European river cruises ply new waters with immersive experiences, exercise
River cruising in Europe is redefining itself with itineraries that are “curated” to individual tastes, a new emphasis on active touring options (snowshoeing in the Black Forest, anyone?) and staff positions like “adventure host.” That’s right, adventure host. It’s a pretty radical makeover. As Rick Kaplan, president of Premier River Cruises travel agency in Los Angeles, frames it: “What you’re seeing in the industry right now is cruise lines trying to broaden their base. They’re trying to get everyone engaged, no matter what aspect of travel they most enjoy.”
Cruise lines can only do so much to amp up the onboard experience, due to the small size of the ships made for river touring.
As a result, the focus is on the destination — and the many ways in which to experience, say, a Budapest or an Amsterdam beyond the obvious must-see attractions.
“People are looking for more dynamic river cruises,” says Pam Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways. “They’re looking for more variety and choice versus the more traditional experience where things are either dictated or prepackaged. Choice is the operative word.”
Some of the lines — Avalon, Scenic and Crystal, for example — have elevated the traditional listening device used on guided shore excursions with GPS technology that helps travelers explore destinations on their own.
In a nutshell, here’s what’s new in the European river-cruising world: a fresh focus on immersive tours that dig deep into local life, a rise in special-interest voyages and programming for every fitness level. That’s become important to travelers. Not everyone wants a manufactured experience.” there every 10 years since 1634.
European river cruises typically are not kid-friendly. Tauck and Adventures by Disney are two exceptions, with departures planned especially for grandparents, parents and children.
On Tauck, kids ages 5 and older will see the Louvre in Paris by way of scavenger hunt. At Normandy, they get to sample rations that troops ate in World War II. In Vienna? Waltz lessons.
Disney has less formal programming than Tauck but it does welcome kids at least 4 years old and offers interconnecting cabins for families. Don’t expect to see Mickey Mouse on board, but there will be opportunities to watch classic Disney films. Canada. CroisiEurope also offers Spanish-language cruises.
CroisiEurope, a European line, is marketing its itineraries to North Americans. Signage, announcements and menus are in French and English, and tour guides speak both languages.