Over the past few years, active cruises have spiked in popularity. We see this with the addition of bicycles to ocean and river cruise fleets, and also with an increase of active excursions, such as hikes and even kayaking, for cruise guests. However, sometimes the offerings presented by the cruise line are not enough for active guests. Backroads Active Travel partners with river cruise line AmaWaterways and ocean cruise line Ponant to provide daily active excursions that go beyond what the cruise companies can offer on their own.
Is a Backroads sailing something you should consider? First, you should know that cruising with Backroads will add a premium to your normal cruise fare. How much more? In his 2016 post, Backroads Bike Trips & River Boating: A Winning Combination For Active Travelers, River Cruise Advisor’s Ralph Grizzle wrote:
How much more on average is a Backroads’ trip versus an AmaWaterways cruise on the same itinerary? On our trip, the premium was $1,100 to $1,500 more, depending on the cabin category. That’s a relatively small price to pay for all that you get in return. At least that was the feedback from the family of five, as well as what I felt about my own experience with my son Alex. Backroads rates on the Danube and Rhine begin at $4,598 per person, double occupancy for eight days. The eight-day trips on Seine and Douro trips go for quite a bit more, from $5,898 to $5,998, respectively.
Keep in mind that was in 2016. Ralph will be traveling with Backroads again in June. This time, he’ll be on Ponant, traveling from Venice along the Dalmatian coast. He will be bicycling every day and posting about his journey on Avid Cruiser as well as on Instagram, @avidcruiser.
Because cruise lines have guests with differing abilities, cruise line shore programs must provide excursions that will work for the masses. While that approach may work for some, it may not for all. For example, a wine enthusiast could take any river cruise and enjoy the wine, but a wine-themed cruise would provide an experience that surpasses simply enjoying the wines paired with dinner.
The same thing goes with active cruising. Sure, on some cruise ships a regular sailing may include bike rides, hikes, or other forms of outdoor activity, but Backroads puts active excursions in the foreground and provides guests with more active options than the cruise company can alone.
What about active excursions on the ships?
Backroads’ excursions provide more variety in activity levels and in activity types than a cruise line does, or can do regularly. Because Backroads’ sailings are specific to active cruisers, the itineraries are crafted to suit the needs of active travelers. So, while AmaWaterways may offer bike tours, Backroads will offer multiple bike tours at different distances and paces.
Let’s look back at the example used earlier about a wine themed cruise, though. In the same way that the cruise line will offer wine throughout the sailing, and perhaps even a tasting or two, there is not going to be a heavy emphasis on wine. Wine will accompany meals, and maybe be the topic of conversation between you and a few other guests.
These Backroads sailings do the same thing. The active excursions offered by cruise lines may be enough for you. You may decide that you only want to do one bike ride on your sailing, or one hike. But if you want to do bike rides every day and get out into each destination to bike or hike, it may suit you better to do a sailing with Backroads.
How do Backroads excursions vary from what the cruise lines provide?
Backroads offers multiple active tours at each port. These usually include hikes or bike rides; however, in some destinations there are more active excursions offered, such as kayaking.
Backroads provides variety not only in types of excursions offered, but also variety within each type of excursion. For example, there may be three or so different groups of bike rides. One that does a long ride at a quick pace, one that does a shorter ride at a quick pace, and then one that does a short and more relaxed ride. Not only does this cater to the various activity levels of guests, but it also allows guests time to go back to the ship or go into town if they so wish.
Backroads’ Product Manager of Ship-Based Travel, Michael Bernhard, explains that when guests sign up for a group trip they often think, “Okay. I have to conform to what the group wants.” But that at Backroads, active is defined at “your pace, your way.”
What are the sizes of the Backroads sailings?
Sizes of Backroads groups vary. For most sailings, the group averages about 30-40 but Backroads also does full ship charters for an entirely active group of cruisers. The amount of Backroads guides varies depending on the size of the group, usually following the format of one guide per every ten guests.
Partnerships with AmaWaterways and Ponant
Apart from excursions, everything else that you do during your trip is provided by the cruise line. This includes your cabins, entertainment, meals, drinks, etc. Backroads does make snack stops though, Michael even jokes that Backroads could be called “Snackroads.” But everything else is coming from the cruise lines.
Backroads carefully chose the partnerships with these two cruise lines. Michael admits that at first it seemed like a risky move, but upon seeing the success of the program aboard AmaWaterways, they have continued to grow the product and now offer more sailings than ever before. They even do full charters on these ships.
AmaWaterways was founded in 2002, its 23-ship fleet cruises the waters of Europe, Asia, and Africa. A family-owned company, AmaWaterways provides a luxury cruise experience on the river. The ships feature colorful interiors, spacious cabins, a heated pool on the sundeck, multiple dining venues, and more. With a comprehensive wellness program, you would certainly be able to enjoy a morning stretch or even yoga before heading off for the day with your Backroads tour.
First founded as Compagnie du Ponant in 1988, Ponant’s small ship ocean cruises range in size but carry no more than 300 passengers on even the largest ships. Because of the small size of the ships, not guests have more space onboard, but there are fewer lines to disembark. Apart from guest experience, the small size of the ships allow them to get into certain ports that larger ships cannot. Ponant’s newest ships also feature the innovative Blue Eye Lounge, an underwater lounge which allows guests to view, and hear, the sea life around you.