River Cruise Preview for 2016

Crystal River Cruises will launch its first vessel, the Crystal Mozart, in July 2016, while four new all-suite river yachts also are under construction at Lloyd Werft.

Crystal River Cruises will launch its first vessel, the Crystal Mozart, in July 2016, while four new all-suite river yachts also are under construction at Lloyd Werft.

As 2016 gets under way, new upscale river cruise ships, itineraries, perks and even a new line await luxury travelers. Here’s a sampling of the robust developments.

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Highly anticipated is the July 13 launch of the new Crystal River Cruises’ first vessel, the 160-passenger Crystal Mozart, with 10- and 11-night itineraries plus holiday sailings on the Danube River. Formerly the MS Mozart, the ship is being redesigned and updated to Crystal standards; all suites feature king beds, an industry first. Double the width of the average European river boat, Crystal Mozart was built specifically for the wider locks between Passau, Germany, and Budapest, Hungary. Travelers will discover a single level of public spaces, including multiple dining rooms, a spa and fitness center, indoor pool, salon, library and a wrap-around promenade.

Top digs? We’d reserve one of the sumptuous 860-square-foot, two-bedroom Crystal Suites on Deck 2. Very unusual is a cozy fireplace in the living room. Above it is a wall-mounted TV, and the living area also boasts a sofa, two armchairs, refrigerator, Espresso machine, dining table with four chairs and a French balcony. Crystal Suite master bedrooms feature Egyptian cotton linens, the king bed (convertible to two twins), walk-in closet, arm chair, vanity area, flat-screen pop-up TV and a bathroom with double vanity, shower and separate whirlpool tub. Among the Crystal Suite amenities are butler service, a refrigerator, Nespresso coffee machine, and hors d’oeuvres and canapés.

Four new all-suite Crystal River Cruises vessels also are under construction at Lloyd Werft, the German shipyard recently purchased by Genting Hong Kong, Crystal’s parent firm. Starting in summer 2017, the 110-passenger Crystal Bach will sail the Rhine River, while Crystal Mahler will cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. The new 84-passenger Crystal Debussy will sail the Seine. Sister Crystal Ravel will ply the Garonne/Dordogne rivers and Gironde Estuary, with an opportunity for seafood-loving guests to taste the region’s famous Arcachon oysters.

Crystal’s “new builds” will all be designed with one level of public areas, including dining spaces, a spa, fitness center and library. Hot spot? We can’t wait to see the Palm Court with its dance floor and glass-domed roof. Accommodations-wise, the four new ships will have 220-square-foot suites, 250-square-foot Deluxe Suites, a 500-square-foot Penthouse Suite and one 750-square-foot, two-bedroom Crystal Suite, all with king beds, walk-in wardrobes and bathrooms with double vanities.

During port days, guests participating on Crystal Adventures can ride in style in new motorcoaches with business-class-style seating and complimentary Wi-Fi. One new Active Exploration Adventure will be offered on port days as well, and for independent exploration, Segways and electric and manual bicycles will be available. A luxury tender will provide a private yacht-like experience and take guests to secluded spots.

Fast growing Viking River Cruises also launches seven new European river vessels this spring. Six are its popular Viking Longships with modern, contemporary décor and upscale staterooms and suites. Viking Tialfi and Viking Alruna will sail on the Rhine, Viking Egil and Viking Vilhjalm on the Danube and Viking Kadlin and Viking Rolf on French rivers. In addition, the new Viking Osfrid will navigate Portugal’s Douro River, giving Viking three Douro ships.

The line is also adding five new cruisetours that feature a river cruise, hotel stays and guided tours. The 12-day “Castles & Legends” cruisetour from Munich to Budapest combines a “Danube Waltz” cruise with a Munich stay and side trips to Neuschwanstein Castle, Linderhof Palace and Salzburg. Other cruisetours cover Paris, Burgundy and Provence; Poland, Prague and the Elbe River; and the Rhine region. We like the new 19-day “Grand European Tour & Belgium” from Budapest, Hungary, to Ghent, Belgium, because beyond the in-depth cruise, guests spend two nights each in Ghent and Amsterdam.

