JUNE 2016 – Flowing even faster

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The rush to the river is gathering pace. More Irish custiomers want to cruise and there are more opportunitied for them to do so. Last year 28 new river cruise ships were launched. There are now 336 passenger cruise ships plying the rivers of the world, up from 125 in 2000, and 20pc of them are younger than five years old. With the new ships and ship designs have come new destinations and new shore side excursions. Agents said that all inclusive cruise and river cruises are one of the biggest trends in 2016 so far. From Ireland, the Danube is the major cruise destination, followed by the Rhose, with the Rhone and the Duoro trailing behind. There are effectviely six river cruise companies which dominate the market although up to 12 others are seeking business out of Ireland. It is still a small sector. There are just 840,000 river cruisers (36pc of them German) compared with 21.3m ocean cruise passengers.

Outside balconies have become the norm on river cruises and schedules are tweaked to offer the finest scenery during daylight. In fact 2016 will be another best year ever for river cruise out of Ireland, well ahead of the Celtic Tiger days. This follows five years during which this segment of the industry has seen already high growth rates increase year on year out of the Irish market, The age Group buying cruises tends to be over 65 retired people with disposable income. Although the recession created a demand for discounted holidays, River Cruise passenger numbers have kept growing each year. With all this growth, it is important for River Cruise customers to understand that they need to book well in advance so they can book the most popular cabins (those with balconies) as ships are smaller than the ocean going variety. Consumers have become more familiar with the product, air access to the main riverport cities increases,, the boats become more luxurious and the major players in the river cruise industry become more innovative. River Cruising is growing in popularity because:

  • Clients want something different to an Ocean Cruise
  • Word of mouth is greatly spreading for this product
  • The ship is your floating luxury hotel
  • Fewer passengers (average of 150) than ocean vessels
  • More personal space on board
  • More intimate environment for sharing experiences and developing new friendships
  • No lines for embarkation/disembarkation
  • No tendering
  • No seasickness
  • Fine Dining with wine included
  • Internet, Hollywood movies, satellite television and music library included at no charge
  • City Tours with professional guides included
  • Visit destinations that ocean cruises cannot reach
  • No checking into hotel after hotel
  • Unpack once and settle in for a relaxing vacation.
  • No riding in buses for hours on end; no traffic
  • Most long distance travel is done in the evening so daytime can be spent visiting cities, towns, museums and historic sites
  • Time in cities and towns is maximized on a river cruise versus travelling to/from destinations by coach.

Europe’s waterways can be experienced in a variety of ways including self skippered boats, short tour-cruises and canal barge. But it is the river cruise sector that has seen the biggest change. These may range from older ones whose price points have been driven down by the rush to more luxurious craft by the big lines, to the newest ships, inspired by classic ocean yachts, which have spas, gyms and, wi-fi access. A few of the newest have pools, though these are sill a rarity for river cruise vessels.

River cruise combines the advantages of an ocean cruise with those of a bus tour, river cruises show you the best of Europe, Russia and China, and bring passengers small quaint villages as well as the large cosmopolitan cities. One of the main comforts is that you only have to unpack your bags once, and that all you need is provided on board. Most offer all-inclusive meals and many have additional services such as spas featuring relaxing massages and facials. Some also include wine with dinner. The cruise lines offer local evening entertainment, lectures and demonstrations. Shore excursions hosted by an English speaking local guide are part of the experience. These may be charged separately and it is worth checking before you book for a client as it can have a significant impact on the price.

More companies are including excursions as part of the package price, in contrast to what is happening in the ocean cruising sector. In Russia you can cruise Moscow and St Petersburg. African River Cruises combine safari and visit the Chobe River, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, New itineraries include New destinations the Snake River, the Mississippi in Ameirca and Australis. The number of Mekong cruises is growing. Uniworld has a Ganges cruise, the first in India.

