It’s no secret that the pandemic rocked the cruise industry—as well as the travel industry overall—to its core. But a year with virtually no trips helped people think more carefully about why and how they travel. As vaccinated travelers dream about their triumphant return, they’re bringing a new level of consideration to their plans. No doubt, they’re turning to the romance of epic voyages—as competitive bookings for 2022 and beyond show—but as they do it, they want to explore more consciously. As a result, small-ship cruise lines are taking center stage for their mission-driven approach to slow travel.
To begin, the desire for longer and more immersive journeys aboard small cruise ships with fewer passengers has never been stronger. “Expedition and niche alternatives started on the drawing board about eight to 10 years ago, but we’re seeing the fruition now—which is coinciding with a time when people with the financial capacity will be more likely to take a small-ship cruise over a mega one,” says Ross Klein, a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and a cruise-industry expert.
Look at AmaWaterways, which recently launched the world’s longest riverboat cruise in history—the 46-night “Seven River Journey Through Europe” (from $25,000 per person)—departing June 2023. According to AmaWaterways’ executive vice president and co-founder Kristin Karst, staterooms were selling so quickly that the company launched a spring edition, which boasts the added luxury of sailing on the pioneering AmaMagna, a diesel-electronic hybrid ship with more spacious rooms but a smaller ecological footprint. Starting in France’s Provence region, some 150 guests will float through the Netherlands, Belgium, and 11 other countries along the Rhine, Moselle, and Danube rivers while stopping to visit family-run vineyards, join in-home cooking classes, and hike and bike through lesser-known villages.
Off-beat experiences for more age groups
Despite the cliches, it’s not just retirees hopping aboard cruise ships these days. Younger demographics had become more interested in river cruising even before the pandemic, says Ellen Bettridge, CEO and President of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (cruises from $3,079 per person) and U by Uniworld. This summer, the company will launch its “Make Travel Matter” experiences to satisfy a growing interest in responsible travel. Whether it be taking a brass ornament-making workshop with artisans in India, learning about fair trade chocolate on a Belgian cacao farm, or going plastic-fishing in Amsterdam’s canals with a company that turns waste into furniture, river cruising is no longer just about sipping craft gin on the sundeck—though that’s an option, too.