Viking is also debuting a new China itinerary, “Undiscovered China,” this year. Travelers sailing on Viking Emerald will soak up history — viewing Dazu stone carvings and walking an aerial pathway above the Terracotta warriors. We also like this itinerary for the “cuteness” factor as travelers will gaze at giant pandas and their playful cubs at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. 

This spring, Tauck launches two new Inspiration-class ships — Grace on the Rhine and Joy on the Danube. Each offers 67 accommodations, including 22 sumptuous 300-square-foot suites. For those seeking new and different, Grace sails a new 10-day “Rhine, Swiss Alps & Amsterdam” program with a two-night stay at the five-star Bellevue Palace in Bern and either a Bern walking tour or full-day Bernese Alps excursion to Europe’s highest railway station, the Jungfraujoch. Guests also tour Lucerne’s Old Town before boarding in Basel, Switzerland.

Tauck also has new exclusive dining experiences ashore, including one at Schloss Ehreshoven, a 14th-century castle and grand Baroque Manor house, in Engelskirchen, Germany. Normally closed to the public, it will host guests on the “Rhine, Swiss Alps & Amsterdam” and “Romantic Rhine” itineraries for a cocktail reception, dinner and live music. At the opulent Chateau Bizy in Vernon, France, guests on Tauck’s “Cruising the Seine plus Versailles, Paris & London” itinerary will stroll the estate and garden, sip bubbly at a champagne reception and dine with musical entertainment. Luxury cruisers will have “bragging rights” too as the chateau’s former owners include King Louis XV and its current owners are Napoleon’s descendants.

Tauck guests on the “Rhine & Moselle” itinerary will journey to Schloss Johannisberg, Geisenheim, Germany; it’s a former Benedictine monastery, palace and the first Riesling estate. Cruisers will tour a historic wine cellar, attend a reception, dine on a gourmet meal with local wines and listen to musical entertainment.

AmaWaterways’ Zambezi Queen has been specifically designed for safari river cruising on the Chobe River.Pictured: AmaWaterways’ Zambezi Queen has been specifically designed for safari river cruising on the Chobe River.

Also new, AmaWaterways launches the 158-passenger AmaViola and AmaStella, sisters to AmaSerena; they’ll sail Tulip Time, Rhine or Danube voyages and offer new connecting staterooms and larger suites. Four luxurious, 350-square-foot Violin Deck Suites and most other accommodations onboard feature the line’s signature “twin balconies” — separate exterior and French balconies. Public spaces include a heated swimming pool, hair salon, fitness room and more.

AmaWaterways will offer 34 wine-themed sailings this year, double the previous offerings, plus a new seven-night “Taste of Bordeaux” itinerary along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Five new art-themed AmaWaterways voyages in northern France feature art-related tours and painting workshops.

In Africa, AmaWaterways’ 10- to 19-day experiences all feature a Chobe River cruise on the 28-passenger Zambezi Queen and the line has enhanced its land program. It’s also bringing back the popular “Discover Africa” program featuring three nights in Cape Town, a four-night cruise, two nights in Victoria Falls and, newly added, an optional two nights in Johannesburg for exploring Soweto and Nelson Mandela’s former home. Akin to a floating lodge, Zambezi Queen has spacious balcony staterooms and an enclosed, air-conditioned dining room, lounge and bar. We’d head for the top deck for 360-degree river views and possible elephant spottings.

We particularly like the robust “Golden Trails of East Africa” itinerary for destination immersion. It features one night in Johannesburg, a four-night wildlife cruise, two nights in Victoria Falls, another two nights in Johannesburg and seven nights at Tanzanian luxury safari lodges in Arusha, Tarangire, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. Why not add on three more pre-cruise nights in Cape Town, where AmaWaterways offers a new wine country drive and a Robben Island/city neighborhoods tour.

Avalon Waterways’ new 166-passenger Avalon Passion, is slated to be christened April 13 in Linz, Austria, by Jill Ellis, head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. Sailing the Danube, it will offer two full decks of 200-square-foot Panorama Suites, featuring wall-to-wall panoramic windows that slide aside to create an open-air balcony. Those wanting “best of the ship” can book Avalon Passion’s 300-square-foot Royal Suite, No. 310 or No. 312 on the Royal Deck, with living room seating, a bedroom area, master bath with two sinks and two balconies.

