Monday, 27 January 2014

Which new river vessels are you most excited about?

Which new river vessels are you most excited about?

By Michelle Baran
InsightIt just sunk in: A ton of brand new river cruise vessels are about to launch in March and April (my Outlook calendar is blowing up). I’ve been writing about the upcoming christenings all year, but now that the  are upon us, I’m finally thinking about the actual new hardware we’re about to see and some of the developments to be on the lookout for.

Here are some points of interest:

On March 26, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection will inaugurate the 159-passenger S.S. Catherine in Lyon, France, marking Uniworld's first expansion of its European fleet since 2011, when the vessel’s sister ship the S.S. Antoinette set sail.

Uniworld has a history of going all-out on its interiors — and judging by the early photos and renderings of the Catherine, this vessel will be no exception. A Leopard Lounge with safari-themed details? A mosaic-tiled pool and spa area? Have you seen those black-and-white stateroom interiors on their website? Needless to say, the vessel promises to be a feast for the senses.

Totally switching gears, on March 31 the 220-passenger paddlewheeler American Empress (formerly the Empress of the North) will be reincarnated by the American Queen Steamboat Co., bringing back a vessel to the Pacific Northwest that was built in 2003 and that has been laid up since the end of Majestic America Line in 2008. Steamboat enthusiasts and historians will surely be curious as to how well the company pulls off its resuscitation effort.

And let’s not forget that an entirely new river cruise line is launching in April: Emerald Waterways, Scenic Tours’ four-star European river cruising project.
I’m intrigued by the heated swimming pool with retractable roof and movie theater that are slated to be features of the 182-passenger Emerald Star and the 182-passenger Emerald Sky, which will set sail on April 15. I’m envisioning Starwood’s Aloft brand in river cruising form.

Speaking of mass brands, we can’t leave out Viking’s 14-ship-strong launch taking place in France in March. Will the new batch of Longships really be identical to their sister ship predecessors? Or will there be some new little personality and amenity tweaks to the 2014 flock?

And also, I’m curious how Viking will pull off a 14-vessel simul-christening. My best guess is live broadcasts from multiple launch sites. But Viking is good at surprises. They’ve been awfully quiet about the launches, and that could mean a lot of different things. It’s a nail-biter to be sure.