Photo: AmaWaterways balcony view © AMAWATERWAYS
RIVER CRUISING HAS BECOME one of the fastest-growing segments of water travel, enabling passengers to take in the sights of the world’s great inland waterways, especially in Europe. The rising tide of interest in river travel prompted an upgrade of the ships themselves, where the facilities and amenities increasingly resemble those of their big sisters, the swank, ocean-going, “all-inclusive” luxury cruise ships.
Viking River Cruises, the world’s largest river cruise line, initiated this upscaling a decade ago with the introduction of an extensive fleet of sleek, 190-passenger Longships. These premium-grade vessels, including six more launched this year alone, prove far more than floating tour buses with beds, bars and buffets, offering sleek, well-appointed staterooms, free shore excursions in every port, complimentary WiFi and beer and wine with lunches and dinners.
To compete with Viking, several river cruise lines further closed the luxury gap between river and ocean cruising. AmaWaterways, for example, now operates 16 river ships in Europe. Its newest models feature heated pools with swim-up bars; marble bathrooms; suites with twin balconies; fleets of 25 bicycles for shore use; cooking demos; and a wealth of workout, wellness and exercise classes — luxury flourishes once associated exclusively with top-notch ocean-going cruise ships. The 194-passenger AmaMagna, launched this year, is Europe’s largest and widest river ship, boasting elevator service to its sundeck, a wellness studio with spa, four dining venues and a fold-down watersports and leisure platform with a tour boat aboard. Uniworld, another staple of the luxury river cruising industry, is not to be outpaced. Uniworld is set to introduce the S.S. Bon Voyage in 2019 and the S.S. La Venezia and S.S. São Gabriel in 2020. S.S. Bon Voyage was previously known as the River Royale. Once the renovation is complete and the ship is ready for service, it will include a new swimming pool and a new lounging area. Newlydesigned suites and marble bathrooms adorn the entire ship.
Not to be outdone, Australian-based Scenic River Cruises updated all eight of its vessels sailing the Rhine, Main and Danube in 2019. Scenic’s 163-passsenger Space Ships offer all-inclusive fares that include gratuities, private butler service for all passengers, unlimited free beverages and spirits, temperature-controlled therapeutic salt lounges and 24-hour room service. As the first river cruise line inducted into La Confrérie de la Châine des Rôtisseurs, Scenic provides true gourmet dining as well.
The newest all-inclusive luxury line to hit the waterways of Europe is Crystal River Cruises, offspring of Crystal’s renowned ocean-cruising operation. Since 2016 Crystal brought five ships to the Danube, Rhine, Main and Moselle rivers, where they stand out as the only fleet of all-suite, all-balcony, all-butler vessels. Among Crystal’s lavish perks are the inclusion of all gratuities, 24-hour dedicated private butler service, 24-hour in-room dining, farm-to-table cuisine, king-sized beds, extensive spa facilities, guest laundries, power-assisted e-bikes and at least two free shore excursions at every port.
If the posh amenities and deluxe onboard options of a luxury ocean cruise are what you’re looking for on Europe’s inland waterways, this rising tide of premium and all-inclusive boutique river ships should fit the bill.