Also, the new Avalon Imagery II launches this spring; couples seeking romance in Europe should check out the 14-day “Romantic Rhine with Paris and London” itinerary. In Myanmar, Avalon just launched the new 36-passenger Suite Ship, Avalon Myanmar, on the Irrawaddy River; 245-square-foot accommodations feature open-air balconies and beds directly facing the exterior view.

Something different? Belgium’s Meuse River has definitely been “under the radar” for the river cruise industry to date, but that’s changing. Avalon Waterways is adding a new seven-night Belgium itinerary on the Meuse, starting in Amsterdam or Brussels with calls at Ghent, Antwerp, Namur and Maastricht. One northbound highlight is an excursion to Ypres and eastern Flanders’ World War I battlefields. Also unusual, the line’s new “Habsburg History” itinerary operates April 13 from Prague to Budapest; it features Archduke Carlos Felipe von Habsburg, grandson of Austria’s last emperor, as a lecturer.

Scenic Spirit will be sailing the Mekong River, giving cruisers an opportunity to gaze at floating canal villages and rice paddies and tour Angkor Wat, Luang Prabang and Hoi An.

Scenic Spirit will be sailing the Mekong River, giving cruisers an opportunity to gaze at floating canal villages and rice paddies and tour Angkor Wat, Luang Prabang and Hoi An.

Scenic launches its new luxury Mekong River cruise program — eight to 27 days in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand — on the new Scenic Spirit. Cruisers will gaze at floating canal villages and rice paddies and tour Angkor Wat, Luang Prabang and Hoi An. Scenic Spirit’s 34 private balcony suites range from 344-861 square feet, each with a queen bed, separate living area and a private balcony fitted with Scenic’s exclusive all-weather Sun Lounge. Ship amenities include a fitness center, sauna, salon, guest laundry, library and open-air cinema. The pampering equation is high, with a nearly one-to-one ratio of guests to staff.

An eight-day “Luxury Mekong River Cruise” operates from Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. At a Kampong Cham stop, guests will visit the Wat Nokor temple complex for a traditional monk’s blessing. They can sip high tea at the Raffles, Hotel de Royal, followed by a private shadow dance puppet performance. Some itineraries include a multi-day Halong Bay cruise in Vietnam, others in Laos feature a jungle elephant ride, coffee tasting and extended Luang Prabang time. The 27-day “Grand Indochina and Luxury Mekong River Cruise” includes such experiences as a private tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels and a chat with nuns at Hue’s Duc Son Pagoda.

Scenic has three new European itineraries this year, an eight-day “Iconic Danube” and 21-day “Christmas Markets with Paris and Prague” and “Gems of the Seine and Breathtaking Bordeaux.” In terms of new European vessels, Scenic Amber will ply the Rhine, Danube, Main and Moselle rivers, while Scenic Azure will operate eight- to 17-day voyages on Portugal’s Douro River roundtrip from Porto.

Haimark has just begun luxury Peruvian Amazon voyages on the new Amazon Discovery. Shown here is the rendering of the ship’s 597-square-foot Amazonia Suite.

Haimark has just begun luxury Peruvian Amazon voyages on the new Amazon Discovery. Shown here is the rendering of the ship’s 597-square-foot Amazonia Suite.

Haimark Limited has just begun six-night, luxury Peruvian Amazon voyages roundtrip from Iquitos, Peru, on the line’s new 22-suite Amazon Discovery; optional extensions feature guided excursions to Lima, Machu Picchu and/or Cusco and Lake Titicaca. The vessel boasts interiors of sustainably harvested tropical hardwoods, Peruvian fabrics and local artwork. Every suite has a telescope for star gazing or spotting manatees and monkeys. While all suites have river views, we’d splurge for the 597-square-foot Amazonia Suite on the Upper Deck.

