U.S. river cruising continues to grow in popularity, especially with Americans who, more than ever, prefer to travel within the U.S.A. Thanks to the cultural richness associated with America’s great rivers (especially the Mississippi), there has also been growth among international travelers who have an interest in this country’s history.
To me the words “luxury” and “expedition ships” don’t quite match. I have always believed that an expedition cruise should reflect the “roughing it” elements experienced by “real” explorers. (My favorite expedition was to Antarctica was aboard the no-frills Explorer I (aka “the little red boat”), which sank in Antarctic waters in 2007.
The luxury market disagrees and wants no part of “roughing it.” So instead we see extravagances galore, like infinity pools, French restaurants and spas on ships sailing to places like Antarctica and the Northwest Passage.
Alaska is gearing up for a big tourist season. With 30 large cruise ships carrying a projected one million passengers calling this year, expect to see new ports, new docks, new excursions-and more luxury ships.
Ships scheduled for the 2016 season for the first time include: Crystal Serenity, Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas, Princess’s Island Princess, Holland America’s Maasdam and Nieuw Amsterdam and Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner.
As river cruises continue to grow in popularity, those on Europe’s rivers still top the list. CLIA cruise line members currently have 170 ships on the world’s rivers (most in Europe), with 18 new vessels (most will sail in Europe) on order for 2016.
When President Obama normalized relations with Cuba in January 2015, many Americans thought all they had to do was buy a ticket to travel to the island nation. But given the political situation in Washington, Cuba travel would not be so simple.
The Caribbean continues to be the most popular cruise destination industry-wide, accounting for more than a third of the cruise business globally. It’s been estimated that 60% of cruise passengers are repeaters, which heightens the need for the Caribbean to constantly re-invent itself and for cruise lines to find or create new ports of call that are rich with attractions.
Though holiday cruises tend to be pricier than those at other times, they continue to grow in popularity, particularly among family groups. The appeal of being served attractive meals, of freedom from household chores and inclement weather - plus the ability to spend quality time with loved ones - make a holiday cruise a compelling choice for many clients. If a particular date or ship is desired, early booking is advisable.
A lot has changed since New England/Canada cruises were considered “fall foliage” excursions that sold mainly to seniors. The appeal of that itinerary has grown as the charm, natural beauty, cultural experiences and culinary variety of the ports has become better known. Now the season has grown longer and most major lines participate in this market, not only with the usual itineraries, but also as part of repositioning cruises. This has led to some upgraded port facilities and expanded shore excursions.
As river cruising continues to grow more rapidly than ocean cruising, and as growing demand can fill river boats months in advance, river companies continue to build -- and to add competitive features and amenities and new exotic itineraries.
This expansion has taken river cruises from the major rivers in Russia, Germany and Austria to the rivers of France, the Douro in Portugal - and beyond, to Australia, Asia and Africa. Even more interesting to clients who would rather not fly internationally, river cruises have returned to the United States, aboard the American Queen and the American Empress, the ships of American Cruise Lines and Un-Cruise’s replica coastal steamer, the S.S. Legacy.