I am not speaking of the cute British kids’ television series from the 1960’s in which Hammy Hamster, Roderick Rat and GP the guinea pig had amazing adventures, but the increase in the popularity of river cruising.

My head is in the river, so to speak, rather than ocean cruising for once as I am about to head off to Germany for the launch of the much anticipated Panorama, Avalon’s new double-decker, all-suite accommodation river cruiser. It is set to be a quite festive affair….the christening on Friday at 5pm local time, followed by a gala dinner, and then an inaugural media cruise to Amsterdam (hope the tulips have bloomed).

It’s been a while since I cruised on anything smaller than a 200 pax high seas cruise ship, and I have to say I am somewhat excited at the prospect of the trip. The ICCA’s last round of stats last month, not only proved that 2010 was a record year in the cruising industry, but also showed that among Australians river cruising had gone up in popularity by 12 per cent.

To refresh your memory on the stats, which were pretty eye-opening, here’s a link to the news piece from last month.

It’s not hard to see why river cruising is so popular. Sure, some of these vessels may lack the bells and whistles of their ocean-going siblings. But river cruising is a mighty easy way to see a lot of places in a short space of time, and without the risk of seasickness! For exploring the heartland of Europe there’s probably no other way to go…unless you can afford a driver, or to hire a Ferrari to self-drive.

This year there is an unprecedented number of new build and revitalised river cruisers launching. Uniworld’s Douro Spirit, which will explore the waterways of Spain and Portugal, launched last month, followed by Scenic Tours fifth “space ship” the Scenic Pearl.

Avalon’s Panorama joins the fray this weekend, followed by APT’s Amakaterina in Russia, Amaverde in Europe, and Amalotus in the Mekong Delta in September. And Viking’s Prestige will launch in July, operating eight-day Danube cruises. And what this all means for cruise fans is more choice, and more ways to explore the world on the water, which in my book is a good thing.

The age group for river cruising may be a little more senior, and if you are family with young children river cruising has its challenges, but overall for someone who wants to explore some of the great European capitals, or some far flung parts of the world including Vietnam, it’s a great way to go.

I will be reporting back immediately after Panorama’s christening on Saturday, and again next Tuesday with my thoughts on this new vessel and some of the places we will have cruised to. And to say I can hardly wait, is an understatement! Happy cruising!