Friday, 5 September 2014

Holiday cruises expand beyond Christmas markets

Holiday cruises expand beyond Christmas markets

By Michelle Baran
New Years Eve celebration in Amsterdam.For years, river cruise lines have offered a small selection of Christmas market cruises along festive stretches of Central and Western Europe waterways as a way to sell a bit more inventory during the colder off-season. But with river cruising gaining in popularity, so, too, are the more value-oriented holiday cruises, which have expanded both in numbers and scope to encompass itineraries that include more New Year's celebrations as well as destinations beyond the traditional Germany, Austria and Czech Republic.

For instance, CroisiEurope has three distinct categories of cruises this holiday season: Christmas markets, Christmas cruises and New Year's cruises. The Christmas cruises include itineraries in Brussels, Venice and Bordeaux, France, and the New Year's sailings take place in Venice and Bordeaux.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's holiday cruise lineup features the traditional Christmas market routes but also includes a seven-day Parisian Winter Holiday itinerary, with the Dec. 27 departure including a New Year's celebration in the City of Lights. And in addition to its plethora of holiday cruises along the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers, Viking Cruises is now offering holiday cruises throughout France and in Portugal, destinations only more recently cropping up on the holiday river cruise radar.

In order to further capitalize on the opportunity to enhance sales during the slower season beyond just the Christmas markets, river cruise companies are also promoting their new and enhanced New Year's sailings as more cost-effective alternatives to land-based bashes.

"Europe's top hotels can cost as much as 700% more over the New Year's holiday," AmaWaterways claimed in a recent statement promoting its holiday cruises. As an alternative, the company is including a two-day New Year's extension in Amsterdam on two of its holiday cruises this year — its 14-night Magnificent Europe Christmas Cruise itinerary from Budapest to Amsterdam and its seven-night Treasures of the Main and Rhine from Nuremberg, Germany, to Amsterdam. The company's 164-passenger AmaSonata will remain in port in Amsterdam through New Year's, and passengers from either itinerary can stay onboard through Jan. 1 at no additional cost. Ama is also offering a seven-night Christmas on the Danube cruise that departs Vilshofen, Germany, on Dec. 27 and will be in Vienna on New Year's Eve.

Indeed, whether they're adding New Year's options, expanding their holiday destinations or simply increasing the number of traditional Christmas market cruises, almost every major river cruise line is adding capacity to its holiday lineup this coming season. Tauck is growing its Christmas market river cruise departures by 67%, Avalon has increased its Christmas-themed departures by 40% and Scenic Cruises is operating two new eight-day holiday cruises this year, compared with one 15-day itinerary last year.