This top suite has butler service, a king-sized bed and floor-to-ceiling, wraparound glass windows. Amenities include a stocked minibar, evening canapés, in-room continental breakfast, one 60-minute spa treatment per guest, laundry service and a scented bath service. Three decks of public spaces feature panoramic rainforest views. We’d suggest a relaxing Yucamani stone massage at the onboard Rainforest Spa. The Andes Dining Room serves up roasted meats, grilled fish, vegetables, tropical fruits and more. Going ashore, cruisers will take guided shore and skiff excursions. One “must do” is swimming with pink river dolphins in the Tahuayo River.

Also using Amazon Discovery, Abercrombie & Kent has unveiled a new nine-day Luxury Small Group Journey, the “Amazon Adventure: Rainforest & River Cruise” itinerary, limited to 18 guests. Guests spend six nights on the river, take jungle excursions and meet Bora tribe members. In Europe, A&K also has four new themed river itineraries utilizing Amadeus vessels.

We particularly like “Food & Wine of France: Paris, Burgundy & Provence,” with a seven-night Saone/Rhone cruise and hotel stays in Paris and Beaune. Cruisers will tour a mustard-mill; “taste” at markets and wineries; and dine at the foot of Pont du Gard.

This month, Haimark introduces its luxurious new, all-suite Ganges Voyager II, offering seven-night roundtrip itineraries from Kolkata, India, and pre- and post-cruise extensions in Delhi, Varanasi and the Golden Triangle (Jaipur/Agra/Delhi). Twenty-eight suites accommodate up to 56 guests. Also using that vessel for its new 13-day “India’s Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges” itinerary from New Delhi to Kolkata is the Uniworld Boutique Cruise Collection.

For the ultimate pampering, we’d suggest the ship’s 400-square-foot Maharajah Suite with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open onto a French balcony, pampering butler service and a spa-style bath with soaking tub and separate shower. Uniworld guests also stay five nights at the Oberoi Hotels & Resorts in New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Oberoi Amarvila’s spa therapy rooms overlook the Taj Mahal, so spa enthusiasts might set up a three-hour “Noor-E-Taj Romance” treatment, combining steam, pomegranate exfoliation, a pomegranate wrap, massage and bathing ritual.

For 2016, Uniworld is expanding in-suite butler service to every European itinerary (except Russia and Portugal). Butler service is available 24/7 to all suite guests and butlers are trained at England’s Ivor Spencer Butler School, whose graduates staff the finest hotels and royal houses, including Buckingham Palace. Another new perk? All Uniworld European suite guests (except in Russia and Portugal) will receive a private, personalized training and wellness service with a certified onboard wellness instructor; they choose either a workout, TRX suspension training, Nordic walking, a bicycle tour, yoga lesson or five Tibetan rites.

New Uniworld itineraries include the 12-day “Highlights of Eastern Europe & Istanbul” from Budapest to Istanbul; a 21-day “Portraits of Eastern Europe” from Prague to Istanbul; and the 26-day “Ultimate European Journey” from Amsterdam to Istanbul. Uniworld has also expanded its Monarch Collection and Connoisseur Collection themed cruises.

In Asia, upscale Pandaw River Expeditions recently added highly exotic new Salween River and Irrawaddy sailings in Myanmar. Separately, it’s reconfiguring forward upper deck accommodations on Mekong Pandaw (by July) and Pandaw 2 (by October) to create new 360-square-foot suites, each with a private balcony, spacious interior lounge area with sofa, double or two twin beds and private bathroom. Updated in-room amenities include minibars, Espresso machines and a fruit basket upon arrival.

Pandaw also just added mountain bikes to all Myanmar and Indochina ships. While many guests enjoy the onboard convivial dining, at times people want to dine alone or with their special someone, so private dining is another new Pandaw option, bookable at www.pandaw.com.

New family-designated sailings include July 30 and December 24 departures of Pandaw’s “Burma-Mandalay Pagan Packet” itinerary and the August 6 departure of the “Classic Mekong” itinerary. Perks include meals designed for kids and teens, movie nights, a cooking lesson and shore excursions featuring cycling or family “challenges.”

European operator A-ROSA is adding value in 2016 by waiving the single supplement for dozens of European departures. On voyages for which a single supplement still applies, the solo traveler pays only a portion of the second fare in non-suite category accommodations. Families? On all ships and all sailing dates, the line is also accepting kids two to 15 without a charge in their parent’s room.

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