River Cruises Are Attracting a New Group of Travelers — And Their Travel Agents

Earlier this year, Travel + Leisure called river cruises “The smartest way to vacation in 2024Good Housekeeping UK defines travel style as “The adult’s premium alternative to backpacks“.

In fact, today’s river cruising scene looks dramatically different than it did five, ten, or twenty years ago. New lines are popping up on the scene using the latest ships, the sector is expanding into new areas, and a whole new group of travelers are packing their bags and heading to the rivers.

This rise in interest has allowed travel advisors to excel in this field as well; In fact, the allure of earning “comma commissions” attracted about 1,300 attendees to the conference. American Society of Travel Consultants(Asta) III River Cruise Gallerywhich brought together 12 ships from nine river cruise lines in Amsterdam earlier this year (2025 eventwhich takes place in Vienna, is currently sold out.)

Here’s what travel advisors need to know about this evolving sector.

ASTA's third River Cruise Expo broke attendance records.
ASTA’s third River Cruise Expo broke attendance records.
Credit: 2024 Asta

New and updated ships on the rivers

Many ships will find their homes on the waterways over the next couple of years. In 2025, Amawaterwise Two ships will be launched on Magdalena River in Colombia (AmaMagdalena, AmaMelodia), and AmaLilia will make their debut on the Nile this year. Meanwhile, AmaSintra will sail the Douro River in Portugal in 2025, joining Avalon Alegria’s new ship Avalon Waterways – which was baptized in late March – and Porto Mirante from Riviera cruises.

Related: Review: Avalon Alegria on the Douro River in Portugal

Other new ships include the Amadeus Nova Amadeus River Cruises (Features a diesel-electric hybrid propulsion system); SS Elizabeth (in 2025) and SS Emily (in 2026) from River cruises at Uniworld Boutique, which also debuted the SS Victoria this year; And Riverside Debussy is a newcomer Luxury river cruises, which was launched last year during the ASTA exhibition. Viking plans to add 10 new longships in 2025 and 2026 In addition to a new ship on the Mekong River and another on the Nile River, while Riviera Riviera Radiance and Riviera Rose will be launched next year.

Although they are not launching new ships, they do carry sister brands Luxury scenic cruises and tours And Emerald Journeys They don’t rest on their laurels. They are modernizing 18 of their 22 existing ships.

Related: EXCLUSIVE: Viking Chairman and CEO, Torstein Hagen, talks about Viking’s completed IPO

Avalon Alegria was christened in Portugal in March.
Avalon Alegria was christened in Portugal in March.
Credit: 2024 Avalon Waterways

Shift towards expanded itineraries and off-season travel

As flight prices to Europe rise, travelers are booking longer cruises or switching to shoulder season travel to make the most of their vacations, according to several river cruise executives at ASTA’s River Cruise Expo. AmaWaterways aims to alleviate price fatigue with its products Air Plus program, which combines airfare with cruise fare at a fixed price (applies to all European cruises). It is also offering a free pre- or post-cruise land package through June 2024 (can be combined with AirPlus).

“One of the things we kept hearing was uncertainty about air and the cost of air,” said Alex Pinelo, senior vice president of sales at AmaWaterways. “And it’s difficult to plan and budget. So, our answer to that – because we continue to listen and take action – is our Airplus promotion, which can be integrated with our retail offer.

Penello says he’s also seeing interest in combination cruises.

“We offer longer trips [with] More 14-day cruises, he said. “And we have back-to-back cruises, or ‘bundle cruises,’ where we offer a 10% discount.”

Avalon Waterways, part of Globes family of brandsSimilar trends were seen in the annual “wish list survey,” which asks previous guests how they want to travel, where they want to go and with whom.

The line then uses this data to inform its choices regarding future itineraries and destinations, according to Pam Hovey, Avalon’s president.

For 2024 and 2025, Avalon will add more itineraries to France and Portugal, starting with the inaugural sailing of Avalon’s ship Alegria, specially designed for the Douro. Next year will see the addition of two new rivers (the Garonne and the Dordogne, for a total of five rivers), six new cruises and a 33% increase in capacity in France.

Extended itineraries will also be offered; A new one-week cruise in Bordeaux can be combined with other cruises on the Seine, Saône, Rhône and Rhine rivers.

There will also be a series of nine-night cruises on the Danube and Rhine (alongside Holland/Belgium cruises), and more capacity has been opened on 14-night cruises from Amsterdam and Budapest for 2025.

Riviera River Cruises is also focusing on longer departures in 2025, with new itineraries of up to 29 days.

MS Porto Mirante exterior design - Courtesy of Riviera River Cruises_PHOTO3
Riviera River Cruises offers over 40 departures without a single supplement.
Credit: 2024 Riviera Cruises

Appealing to families, solo travelers and new cruisers

Although an Avalon survey showed that most travelers prefer to travel in pairs, the solo travel market is in demand (leading Avalon to give away its single annex in select rooms on almost every cruise).

Riviera River Cruises is also eyeing the trend, offering “more than 40 departures without a single supplement,” according to Marilyn Conroy, vice president of North American sales and marketing for Riviera River Cruises. It’s a market she describes as “the fastest growing sector, second only to family.”

“People say they want to go on their next solo trip,” Avalon’s Hovey said, referring to the wish list survey. “But they don’t have to be single… Sometimes, it’s someone who was previously booked as a couple.”

On the family travel front, AmaWaterways will continue its partnership with Adventures by Disney to attract more multi-generational groups, while Tauck offers exclusive Bridges cruise itineraries during the summer on five different rivers.

“The great thing about river cruises with families, no matter what river you’re on, is that you get to enjoy the laid-back nature of the ship, but then you also get to see these amazing places outside of the ship,” said Steve Spivak, vice president. Head of Global Sales and Reservations for Tauck. «How do you make the Louvre interesting for children? Turn it into a scavenger hunt. How to tell a story [Vincent] Van Gogh’s last days in Arles? You paint Van Gogh’s masterpieces with chocolate.

The great thing about river cruises with families, no matter what river you’re on, is that you get to enjoy the relaxed nature of the ship, but then also see these amazing places outside the ship.

New customers on the rivers also provide an opportunity, according to Jennifer Halbuth, CEO of Riverside Luxury Cruises, who said at the ASTA River Cruise Expo that she wants to break the misconception that river cruises are for retirees.

Who would you go instead? It’s simple: many “river-curious” travelers.

On the home front

Earlier this year, local river cruise line American Queen Voyages It closed its doors. But that doesn’t mean river cruising in the United States isn’t alive and well; During this year’s surf season, American cruise lines It reported a record sales season across its small ships and riverboats plying America’s waterways and coastal cruise itineraries. Mississippi Viking It has also released several new itineraries, including the Mississippi Delta Explorer, the Upper Mississippi Explorer, the Mississippi River Odyssey and The Big Easy to the Gateway City.

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