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Small Ships are Bigger than Ever

Written by  Lillian Africano


According to the American Express internal cruise survey released during this year’s Cruise3Sixty Conference, 38% of the Amex counselors queried said that the cruise product they’re seeing the greatest demand for are small ship cruises. River cruising, which also falls into the small ship category, was close behind at 27%. CLIA reported similar trends in this year’s industry report.

Clients like small ship cruises because they tend to be fairly inclusive, a big plus for those who resent being nickel-and-dimed, who appreciate the comfort and convenience of not signing for every beverage, and not having to add up cruise expenses on a daily basis. And there is the appeal of visiting small ports not accessible to bigger vessels.

The list of new ships that debut in 2014 reflects the trend to “smaller” rather than “bigger” -- most carry fewer than 200 passengers and only four qualify as “big.” Silversea will launch the newly renovated 128-passenger expedition ship Discoverer in April 2014. Engineered to explore the isolated archipelagos of the Pacific, the Discoverer carries a fleet of zodiacs for remote landings and a glass-bottom boat for underwater viewing. She will cruise Southeast Asia; Australia and New Zealand; Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia; East Asia and the Russian Far East.

Windstar’s newly renovated 212-passenger Star Pride, the first of three new, all-suite, power yachts, debuts in May 2014 and will spend its first season in Europe. Increasing the size of the fleet enables Windstar to offer itineraries to new global destinations.

However, the big news is the escalation of new river ship builds, reflecting record levels of consumer interest in river cruising. Torstein Hagen, founder and chairman of Viking River Cruises has refer
red to river cruising as “a thinking man’s cruise. With river cruises, a destination is the destination.”

The destination-intensive aspect of river cruising, the inclusive nature of the product - and the fact that river boats are becoming almost as luxurious as their oceangoing counterparts are among the reasons for increased consumer interest.

In 2014, Viking will launch a record 14 Longships; by the end of the year, the company will have launched 30 new ships in a three-year period -- in the most rapid fleet expansion program the cruise industry has ever seen. The new ships, which feature sleek Scandinavian design, will sail Viking’s most popular European itineraries and accommodate 190 passengers in 95 staterooms, including two Explorer Suites (the largest river cruise ships in Europe) and seven two-room Veranda Suites, with a full-size veranda in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom. The Longships have sustainability upgrades, including solar panels and energy-efficient hybrid engines that reduce vibrations and make for a smooth ride. A striking design element is the new all-weather indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace that brings the outdoor scenery inside with retractable floor-to-ceiling glass doors and provides passengers with an alternative casual dining venue.

Avalon Waterways’ fleet will grow by three new European river boats in March 2014: Avalon Poetry II, Avalon Illumination and Avalon Impression. Like its sister ship, the Avalon Expression, the Impression has two decks of Panorama Suites with wall-to-wall panoramic windows that create an open-air balcony. At 200 square feet, the suites are 30% larger than industry standard. Amenities include the alternative dining venue, Panorama Bistro, an expanded fitness center, complimentary Wi-Fi and a whirlpool.

In March 2014, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises will launch the 159-passenger S.S. Catherine, which will be deployed along the Rhone and Saone rivers in Burgundy and Provence (replacing the River Royale). All suites and staterooms on the upper deck will feature the line’s “full open-air balconies” and handcrafted beds by Savoir of England. Five suites will measure 305 square feet; the Royal Suite, 410 square feet.

AmaWaterways debuts the 164-passenger AmaSonata in April 2014. The ship’s spacious staterooms - most measure 210-235 square feet, the four suites, 350 square feet -- have twin balconies, one step-out, one French. Onboard amenities include a heated swimming pool with a swim-up bar, several dining venues and complimentary Internet access.

The two ships of Tauck’s new Inspiration Class, the MS Inspire and the MS Savor, will also launch in 2014. Though 23% longer than their predecessors, the new builds will carry just 10% more passengers, 130 each in 67 cabins. Representing the luxury previously mentioned the added length is used to offer twenty two 300-square-foot suites and eight loft cabins that extend from the first to the second decks and provide guests with additional views. All accommodations will feature luxurious bedding and high-end amenities; full American breakfast room service will be available in Category 7 suites.

Scenic Tours launches two new ships in 2014, the Scenic Gem and Scenic Jade, each carrying 126 passengers. The Gem will cruise France’s River Seine, and because of its special design, it will be the only ship with the ability to sail directly into Honfleur on the coast of the English Channel. The Jade will sail the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Amenities will include personal butler service for all guests, cabins with walk-out balconies that convert to all-weather lounges, high-definition TVs linked to Mac Mini computers, complimentary Internet access and multiple dining venues.

The all new Emerald Waterway, a separate brand of Scenic, plans the Emerald Star and Emerald Sky for 2014; each will accommodate 182 passengers in 20 staterooms (including two for solo travelers) and 72 suites. Accommodations measure between 162 to 210 square feet. At 315 square feet, the Owner’s one-bedroom suites have a separate bedroom and seating area, walk-in closet, Nespresso machine and iPad. Grand Balcony and Owner Suite guests can order continental breakfasts, pre-dinner canapes and after-dinner sweets as room service.

In April, the American Queen Steamboat Company will launch the renovated American Empress (formerly Empress of the North), which will sail seven-day voyages on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The U.S.-flagged riverboat has five decks and accommodates 223 guests in seven stateroom categories; all staterooms have a balcony or picture window. Cruise packages aboard the Empress include a deluxe hotel stay prior to the voyage, complimentary shore excursions (aboard the company’s dedicated fleet of luxury coaches) in every port.

Bottom Line: Small ships will continue to build market share, especially those that cruise the world’s rivers, with European itineraries in the lead.

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