By Brian Jewell
If the 20th century was the age of the ocean liner, the 21st is shaping up to be the golden era of the river cruise.
Although ocean cruising remains a popular travel choice, river cruising has come of age in the past decade, and its continued growth in popularity promises a bright future for cruise companies and passengers alike.
The early 2000s brought a widespread growth in the popularity of river cruising as new companies entered the market and existing lines dramatically expanded and improved their products. That expansion continues, with nearly every major cruise line constructing new ships for launch in the coming years. And the diverse interests of a new generation of travelers have led cruise lines to develop itineraries with new lengths, themes and destinations.
— Europe —
The Rhone, the Rhine, the Danube and other rivers of Europe have become the world’s most popular river cruise routes. Numerous companies offer cruise itineraries on those waterways ranging from one to two weeks in length. Europe is also the hot spot for new cruise vessels, as most river cruise operators have announced new ship builds for 2014 and beyond.
One of those companies is Tauck, which made a name for itself as a high-end land tour operator. Although they first began offering river cruise itineraries on chartered equipment in the 1990s, Tauck began building custom vessels to its own specifications in 2006.
“Europe was a very popular destination for our customers, and river cruising was starting to take off for North Americans,” said vice president Katharine Bonner. “The more we investigated it, the more it seemed to be in our sweet spot. We’re all about the destination experience — that’s what Tauck has built its 88-year history on, and it’s something we can deliver in a unique style to river cruise customers.”
Like many European river cruises, Tauck itineraries focus a lot on land experiences, with guided tours included in each town in which the ship stops along the way. The company arranges for some special touches, such as a dinner or musical performance in a historic castle, along with opportunities for independent exploration.
Tauck is also putting some shorter trips and themed cruises into its program to satisfy the interests of younger travelers.
“Shorter itineraries are popular for the baby boomers, so we’re putting them in the mix,” Bonner said. “We’re also introducing multigeneration departures for families that are a great way to travel with older children. And we’re doing special music cruises and departures themed around food, art and history.”