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Next year is set to see a major change in passengers cruising inland waterways.  The demographic of people choosing to cruise is at last getting younger.

With 2020 set to be more immersive and authentic, younger crowds are now seeing river cruising in a new light. Why should the retirees have all the fun?

Cruise line bosses from Viking River Cruises, AmaWaterways with APT and U River Cruises have all said they are seeing a trend towards younger guests booking European holidays.

So what’s the appeal for the under 50 crowd?

Avalon Waterways, perhaps, might have been the first to pioneer a new way of river cruising – mixing activities with the slow rhythm of the river. And many other lines have now followed suit.

Instead of coach tours, these are replaced with shore excursions like paragliding in the Alps, hard-core cycling along the Danube and Rhine and much more. Even on the ship, there are activities like TRX classes, yoga, stretching and wellness activities that attract younger and fitter travellers, according to Cruise Critic‘s Colleen McDaniel.


“The convenience factor is huge,” Ms McDaniel told USA Today.

“You’re able to city-and-country hop in the convenience of a moving ‘hotel’ – no need to struggle with the hassles of various transportation needs or packing and unpacking more than once. There’s also been a greater focus from river cruise lines to expand their offerings to reach those younger travellers – adding everything from more active shore excursions to new itineraries and ships, and more onboard activities,” says Ms McDaniel.

Here’s what the major lines are doing to attract younger travellers:

Viking River Cruises

With 54 longships on rivers in Europe, Viking says that younger travellers are now discovering the delights of river cruises.

Richard Marnell, executive vice president of marketing at Viking says, “We are finding that younger travellers are also attracted to many of the aspects that are inherent to river cruising – hotel-like small ships that host fewer than 200 guests; the ability to unpack once and experience multiple countries; and itineraries that provide a mix of scenic landscapes, historic cities and storybook villages,” he told USA Today.


Viking bicycle tours

Mr Marnell has also noticed an increase in baby boomers travelling with their adult children. “A river cruise is a great way for families to create lasting memories and explore the world in a comfortable and convenient way that is appealing to multiple generations.”

The line, which is one of the largest players in Europe, says they have central docking locations which means that cruise guests will step off their ship right in the heart of the city. This makes it easy for independent exploration, which younger guests prefer. Another appeal for younger river cruisers is the opportunity to explore multiple inland destinations.

For those with an interest in active excursions, Viking offers a variety of options:

  • A bicycle tour of Cologne on the Grand European Tour itinerary
  • Canoeing the Rhone Riveron the Lyon & Provence itinerary
  • Taking a helicopter tour of Portoon the Portugal’s River of Gold itinerary
  • Hiking the hills of Würzburg to Marienberg Fortressin Germany on the Grand European Tour itinerary
  • Embarking on a plane ride to Neuschwanstein Castle (which inspired Walt Disney) in Passau, Germany on the Danube Waltz itinerary
  • Or paddling through the Danube Wetlands of Donau-Auen National Park, near Vienna on the Romantic Danube itinerary

AmaWaterways with APT

Another pacesetter in the river cruise market is AmaWaterways with APT.

“We are seeing a younger, more active profile of guests onboard our ships. There’s also growth in multigenerational families that are attracted by the many options onboard,” says Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-founder of AmaWaterways with APT.

The swim up bar is a firm favourite

Some of the most enticing features that AmaWaterways with APT offer are:

  • Wellness hosts onboard
  • A fleet of bicycles
  • Healthy menu offerings (including vegan options)
  • Fitness rooms
  • Swimming pool (with swim up bar)
  • Biking and hiking tour options
  • Wine cruises

Wine cruises with AmaWaterways with APT

Ms Karst says that roughly half of all passengers are between the ages of 35 and 65 years of age. “Regardless of age, our guests are active people who enjoy regular exercise, are health-conscious, have a keen interest in the fine arts and enjoy exploring a variety of locally-sourced, fresh cuisine and regional wines,” she says.

U River Cruises by Uniworld

A trailblazer is Uniworld’s U River Cruises, which is the first river cruise dedicated to a new generation of adult travellers, offering a stylish look and feel. The ships themselves are sleek and black, very on-trend. And the line describes itself as part boutique hotel, part yacht, part local hotspot.

The B, U River Cruises by Uniworld

“When your waterfront hotel is also your taxi, bar, favourite restaurant, nightclub and yoga studio, travel becomes a bit more relaxed and hassle-free,” says Uniworld’s website.

  • Itineraries focus on longer stays in destinations
  • Experiences at each city’s vibrant nightlife, including beer-crawls
  • Two 120-passenger matte black ships – The A and The B.
  • Two rooftop venues
  • A spa
  • Locally inspired farm-to-table cuisine

Younger passengers on shore excursions

“Even with the launch of U River Cruises, there was a clear target for a younger traveller – fully realising the opportunity in reaching that demographic,” says Ms McDaniel. Another benefit is that more is included in your all-inclusive fare.

“River cruising is no longer a sleepy way to travel – it’s seen quite the evolution from just a few years ago. River cruises are great for travellers looking for a more all-inclusive experience, as you’ll find far more inclusions on a river cruise than on mainstream ocean ships – things like alcoholic beverages, select shore excursions and WiFi are often inclusions you can expect on a river ship.”


Rooftop cruising at its best

Avalon Waterways

Avalon is widely known for its active itineraries and was one of the first river cruise lines to offer their guests more physical excursions. While you might see many of the usual sights, Avalon offers guests to see these places in a different style.

Some of the most popular European shore excursion highlights include:

  • The Budapest 1960’s retro tour
  • Hiking the Danube Steg trails
  • Canoe down the Danube
  • Sample cheese and beer made by Trappist monks and explore their Abbey gardens.
  • A wine tasting to a hike to Count Dracula’s prison tower
  • A leisurely culinary walk in one of Amsterdam’s famous districts, or a guided jogging tour of the city
  • Boarding a high-speed train for the “City of Light” You’ll spend two nights in Paris to explore the romantic city your way
  • Bike through Camargue Regional Nature Park to spot flamingos

Onboard the ships for the fitness fanatics, Avalon has state-of-the-art fitness centre, free bicycles for use in select ports, and a bubbling whirlpool on the Sky Deck.

Canoe excursions are hugely popular

Crystal Cruises

Crystal has introduced several shorter cruises to their European itineraries, in the belief that younger passengers want to have a fully immersive experience, rather than a drawn out one. In saying that, they also have multiple overnights and extended stays in different cities, customising time ashore with their complimentary and optional Crystal Destination Discoveries.

The Crystal Pop Up Vista Bar

Onboard, Crystal has also created a modern and sophisticated atmosphere through its decor and options, which will appeal to the under 50 crowd. The ships are filled with plush velvet chaises, kitsch gold and brass ornaments and beautiful modern chandeliers.

Like Avalon Waterways, Crystal River Cruises ships have state-of-the-art cardio equipment and free weights available onboard. There are daily yoga and stretching classes which compliment the active biking and hiking shore excursions. A heated indoor pool with a swim-against-the-current feature helps to burn more calories while taking a dip.

Pick up the pace when cruising with Crystal