Andy Harmar of CLIA, which works with 18 river cruise companies, says there are three reasons why the river cruise experience is changing. “Ship design has transformed the experience for cruise guests. Alternative dining, spa treatments, double decker gums, on board pools, cinemas, ice skating rinks, means that customers now are starting to get a real picture of what the onboard experience is like. “ The experience offered by each of the river ships to your clients are completely different, because of the way that these ships are being designed, the features that these ships offer, the dining experience, the entertainment. That means that we are growing up as an industry. Shore side experiences are also important, with new access to walking tour, vineyards, wander through markets or historical places. The investment that the cruise line put in to these excursions and the way we support them will influence the future trends in shore excursions.

The reason that river cruise is changing so fast is that the customer is changing too. The river cruise customer of today is different form the river cruise customer of five years ago or the river cruise customer of five years time because they want to site do, not site see. It is no good nowadays to pull up on the bus and have a look at the view and get back on the bus. It is about experiencing and authenticity, it is about touching and doing, learning to cook, learning how to make wine, it is about making cheese, as an authentic experience. Soft adventure is a major trend on ocean cruising. The same can be said about river cruise, especially in faraway places like Asia.

Gratuities are included in Uniworld’s prices, which John Grehan says makes them a truly all inclusive company. Like its sister ships, the SS Antoinette and River Beatrice, the latest addition to the fleet SS Catherine is an elegantly appointed vessel with a bright, cheerful decor full of personal touches brought in by the Tollmans. It follows the pattern of Uniworld design and decoration with original hand-selected art, classic furnishings, and old world antiques rich in character.

The two-deckhigh lobby of features an elaborate Murano chandelier, a cascading waterfall and a glass-enclosed elevator. Among the unusual features is an interior pool SS Catherine will sail Uniworld’s seven-night Burgundy & Provence itinerary, which includes visits to Lyon, Avignon and several other destinations in southern France. Uniworld have been especially active in the Irish market, with the team headed by Sharon Jordan. Their big selling point is the fact that shore excursions are all inclusive.

Uniworld are regarded as European specialists with ten ships plying the waters of the major European rivers, In business for more than 30 years, their launch of the allsuite River Beatrice in 2007 changed standards through the industry. They have expanded to become a world wide operation with more than 20 countries on their itinerary, and more than 500 sailings a year. They have interests in Asia and Egypt, offering cruises on the Yangtze, Mekong and Nile Rivers Uniworld also operates (though does not own) the famous MS Litvinov, a sleek 220-passenger, 423 foot cruiser that is a popular Russian river cruise vessel. All cabins on Uniworld’s river cruisers are outside.

They range from standard cabins to luxury suites and the deluxe rooms include floor to ceiling windows. Uniworld is one of the few river cruise companies to handle all of their own hospitality and hotel management efforts, as well as food delivery. “At the forefront of everything we do is attention to detail” Sharon Jordan says. “No corners are ever cut at the expense of our guests. With the popularity of river cruising growing and more ships being built, Uniworld’s goal is to not be the biggest but to deliver a consistently outstanding experience to our guests.” Uniworld offers cleaning service twice a day and the beds come with wool blankets and fluffy duvets. Dining aboard consists of breakfast and lunch buffets. Dinner is open seating and menus often feature country-specific themes. Many ships have spas or fitness facilities and a few have pools. Medical facilities, beauty salons, lounges, and large sun decks are options on which Uniworld boat you chose.

Entertainment is of the quiet variety, and is often by local musicians, guitar players and/or singers. Shore excursions with local guides can be arranged with the Cruise Manager. Next up for Uniworld is the SS Maria Theresa, launched in spring 2015, named after the Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, who reigned from 1740 to 1780. The ship will sail this very region on Uniworld’s European Jewels itinerary from Budapest to Amsterdam. She will also sail on Tulips & Windmills, European Holiday Markets, and Grand Christmas & New Year’s Cruise. Uniworld continues to be a trade only supplier with no direct booking function on their website. Sharon says this means agents can recommend the Uniworld website to clients with confidence knowing that the website is purely an information service. .

