2018 is set to be a watershed year for river cruising as the sector kicks up its heels and shows its youthful side. There’s a growing range of product out there tailored specifically for 21- to 45-year-olds as well as families with children.

“River cruising is undergoing something of a renaissance, with new ships, itineraries and younger guests than ever before. The main key to its growing success is the industry’s hard work in changing perceptions of river cruising”

Perfect 10

  1. Go wild: Take a walk through the jungle on Amazon cruises to spot monkeys leaping through the trees and flocks of brightly-coloured parrots soaring through the sky

  2. Ride ‘em cowboy: Watch the ranchers of the Camargue show off their horsemanship skills on Rhone cruises during rodeo shows in the heart of France’s ‘wild west’
  3. Burmese days Take off on hot air balloon rides above the temples of Bagan, ride tuk tuks across the tropical terrain and ring one of the world’s largest bells at Mingun on voyages along Burma’s Irrawaddy River

  4. Getting shipshape: Sample onboard cookery classes, children’s movie nights and even visit the captain on the bridge on selected European family river sailings

  5. Venetian glories: Float along Venice’s canals in a gondola and try your hand at mask-making and glass-blowing classes

  6. Going underground: Plunge into the tunnels beneath Nuremburg on Main sailings; originally built to store beer, but then used as shelters during World War II

  7. Parisian pursuits: Cycle along the Seine, tuck into a Parisian-style picnic in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and join a scavenger hunt in the Louvre

  8. Clogs and canals: SHop on and off Amsterdam’s canal boats to explore the Dutch city on a Rhine cruise, with attractions ranging from the house of Anne Frank to a Carlsbery brewery

  9. Temples and trinkets: Take a Mekong cruise to watch Buddhist monks conduct a traditional blessing ceremony and dive into colourful local markets

  10. Stretch your legs: Stride out on Bavaria’s forested slopes for ranger-led hikes or mountain biking during a Rhine cruise

Young and ready to cruise

U by Uniworld is the innovative hip brand that sets sail this April offering a different take on exploring Europe’s rivers.

This established river cruise brand has taken two of its vessels, painted them matt black and renamed them The A and The B. Forget cosy and traditional, U by Uniworld is big on immersive, fun and adventurous travel and the cool onboard vibe is matched by on-trend shore adventurous ranging from bar crawls to bike rides to street art tours.

Uniworld has admitted it is something of an experiment but UK Managing Director Chris Townson is confident there is a market for a more youthful river cruise product and claims sales are starting to “kick in”.

“The response to U by Uniworld, both from the trade and consumers, has been phenomenal and it’s a really exciting time to be involved in the river cruise industry,” he added. “There are key points of difference that set U by Uniworld apart . . . and referencing these will help travel agents to showcase how U by Uniworld cruises are light years away from a ‘traditional’ river cruise.

“It’s an effortless, multi-destination city break, crammed full of luxurious, adventurous and fun inclusions,” he concluded.

Townson urges agents to reach younger customers on social media channels including Instagram, adding: “We appreciate this may be new territory for some, so are offering all the tools they need to help tap into this exciting new revenue stream.”

For families

Having started to make inroads into the UK market, helped by a ‘kids sail free’ offer which applies to under-15s on all departures, German line A-Rosa has extended its product range this year.

“In 2017, we carried 2,000 children and we expect this figure to continue growing as we focus more on this segment of the market,” said Lucia Rowe, A-Rosa’s UK & Ireland Head.

She claims demand for family river cruises is rising and it is vital for lines and agents to work together to change perceptions of the product and promote its child-friendly credentials.

“I would urge agents to highlight the key USPs that rivers can offer in the family sector as, on our ships, the relaxed atmosphere on-board and informal dining options are perfect for accommodating family members of all ages,” she added.

Other established family-friendly river cruise lines such as Tauck and Uniworld offer dedicated family sailings, while G Adventures and Aqua Expeditions also cater for children.

Meanwhile, Avalon Waterways is reporting a marked increase in younger and young-at-heart travellers after launching Active Discovery sailings on the Danube last year which offered biking and running tours along with novel activities such as archery lessons and learning how to conduct an orchestra. This year, it has expanded the concept to Rhine cruises.

What the experts say

“Fabulous new ships boasting balconies, interconnecting cabins (which are ideal for families of all ages), swimming pools, spas and cinemas, plus new exciting shore excursions mean there has never been a greater choice for river guests – and this is vital in helping to attract younger customers.

“We’re already seeing new groups discovering river cruising, including millennials, multi-generational family groups, and solo travellers, and this looks set to continue.”

What's new

Special offers: Asia specialist Pandaw River Expeditions is offering free places for five to 18-year-olds to encourage more families. The boutique line is giving up to two youngsters a free cabin when travelling with two full-fare paying adults on selected school holiday departures along the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia and on Burma’s Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers. The sailings also include youth-orientated activities such as movie nights, cultural evenings and use of mountain bikes.

New ships: While not marketing itself specifically to families, AmaWaterways is seeing more inter-generational groups and is increasingly catering for them with its newer vessels which have more inter-connecting cabins. Its newest craft, AmaLea, launching this month, will have six inter-connecting cabins and 12 cabins that come with a third bed for families.

The American Queen Steamboat Company is targeting families with its newest vessel, American Duchess, which sails through the heartlands of the U.S. along the Mississippi and its tributaries, offering music-themed sailings, among others, that call at New Orleans and Nashville.The 166-passenger vessel also has family suites with an open veranda and private sitting area.American Queen is also promoting soft adventure activities on sister paddle-wheeler American Empress during sailings along the Colombia and Snake rivers, where kayaking and ziplining are offered.

New product: Uniworld offers family-friendly sailings under its Generations tag, featuring activities specifically tailored to younger cruisers, and has bolstered the range with a new Remarkable Rhine sailing between Basle and Amsterdam.

A-Rosa has extended its kids’ clubs this year by adding more school holiday dates and a new children’s club on Seine sailings.

Where to book it

Family-friendly one-week sailings from Bagan to Mandalay with Pandaw take place on July 28, September 29 and October 20. One or two under-18s travel free in their own cabin when accompanied by two full-fare paying adults. Prices are from £1,160pp ($1,611), including excursions, selected drinks and gratuities.

Tauck's Blue Danube family cruises from Vilshofen or Regensburg to Budapest depart on July 7 and July 28, with prices from £2,985 per adult. Children aged 12 and under qualify for a £340 saving. Price includes flights, shore excursions, gratuities and selected drinks.