Back to the Future – River cruising in Europe

Feenstra Rijn Lijn 47River cruising is one of the fastest growing sectors in worldwide tourism, outgrowing even the expanding ocean cruise sector: “River cruise lines are having trouble keeping up with the demand,” says Julie Walsh, the director of marketing for Cruise Travel Outlet, a booking website. “We are booking most of our customers on river cruises for 2014 because space is sold out for 2013.” (Source: Marketwatch)

This growth is my key reason to have a look at six river cruise vessels of Dutch Feenstra Rijn Lijn (Feenstra Rhine Line), that were open to the public in Arnhem this weekend. Lured by tours of the ships and free coffee with cake in the ship’s restaurants, several hundreds of potential river cruise passengers left the safe shores of the Arnhem riverside to explore this growing holiday trend.

With my visit I wanted to explore this statement: “Much of this rapid growth [stems] from travelers age 50 and up, industry insiders say. “The sweet spot for river cruises is 50 to 70,” says Patrick Clark, the managing director of Avalon, a river cruise line. This age group is more likely to have sent the kids out of the house, so they have more time and resources to spend on travel, Clark explains; and because they’ve been traveling for years, he adds, many like the novelty of the river-cruise idea.” (Marketwatch, 2013).

To see if the stereotypical pensioner image of the river cruise passenger still holds true, I took my 11-year old son, asking him to see if a river cruise would also be fun for kids and families. After all, pensioners were the core customers of ocean cruises in the 70’s and 80’s, but they have since discovered families and kids as another market for rapid growth. Perhaps my son could help me spot a similar trend in river cruise holidays…

First signs totally meet the stereotypical image of river cruises... Smart marketing trick, or an attempt to discourage us 'young people' to even get on board...?

My first impression totally meets the stereotypical image of river cruises… Is this a smart marketing trick, or an attempt to discourage us ‘young people’ to even get on board…?

After getting on board the average age of the visitors drops significantly... The forward lounge of the 1968-built 'Statendam' doesn't look too bad. And they serve coffee and cake.

After getting on board, the average age of the visitors drops significantly… The forward lounge of the 1939-built ‘Salvinia’ doesn’t look too bad, although this interior looks more at home in the 1980’s than in 2014. But they serve free coffee and cake.

The lounge opens to the bridge, where passengers can see all movements of the crew. Super high tech navigation and radar equipment ensures passenger safety on the crowded rivers of Europe. But we are not here to investigate career opportunities (which there are!)

The lounge opens to the bridge, where passengers can see all movements of the crew. Super high tech navigation and radar equipment ensures passenger safety on the crowded rivers of Europe. But we are not here to investigate career opportunities (which there are!)

Passenger cabins on the 'Statendam' are comfortable, but do not meet the standards set by modern ocean cruise liners. I would compare them to an average 3-star hotel on shore. This cabin is one of the largest on this vessel.

Passenger cabins on the ‘Salvinia’ are comfortable, but do not meet the standards set by modern ocean cruise liners. I would compare them to an average 3-star hotel on shore. This cabin is one of the largest on this particular vessel.

Despite being one of the oldest ships, the Salvinia has an indoor jacuzzi as part of its small gym.

Despite being one of the oldest ships, the Salvinia has an indoor jacuzzi as part of its small gym.

The entrance of the much larger 1968-built 'Statendam' is very impressive. A notch more luxurious than the previous vessel.

The entrance of the much larger 1968-built ‘Statendam’ is very impressive. A notch more luxurious than the previous vessel.

Old English pub style bar, next to the main lounge. This seems to be the style of most of the Feenstra Rhine Line vessels. It felt like the restaurants my grandparents liked to take us in the 1970's and 1980's. Probably exactly what the older target customer for this company is looking for, but this will not get families on board.

The old English pub style bar, next to the main lounge. This seems to be the style of most of the Feenstra Rhine Line vessels. It feels like the restaurants my grandparents liked to take us in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Probably exactly what the older target customer for this company is looking for, but this will not get families on board.

The cabins on 'Statendam' are the among the best that Feenstra Rhine Line seems to be offering in 2014. Relatively small, using warm colors, comparable to a nice 3-star hotel on shore.

The cabins on ‘Statendam’ are the among the best that Feenstra Rhine Line seems to be offering in 2014. Relatively small, using warm colors, comparable to a nice 3-star hotel on shore.

Cabin in night setting. Over 90% of cabins on these ships have separate beds. Most are 2-person cabins, although there are single-bed cabins and a few 3-person cabins. Ther are no luxury suites, like you often see on ocean cruise liners. Also no 4-person cabins, so basically these ships are not suitable to families at all. Again, probably fine for the target customer...

Cabin in night setting. Over 90% of cabins on these ships have two separate beds. Generally there are also a few single-bed and one or two 3-person cabins . To my surprise there are no luxury suites, like you often see on ocean cruise liners. Also no 4-person cabins, so basically these ships are not suitable to families at all. Again, probably just fine for the older target customer…

The 'Statendam' is the only ship in this display featuring a simple rooftop pool.

The ‘Statendam’ is the only ship in this display featuring a simple rooftop pool.

The 'Rembrandt van Rijn' is another of the more luxury ships in the display. It doesn't get more modern than this at Feenstra...

The ‘Poseidon’ is one of the more luxury, but smaller ships in the display. It doesn’t get more modern than this at Feenstra…

Nice library lounge on the 'Rembrandt van Rijn'.

Nice library lounge on the large ‘Rembrandt van Rijn’. Not the books Casper wants to read though…

Fine dining is a key reason for tourists to go on a river cruise. The lower deck restaurant has a very luxurious ambiance, and the tables are beautifully set for a 'Captain's Dinner'.

Fine dining is a key reason for tourists to go on a river cruise. The ‘Rembrandt van Rijn’ lower deck restaurant has a very luxurious ambiance, and the tables are beautifully set for a ‘Captain’s Dinner’.

Are these river cruises suitable for kids? I guess this picture says it all...

Concluding: Are these river cruises suitable for kids? I guess this picture says it all…

I realize that I am pushing the limits here, by clearly not being a target customer for this particular cruise line. Reading some of the online and independent passenger reviews of even the older vessels, I see they are rated very favourably. Passengers appreciate the high level of service of the crew and the quality of the food on board. In most reviews this satisfaction with on-board hospitality far outweighs the lack of comfort that I perceived during my non-sailing open day visit. My short interactions with the crew totally confirm this feeling of being welcome. As we all know: it is the people – staff and fellow passengers – that make or break a holiday experience.

Back to the future now. I believe that there is even more growth potential for this fast growing tourism sector. Once the first European river cruise line dares to outfit a ship specifically for families, you may find that this is the next big thing in cruise tourism. It should be relatively easy to combine a river cruise with fun activities for kids, like rock climbing or visiting attraction parks along the river. I hope that my son may be able to genuinely enjoy a river cruise on the Rhine, Danube, Volga, Mississippi or Nile before he is 50+.

Check out the current offering at the Feenstra Rhine Line website. Thank you for the hospitality of the crews of mps Rembrandt van Rijn, mps Poseidon, mps Salvinia, mps Statendam, mps Azolla en mps Horizon in Arnhem today!

One thought on “Back to the Future – River cruising in Europe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *