River Cruises: A Must Try Experience
The past year has seen the unveiling of cruise ships record-setting in size, ambition and extravagance, but one of the most popular trends in cruise vacations forgoes big ships, island-hopping and in some cases, even the ocean altogether.
This new trend is of course, river- and small-ship cruising, where passengers travel between destinations on smaller vessels that offer a more intimate setting, and enjoy itineraries that navigate through the inland waterways of destinations such as Eastern Europe, Egypt and China.
“Since 2004, international river cruise bookings have grown by more than 200 percent,” Patrick Clark, managing director of river- and small-ship cruise line Avalon Waterways, said in a recent press release. Avalon Waterways is the industry leader in this brand of vacation, having earned numerous awards from industry authorities including Frommer's, Travel Weekly, Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. Avalon Waterways is part of the Globus Family of Brands.
Cruise lines like Avalon Waterways have long-enjoyed success and popularity among a niche market of travelers. But like the occasional foreign film that finds box-office success with mainstream audiences, in 2010 the popularity of river cruising is on the rise, gaining the attention from an increased number of travelers as a must-try travel experience.
What's the reason for all this newfound attention towards river cruising? A lot of it seems to stem from the overall popularity of cruise vacations. More than 176 million North Americans have taken a cruise since 1980, and 50 million plan on taking a cruise sometime within the next three years, according to statistics from Cruise Lines International Association, Inc. (CLIA).
The majority of these travelers took what is sometimes referred to as a "deep water" cruise -- a big-ship cruise vacation that sails on ocean waters and visits ports-of-call on Caribbean islands, the Mexican Riviera and the Alaskan coastline, as well as Canada and New England.
At first glance, these two styles of cruises -- big ship and small ship -- seem like they would appeal to vastly different groups of travelers. After all, a vacation that involves a week's worth of beaches, sunbathing, snorkeling and shopping for souvenirs on several Caribbean islands seems a far cry from a week-long voyage through France along the Rhine River, departing from Paris with excursions to Claude Monet's gardens and the beaches at Normandy.
But the increasing popularity of small ship and river cruising seems to suggest a Venn Diagram -- big ship cruises on Side A, small ship cruises on Side B, and the intersection between growing larger as Side A and Side B converge onto an overlapping area populated by cruisers looking to broaden their travels by venturing to new countries, exploring new cultures and seeking new experiences all while enjoying a style of vacation that they know and love.
Though it might seem like comparing apples to oranges, it is easy to see the appeal of both styles of cruises, and why they overlap. Both offer more convenience than over-land travel, and let you explore and sample multiple destinations in a single trip while only having to unpack once. Cruise lines specializing in both have some of the highest customer feedback ratings in recorded history. Both offer great food and great entertainment. Both offer the chance to mix relaxation with insight into a destination's past (let's not forget that in addition to beaches, the Caribbean is rife with history and ecological beauty).
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