New on Exotic Rivers

Among many new exotic river options, Pandaw will debut a new seven-night "Brahmaputra Expedition” itinerary in northern India, starting in October 2021. 

Operating a roundtrip from Guwahati, the 36-passenger Kindit Pandaw will ply the Brahmaputra River within a region of UNESCO protected national parks and rural communities. In Southeast Asia, Viking will launch a new ship, the 80-passenger Viking Saigon, for its “Magnificent Mekong” cruisetour. Starting on August 30, 2021, the vessel will operate between Kampong Cham, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Across the globe, Aqua Expeditions’ new 40-passenger Aqua Nera is heading to its new home port of Iquitos, Peru. In 2021, it will operate three-, four- and seven-night eco-adventures in the Peruvian Amazon. Sailing on Egypt’s Nile River in 2021 will be AmaWaterways’ new 68-passenger AmaDahlia. An 11-night “Secrets of Egypt & the Nile” itinerary will include land experiences in Cairo and a seven-night river cruise roundtrip from Luxor.

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