CroisiEurope feature vessels on every single river in Europe with 500 departures on more than 30 rivers and canals spanning 100 itineraries. Alan Lynch MD of Cruisescapes, CroisiEurope’s representative in Ireland. says that CroisiEurope, a family run business, is responsible for the construction, ownership and day-today operations of an entire fleet of river cruise vessels that are capable of carrying between 100 and 200 passengers. Currently in the midst of an ambitious newbuild programme, CroisiEurope will have a fleet of 46 river cruise vessels by the end of 2016. This also includes several “hybrid” river cruise vessels capable of transiting the Mediterranean on unique river and ocean itineraries. With nearly four decades of experience in offering, river cruises. This allows the operator to concentrate on providing it’s passengers with exceptional food, excellent service and creative itineraries that are designed to appeal to both experienced and novice river cruisers alike. The MS Elbe Princesse, a paddle powered ship launched in April, which will cruise from the centre of Berlin to the centre of Prague all year round. The MS Elbe is a sister ship to the MS Loire Princesse which was equally greeted by crowds as they came to see something not seen before; a river cruiser on the Loire. The crowds cheered as they knew this was history in the making. CroisiEurope’s defining features are, its shallow-draft river cruise vessels. By reducing the amount of the ship that exists below the waterline, CroisiEurope can sail into the heart of cities – like Strasbourg, where CroisiEurope is headquartered – while other river cruise operators are forced to dock on the other side of the Rhine, in the German town of Kehl, and bus guests in. The key CorisiEurope selling points are:

  • CroisiEurope gets to the heart of the towns that other companies bus their clients in.
  • They offer sailings on nearly every river in Europe, with itineraries in Asia, Russia and unique coastal cruise in Croatia. n They are Europe’s largest River Cruise operator, with over 500 departures and over 100 itineraries.
  • Because of Croisieurope’s size they nearly always have availability.
  • They construct, own and operate all their vessels.
  • They offer French Canals by barge, extending to other canals in Europe in 2017/18

Riviera Travel, headed up in Ireland by Stephen Sands, have launched their 2017 River Cruise products, Riviera offerings include the brand new fivestar MS Jane Austen, MS Charles Dickens, fabulous five-star MS Lord Byron, MS William Shakespeare, MS Swiss Sapphire, MS Swiss Corona and MS Swiss Tiara, or the four-star superior MS Swiss Ruby and MS Douro Spirit, with 84pc of our cabins boast French Balconies affording superb views; breakfast in the cabin; on-board classical concerts in Vienna highlighting the city’s musical heritage and tea and coffee making facilities in all cabins. According to Stephen “Our clients often tell us we have a style unique in tour operating – a real family ambience; we have been told by clients ‘it was like travelling with family’ and ‘it was like coming home’. “This is what we set out to achieve: treating our clients as individuals, tailoring our service to be flexible and catering for all needs.

Our staff operate at the ‘sharp end’with managers spending significant time overseas, researching, checking and meeting clients to ascertain likes and dislikes. “If you want to take part in everything that’s fine, but if not, that’s fine too. If you want to see the sights on your own, no one will put any pressure on you not to. “This is something our clients really appreciate – the freedom to explore.” “We are passionate about being an independent company, not part of a large, multinational, impersonal organisation. This independence and our investment in research and people mean we’re free to create the cruises, and provide the best value for money. “ The Main to the Danube is their latest itinerary. Ama Waterways founded in 2002 by river cruise pioneer Rudi Schreiner, are represented in Ireland by Sunway. Destinations have increased.

AMA began cruising the Rhine and Danube. Now theye cover Russia, Portugal, France, Vietnam and Cambodia, Kenya and Myanmar was intorduced last year. Ama uses 14 ships in Europe with six ships based elsewhere and operates exclusively for the English speaking market. Ama offers French balconies and marble appointed bathrooms and most offer fitness centres, beauty salons, gift shops, and splash pools. An alfresco dining area adjacent to the main restaurant can seat 32 passengers for a separate three-course dinner. Seating in this dining area must be reserved in advance. They say limited hours drinks package is cheaper than other all-inclusive tiver cruises

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