The allure of shoulder season cruising has taken Australians by storm – river cruising goes year-round.

‘Tis the season – any season – to go sailing as cooler months become a popular trend for many cruisers who want to enjoy the holiday spirit, minus the crowds, onboard a luxury river cruise.

As a result, major river cruise operators are adding and extending traditional sailing seasons to meet growing demand. A further bonus for travellers is a better price advantage travelling off-peak and in some cases, during shoulder periods, with savings of up to 15% on offer on some lines.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises told River Cruise Passenger 6 new sailings are on the cards this year, a win for travellers and concurrently driven by them as it is due to a high number of bookings that keep rolling in.

Extending the season, the new sailings include a Paris & Normandy and Enchanting Danube departure, both on November 10, with a further four Rhine Holiday Markets cruises on Uniworld’s River Duchess, with dates to be confirmed.

“We are still seeing strong bookings for last minute departures in 2024. To support the demand, we have added 6 new departures at the end of the season in 2024,” Alice Ager, Managing Director, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises Australia & NZ.

While price is dynamically driven, the first few and last sailings of the season are usually at a lower price point, according to Uniworld.

Popular destinations for Uniworld’s shoulder September to October seasons include Central Europe, France, Portugal with its Mekong and Egypt river cruises also picking up during these months. According to Uniworld, interest has been sparked by a number of travellers wanting to avoid the hottest months of the European summer season.

High bookings as river cruising goes year-round

And they are not the only ones. High bookings have been a driving force for AmaWaterways to add extra sailings in March, April, November and December.

Following the success of new Rhine and Danube cruises introduced this February, the luxury line is keeping these departures as part of its 2025 offering.

“We’ve been taking reservations for a few months now and somewhere from 60-70% of our reservations have been for the shoulder season and off-peak times,” Steve Richards, AmaWaterways Managing Director Australia told River Cruise Passenger.

AmaWaterways concur it is more economical to travel outside of peak hours with cruisers also able to save between 10-15% in shoulder periods, in addition to being offered other promotions that offer additional savings.

“River cruisers who are flexible with their dates are open to travelling when the weather is more temperate and there are fewer crowds. We’re also seeing an extension of seasonal events like the European Christmas Markets, starting earlier in November so that has led to us adding more dates to these popular itineraries.”

According to AmaWaterways, The Rhine and Danube are popular for those travelling to Europe in March and April, while the Mekong between October and December is driving bookings out of this market.

“The changing of the landscape during Autumn drives a lot of interest and we’ve also been delighted with the response to opening up our European itineraries earlier in the year. This year, for the first time, several AmaWaterways ships began their season in February due to demand,” Richards said.

Avalon off-season up 88%

Meanwhile, Avalon Waterways reports it too has increased its off-season cruise offerings by a whopping 88% in the last year alone, adding new departures to an already extensive number of wine and festive themed cruises during November and December.

“Every year, our November and December Festive and Wine themed cruises sell-out, encouraging us to add more departures. Next season will mark the third year in a row that we have increased November and December itineraries and departures to accommodate our guests and their interests. It’s hard to continue to call autumn and winter cruising ‘off season’ when it’s become so popular!” Pam Hoffee, President of Avalon Waterways said.

The trend continues into 2025 with Avalon Waterways departures – and capacity – up 80% across seven itineraries (and 18 departures).

Destinations are responding well to the influx, with popular European Christmas Markets starting earlier than usual with a mid-November open date.