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D reaming up new features for river
vessels must be frustrating. No matter
how imaginative, a cruise line’s
innovations are restricted by the water ways in
which its ships sail.
Due to the low height of bridges and the
short length of locks, there is little room to
move. Which is why almost all look the same:
2.5 or three decks high and 135 metres long.
But this year’s launch of almost 40 new
river ships has seen some interesting additions
to the hardware, ser vice and luxuries. We’ve
River cruise lines are falling over themselves to come up
with imaginative innovations to tempt cruisers. Louise Goldsbury
takes a look at what we can expect to see on the latest vessels.
come a long way since the days when the main
point of difference was the style of balconies.
The biggest splash has been in swimming
pools, but even that ’s a stretch, as most are too
small to swim in. Uniworld put a plunge pool
inside a bar on the SS Catherine and decorated
the walls with a jungle mosaic. Slightly larger
is the pool on APT’s AmaReina (and the
soon-to-debut AmaSonata), which is located
outdoors on the sun deck and has a swim-up
bar, complete with underwater bar stools.
Evergreen Tours debuted its first two
vessels with indoor heated pools that
transform into cinemas. Viking also
introduced its first pools on the Viking
Hemming and Viking Torgil in Portugal’s
Not that pools (or cinemas) are new
for river cruising – a handful of other
ships in Europe and the Mekong have had
them for years, but it seems to be becoming
Massage rooms are also spreading like body
oil. Far from the large day spas found on ocean
ships, the river vessel solution is to designate
one cabin for beauty and wellness treatments.
Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Poetry II has a
hair salon, which is a rarity on rivers, and a hot
tub on the top deck, also not seen often. Sadly
nobody has managed a decent gym.
An attractive trend adopted by river cruise
lines is the expansion of all-inclusive pricing.
Butler service, unlimited free drinks and pre-
paid or complimentary gratuities are becoming
the norm for high-end operators such as
Uniworld, APT, Tauck and Scenic Tours.
Viking’s suites stand out from others by
providing two separate rooms instead of one
larger space, and its latest ships are noticeably
quieter. Meanwhile Tauck has introduced loft
cabins that spread over two levels, and added
some dedicated family cruises to the schedule.
Amazon specialist Aqua Expeditions, which
enters Vietnam and Cambodia this year with
the Aqua Mekong, has interconnecting family
suites, a film screening room and 10-passenger
boats for exploring narrow waterways.
Asia will soon welcome other ships with
décor more decadent than the traditional teak
and brass that is typical of Pandaw vessels. The
Mekong Navigator (in Vietnam/Cambodia),
Irrawaddy Explorer (in Myanmar) and Ganges
Voyager (in India) are sure to elevate the level
of luxury on local rivers.
In Myanmar, smaller vessels are being
designed with ultra-shallow drafts. Pandaw
River Cruises’ RV Kalaw Pandaw has a draft
of only 80 centimetres, allowing it to operate
in the notoriously low-water conditions.
Assam Bengal Navigation’s RV Rajmahal
has a small enhancement of floor-to-ceiling
French windows in all cabins, which are
common in Europe but unusual for India.
A positive trend, notably in Europe, is
multiple dining venues, often al fresco, offering
more flexible hours, lighter meals and a casual
atmosphere. Stepping it up a notch, APT is
set to open river cruising’s first celebrity chef
restaurant – but not until May 2015 – when
Luke Nguyen’s 50-seat Indochine serves
French-Vietnamese cuisine on the yet-to-be-
built Anastasia on Russia’s Volga River.
Finally, a long-awaited improvement is
more variety in shore excursions, with river
cruise lines devising more active, immersive
and exclusive options. The new A-Rosa Flora
offers kayaking, horse riding and hiking
in Europe. Bicycle tours are growing in
popularity, and APT is one line that allows
guests to cycle between ports on the Rhine.
Evergreen Tours’“You’re Invited” program,
where passengers are hosted by locals in their
homes, is a fresh direction. Uniworld offers
truffle hunting in France, grape stomping in
Portugal and after-hours access to St Mark’s
Basilica in Venice. In Myanmar, cruisers can
meet local fishermen and ride elephants.
Ultimately, river ships are evolving and
improving, with more amenities and activities
than ever before, but until we see something
jaw-droppingly different, the industry is not
quite yet in the midst of a sea change.
from above) Aquavit
Terrace on Viking
Hemming; Uniworld’s SS
Catherine; Assam Bengal
Navigation’s RV Rajmahal
and Avalon Poetry II
RIVER CRUISE THE VERDICT
RIVER CRUISE THE VERDICT
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