Since it has been the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry for a few years now, there’s a tendency among many travelers to think of river cruising as something new. But as we’ve written in the past, river cruises throughout Europe have been around for decades.
Indeed, lines like Uniworld Boutique Cruise Collection and Viking River Cruises can trace their heritage back decades. Other lines, like AmaWaterways and Avalon Waterways, have had a remarkable journey since their respective foundings in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
But to look back on the ships that were popular just a decade ago is almost like looking back on cruising in the 1970’s: It’s amazing to see how far the industry has come in such a short period of time.
The first mainstream river cruise ships were, in all honesty, nothing to write home about. They provided a good, functional vacation that was big on sights, but somewhat lacking in passenger amenities.
Staterooms that were smaller than 100 square feet weren’t uncommon. A typical stateroom might have measured in at 130 square feet, fixed window, no balcony. A television would have been a nicety, and certainly wasn’t included in every stateroom category. In the 1990’s – and even into the 2000’s – berth-style beds wouldn’t have been an uncommon sight. Because of the relatively small size of these staterooms, one berth likely would have been made up into a couch during the day, while the other could fold flush against the wall.
As a point of comparison, today, even the lowest-grade accommodations on many river cruise lines are pushing 200 square feet. The vast majority of accommodations feature balconies, either French-styled sliding glass doors or the full step-out variety.
Today’s amenities have come a long way, too. Beds can be arranged in either twin or Queen Fashion, and greater emphasis is being placed on creating spacious, inviting staterooms where guests will want to linger.
Viking’s newest Viking Longships have Sony Bravia flat-panel televisions that are bigger than the one I have at home, inset into backlit wall panels with surround-sound speakers mounted into the ceiling. Avalon Waterways, on the other hand, came up with the novel idea of positioning stateroom beds to face the windows, rather than the traditional bulkhead wall, allowing guests to view the passing scenery from their restful perches.
Innovations aren’t confined to the staterooms either. Scenic Tours took the opportunity to develop Scenic Tailormade, a GPS-enabled guided tour system available as an App for iPad and iPhone users free of charge once onboard one of Scenic’s “Space Ships.” Rather than taking a guided tour with dozens of other guests, Scenic Tailormade offers guests the ability to create their own guided walking or cycling tours without missing out on important historical and cultural information.
River cruising has never been more inclusive. Every river cruise line today offers – at the very least – wine and beer complimentary with lunch and dinner, and many river cruise lines are now completely inclusive, including A-ROSA, Tauck and Uniworld.
River cruising isn’t new – but the comfort and style in which we sail in certainly is.
For an overview of the origins of River Cruising, have a peek at our ABC’s of River Cruising feature here on River Cruise Advisor.