|Viking River Cruises has had good success with its alfresco Aquavit Terrace.|
In this, the conclusion of a two-part story begun in our January 14, 2013, issue, Travel Agent focuses on the kinds of experiences travelers are looking for on the continent’s waterways.
European river cruise bookings for 2013 look strong, according to Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.. “It’s even stronger than this time last year, when consumers really started showing an interest in this category of travel,” he says.
What’s particularly hot this year? Wall tells Travel Agent: “Our franchisees and agents are seeing more demand for unique itineraries as well as continued requests for themed river sailings—focusing on topics like food, wine and culture—and creative curriculum with opportunities for destination-based local immersion.”
More Emphasis on Wine and Cuisine: Dining in general onboard river ships is amazingly different than in the past, when all meals were typically a mass-market type buffet or table service with basic cuisine. Now bountiful buffets—with greatly elevated variety and quality—are offered typically for breakfast and lunch, with a full-service dinner that may rival the best of any land-based hotel in Europe.
Clients can savor regional specialties, chef specials, carved meats or fresh seafood, freshly baked breads, made-to-order pastas or omelets and yummy pastries and desserts. Fine wines and specialty beers are served, and often included in the cruise fare.
Evening meals are a la carte dining with candlelight, white tablecloths, open seating, pouring of fine wines—a decidedly upscale, yet comfortable experience. New for 2013, guests staying within accommodations on Scenic Cruises ships’ Danube Deck may enjoy a six-course degustation menu at the exclusive Table la Rive, paired with regional wines.
New alternative dining venues are also surfacing onboard, a trend that will likely continue as more new ships launch. Viking River Cruises has had good success with its alfresco Aquavit Terrace, while AmaWaterways’ Erlebnis on AmaCerto is an aft alternative venue with stern views and a glass-enclosed chef’s kitchen.
Wine and culinary themed river cruises feature regional vintners and specialty chefs. During these themed cruises, guests often dine ashore for lunch at a fine restaurant, or visit vineyards for events and tastings. Onboard, cruisers enjoy demonstrations and are served regional specialties.
For example, Tauck’s May 1, June 2 and Sept. 2 “Taste of France” seven-night cruises focus on French cuisine and village life. The Rhone River voyage onboard Swiss Emerald takes guests into vineyard country. This epicurean vacation begins in Paris, though, and includes a reception and dinner at Fouquet’s, the celebrity hot spot on the Champs-Elysees, as well as a chocolate demonstration and a pastry class for Tauck guests at Ecole Lenotre.
Then clients ride the high-speed TGV through the French countryside to Lyon, where they visit Les Halles, Lyon’s covered food market. Tauck guests also enjoy dinner at L’Abbaye de Collonges, created by Chef Paul Bocuse.
Why not talk with local culinary, wine or cultural clubs about a river cruise? It’s a good chance to become acquainted with potential pied pipers who might interest members in a group cruise, if not this year, then next.
Kristin Karst, co-owner and executive vice president, AmaWaterways, says the line had eight “In Experience of Wine” cruises in Europe last year and this year plans a big increase—21 hosted “In Experience...” sailings on the Rhine, Mosel, Danube, Rhone, Seine and the Douro rivers. AmaWaterways will field 16 wine themed cruises for 2014. Agents may download a wine cruise brochure from the line’s website.
These cruises often are slated as spring or fall voyages, the so-called “shoulder season,” and are a good bet for clients who don’t want to cruise through Europe in the heat of the summer, or when crowds are at their peak.
On the wine side, approach winery owners or managers who may be interested in pitching the cruise to their wine club list and hosting a group onboard; the average wine enthusiast belongs to four wine clubs, and vintners need to set up creative ways to build relationships with and retain those club members.
“Our theme cruises, most notably wine and culinary cruises, jazz and art itineraries attract a younger audience, interested in pursuing their passions on vacation,” emphasizes Patrick Clark, managing director, Avalon Waterways.
More for Fitness Fans: Increasingly, river lines have walking/jogging tracks on their top decks, small exercise facilities with the latest machines, and yoga or fitness activities.
Many river lines also carry several dozen bicycles and walking sticks for guests to use on a complimentary basis. One new trend is that lines are now designing “guided” bicycle tours ashore. Also on the rise is the offering of healthful menu options.
In addition, river lines are now putting together tours that focus specifically on hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, hot air ballooning and even off-road-vehicle trips. However, some of the more active options that may require involvement of a third party operator may carry an optional shore fee.
New 2013 Itineraries: For 2013, many river lines have new options for routes, theming or length of voyage. For example, AmaWaterways will offer a new 11-day Paris & Normandy cruise this year while Uniworld will offer a new river itinerary in Italy along the Po River and the Venice Lagoon.
One new Avalon Waterways’ itinerary is “Austrian Highlights and Bavaria.” Uniworld’s River Royale will move to a new home in France’s Bordeaux region in 2014. Among the new offerings for Viking are two three-week plus itineraries—a 23-day “European Sojourn” between Amsterdam and Bucharest and a 22-day “Grand Rivers of Europe” itinerary from Basel to Budapest.
With new itineraries, wine and culinary themed options, more fitness related options for younger travelers, as well as the elevation of the overall river cruise experience, “it’s a great vacation for a number of couples to get together and experience,” believes Denise Petricka of Higgins Travel Leaders, Eau Claire, WI.
“Our largest growth is in small groups of four to 10 friends traveling together,” says Petricka. She says once these couples’ families and friends hear about the experience, then “the bookings seem to mushroom.”
|Spacious fitness room onboard the Avalon Panorama.|