This year, the story about U.S. river cruising remains the same: steady growth. This has meant new boats, new luxuries, new itineraries. The growth is due partly to the 66% of Americans who don’t hold a passport and want to experience cruise travel; Americans who, due to unsettled conditions abroad, prefer to travel within the U.S. - and to the growing interest among English-speaking international travelers who are interested in American history, especially the cultural richness associated with America’s great rivers.
River cruising is still the fastest growing sector of the cruise industry. In addition to the new ships being launched each year, there are new itineraries, more and new theme cruises. Wine cruises are especially popular, and here, AMA Waterways has gone all in, with more than 50 wine-themed offerings this year. With ports, tours and tastings at some of the world’s most famous wine producing areas, as well as onboard tastings and lectures, these itineraries provide wine lovers with a richness of experience that could not be duplicated during an ocean cruise.
The appetite for cruise travel is ever growing, both in the United States and worldwide -and the industry keeps building ships to feed that demand with a record number of vessels on order over the next ten years. There will be bigger ships-the biggest ever-new technology, new toys, new luxuries and new dining experiences.
Despite hurricanes and Department of State restrictions, cruises to Cuba continue to grow in popularity, with new sailings, new itineraries and the addition of more overnights.
With a strong commitment to the destination, Azamara has added new 2018 and 2019 Cuban itineraries that range from four to fourteen nights. A variety of getaway options includes two new ports of call. Cienfuegos, known as La Perla del Sur (Pearl of the South), is located on Cuba’s south coast, with an Urban Historic Center that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second largest city, located southeast of Havana was founded by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. The city is home to the citadel of San Pedro de la Roca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is also where Bacardi Rum was founded.
For adventure seekers, the Arctic is a wish list destination that’s easier to reach than Antarctica and easier to experience. It’s a vast area, stretching across the North Pole and including Alaska and northern Canada, as well as the northern regions of Russia, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, and Norway.
With the cruising public’s growing taste for exotic river cruising, whether from the “been there, done that” mindset or the desire for bragging rights to ports never seen by most vacationers, river cruise lines have responded. Virtually all lines offer cruises in Asia. There are new boats and amped-up itineraries along the Yangtze and Mekong, some extending out to Burma’s Irawaddy River. Often the cruises include lectures on the various countries’ history and culture.
Last year I wrote that U.S. river cruising was continuing to grow in popularity, especially with Americans who perceive it as a safer and more stress-free choice than cruises on Europe’s rivers. And in spite of the proposed travel bans, some international travelers who are interested in the cultural and historic richness of our rivers share that sentiment. This growth is reflected in new ships and refurbishments, new itineraries and added sailings.
Despite a slight cooling of travel on Europe’s rivers, new ships (and refits), new itineraries and new land-based components are set to launch this year-with an ever stronger focus on food and wine.
In response to consumer interest, designated wine cruises in particular offer comprehensive programs that include daily tastings, lectures, food pairings, land-based wine activities such as visits to vineyards, chateaux, wine cellars and local markets.
When a famous poet wrote: “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky,” he wasn’t talking about a 5,000-passenger ship with a climbing wall and a dozen or so places to dine. The romance of the sea has always been embodied in the sailing ships, with their soaring masts and billowing sails. And today, a cruise on a modern clipper ship can be a glorious and unforgettable experience.
For clients who want to leave holiday preparations behind and have someone else do the cooking, the decorations and the activities, the cruise lines can indulge those wishes with celebrations on ships almost anywhere in the world. More than ever, cruise lines are going all in for the holidays, from Hanukah through New Year, with holiday shows, over-the-top decorations, elaborate meals, religious services, caroling, contests and special activities for children. All this comes at a price, of course, and the cost for virtually all holiday itineraries is bumped up.