Crowded Waters


(Photo courtesy Intelcom)

There has been a lot of talk about the increasing number of ocean cruise ships in the past decade. In particular about the negative impact of mega-ships on the environment and their ports of call.

There are now ships on order that will carry in excess of 6,000 passengers, plus crew.

However, what about European river cruising which is a now booming business?

‘Viking River Cruises’ are a good example of success and expansion. The company added 6 new ships to the fleet in 2012, 10 of the same in 2013, 18 in 2014 and 12 in 2015. I believe at the time of writing (2017) they have 64 river vessels.


A busy Danube – Three Amadeus vessels (Click to enlarge)

Let’s not forget that the modern river cruising business did not really exist twenty years ago, unlike ocean cruising. I am told that Europe has more navigable rivers than any other region in the world.

The size of river boats operating in Europe is often constrained by their need to navigate narrow waterways, locks and low bridges.

Most boats on Europe’s rivers have a maximum of three internal decks and carry fewer than 200 passengers.

However the design of many modern riverboats has increased from 110 meters in length to 135 meters. Some new designs carry 20 more passengers or so. I appreciate that does not sound very dramatic, but it does represent expansion of the product.

Popular rivers like the Rhine and Danube have sections with fewer constraints allowing bigger vessels.

Crystal river cruises created the biggest and one of the most luxurious European river vessels in 2016, the ‘Crystal Mozart’. However her passenger capacity is still modest at 160, so the guests are paying for more luxury space on-board.

Essentially Crystal Motzart’s vital statistics are pretty standard, apart from the fact she is twice as wide as nearly all other river boats. However where as two conventional river boats can often fit in a lock, Mozart has to go it alone. If there were more of these wide boats, delays would be caused as the lock capacity would be reduced by half.

The river berths on busy rivers, especially the ones at the popular cities are in high demand. Boats will sometimes dock two or three abreast. This can mean that the view from your cabin is no longer of a river bank, but another boat. Remember to draw your curtains when you undress.

Don’t panic. I’m not suggesting that river cruising has reached saturation point yet, or anywhere near it. However there will be some issues to resolve in the future if river cruise growth continues at its current pace.