When Adventures by Disney announced it was going into river cruising, the myth that children could never love this type of holiday went out of the window.

When Uniworld unveiled The B, the myth that millennials could never be interested in sailing inland waters similarly disappeared.

Now, larger suites, shore excursions that cater to a wide array of interests, combination itineraries that include land tours, celebrity partnerships, culinary favourites and better entertainment have all led to an amazing array of choices and growth across the age ranges.

The new cruising season promises to tempt cruisers to take to the waters with new destinations, ships, shore excursions and holiday concepts.

New rivers are always a drawcard for adventurous travellers. Being one of the first to sail a river not only earns bragging rights, but also rewards with the first glimpse of unspoiled landscapes.

Just a few months ago, the very first tourist vessel sailed through Bangladesh to Kolkata, a route that will be officially launched this fall by Exotic Heritage Group. This new route on the Brahmaputra brings cruisers to south India to explore three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Sundarbans, Mosque City of Bagerhat and the Manas National Park.

Asian rivers are going beyond the Yangtze, Mekong, Irrawaddy and the Ganges to less travelled waters like the Chindwin River on the Burma–Assam border and the Red River in North Vietnam.

While Asian rivers are all about exploring the lifeline for the people of the region, in the Amazon, cruisers are discovering the treat of experiencing the jungle from the comfort of a luxury liner.

Capuchin monkeys in the Amazon
Capuchin monkeys in the Amazon

The legendary Nile in Egypt is also receiving strong renewed interest with sold-out seasons. Viking Cruises is expanding its program with a new ship, Viking Osiris, which debuts in September 2020.

The line is launching two London-based pre-cruise extensions that include exclusive experiences designed to enhance guests’ knowledge of Egyptology prior to even arriving in Cairo. They offer privileged access to places like the Egyptian Collection at the British Museum, and Howard Carter’s archives which detail the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Viking’s itinerary is a stellar example of the new style of holidays river cruise lines are offering. It’s customisable, exclusive and enhances your experience with experiential itineraries.

Gone are the days where shore excursions meant herding a group off a coach to grab mandatory snaps before bustling them back on board to travel to the next tourist spot.

Instead, there are plenty of options for cruisers to explore their own interests. It could be a relaxing wellness experience, a culinary event, classes with local artisans, discovering the regional culture with hands-on experiences, or getting your heart pumping with a guided hike, e-bike tours, kayaking or even a round of golf when sailing APT on the French rivers.

If you can’t decide on just one, lines are also offering exclusive adventures with a little bit of everything. APT has a new excursion that takes cruisers to the Gödöllő Palace in Hungary on the Grand Empress Steam Train, including a royal game lunch during the imperial rail journey.

Combination itineraries are perhaps the biggest trend of all. Australian cruisers are looking to extend and maximise their time in Europe to make the most of their long journey there. This could be a combination of land tours, ocean cruises or even another river cruise with their first river cruise itinerary.

Scenic has a new fully guided four-night land tour extension around mythical Transylvania on their Danube Delta Discover.

A castle in Transylvania
A castle in Transylvania

APT’s Classic Journeys land tour, designed to connect seamlessly with their river cruises, have been very popular for 2020.

Viking Cruises is also finding increasing interest in river-ocean combination cruises. Their Bergen to Budapest/Basel itinerary is running for the second year in 2020 and already there is only limited availability remaining. These 15- and 22-day itineraries take guests to the landscapes of the Norwegian fjords on an ocean cruise and experience the classic European river cruise all in one holiday.

These combination itineraries can get long but for lines are also offering shorter cruisers to cater to time-starved younger cruisers. Crystal River Cruises and Avalon Waterways are launching four- to six-day itineraries on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers in 2020. These sampler itineraries are also perfect for new cruisers who want to dip their toes in the water without committing to a longer journey.

Efforts to draw in a younger crowd don’t stop there. APT is fitting out their ships with fitness and wellness centres, offering yoga sessions and putting on live entertainment. They also find that gourmet themed experiences really appeal to younger guests. On U by Uniworld, they take it one step further with mixology sessions, silent discos, karaoke nights, giant board games and barbecues.

Across the board, river cruisers want more out of their ship experience and holidays and cruise lines are answering with bigger ships and suites to fit more amenities on board. AmaMagna, which began sailing the Danube in May, is nearly twice the width of traditional European river ships. All the extra space allows Avalon Waterways to feature multiple dining venues, a larger spa and gym area, enhanced evening entertainment and even a water sports platform.

The suites will also feature Avalon Waterways’ award-winning wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows in the Panorama Suites, which promise excellent balcony views while maximising space in the suites.

This year, eight of Scenic’s Space-Ships will also be upgraded to have larger but fewer staterooms.

It looks like the luxury of space is making a comeback – or did it just never go out of style?