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River cruising: A new trend comes of age

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Home >> River cruising: A new trend comes of age

Plenty of articles on the web deal with the question if river cruises are a new trend, or if they have come of age and are 'really' established on the market. In fact, it is booming with tremendeous growth rates over the last few years. The result first: It is quite amazing to note, how easily the industry got through the last crisis and the drop in the Dollar / Euro exchange rate. Lets have a look at the data for this season to see how I come up with this result.

Comment on data quality

This analysis does not include all ships, but those which are or have been chartered by companies aiming for the US,UK,AUS, CAN markets. Read the database criteria. The difference between all ships in Europe and those listed below is quite significant: The overall bed capacity of all ships with more than 40 beds is somewhere in the range of 25.000 - 27.000, while only 19.000 are listed here. Still, the trend is clear.

Ships built graph

Please pardon my non-existing Illustrator skills, maybe next season I will use colors for the illustration. About 6% not included (none owned by the major cruise lines listed below), which had been built or refurbish before 1990. A ship may have been refurbished more than once. E.g. a ship may have been built in 1990, and may have been refurbished in 1995 and 2005, so it will add three marks to the graph, one in every year. If a ship has been built before 1990 but refurbished since then, it will just add one mark to the grey area. Long story short: This graph does neighter reflect the totality of all cruise ships in Europe, nor in my database.

A total of 130 ships was built, and 28 refurbishments took place. The fleet is very young: About 72% of all ships had been built since 2000, 48% even after 2005. In total there are three peaks, when ships had been built: 2002, 2006 and 2009; and a new peak plateau coming up for the next two years. If we have a look at the refurbisments, we can see the same trend: Just 11% took place before 2000, the vast majority of refurbisments in the last few years. 8 ships were refurbished twice in the last 22 years, that means 20 unique refurbishments took place; 15% of all ships have been refurbished. Usually elevators or wifi hotspots were installed, or french balconies added to cabins. Just in a few cases I noticed changes in the deck plan layout (cabin walls were moved).

Bed Numbers

Bed Capacity

Some companies like Vantage sold their old ships and bought new ones, so the total number is in fact a bit lower than indicated by the chart. Now we know the total number of ships, but how fast is the rotation of beds? On the next chart you get an idea about the average cruise length:

Average Cruise Length

As you can see, the vast majority of cruises last around 7 - 8 days with the modus at 8 .The average cruise lasts 11.89 days. A number of cruises start or end in cities like Prag, Paris or Lisbon, which are not part of major rivers. So a significant amount of the 10 - 13 days cruises just stay on the ship for 7-8 days as well, but this is not reflected in the average numbers. About half of all cruises listed are 'brutto', with the overnight flight from the US included as day 1. So the average cruise length is a bit below 11.89. The season usually starts in spring and goes to christmas and new year - it lasts around 9 month. So the maximum utilized capacity of a bed would be around 25 - 28 times a year. In total the maximum number of cruises that could be sold ranges around 375.000 - 525.000.

Individual graphs for river cruise lines

Lets have a look at the fleets of the major cruise lines. Based on the data I created a chart for every cruise line, indicating how many ships have been build and how many refurbishments took place. Below the chart are the averages for build year, refurbishment year and the total age. Please not that the graphs have different Y axis scales - again, non existing Illustrator skills. It might be a bit confusing that numbers as 2008.8 are decimal numbers, while the year has 12 month. I left the information for those cases when 2 cruise lines have their average in the same year and if you want to know which one of them is the slim edge ahead.

If you compare the graphs, you will see there are two strategies used by cruise lines to maintain their fleet. Most companies buy ships, just do a few (if at all) refurbishments, and sell them. Another strategy is mainly used by Uniworld: They hold their ships for a long time and refurbish them more often. The idea behind this is simple: If the ship and its technology works, why change it? Rather improve quality of public areas, renew the design. A new ship does not always mean it's better. Newer ships usually are bigger, draw more water and are higher above the waterline, which means it is more likely to get stuck under a bridge or face low water problems. As long as the interior is renovated, nothing stands against booking a ship built in the 1990ies.

AMA Waterways / APT:

Ships built graph

Build: 2008.8 | Refurbished: - | Total: 2008.8




Avalon:
Ships built graph

Build: 2009.6 | Refurbished: - | Total: 2009.6




Grand Circle Travel:
Ships built graph

Build: 1999.3 | Refurbished: 2010 | Total: 2000.2




Scenic:
Ships built graph

Build: 2009.3 | Refurbished: - | Total: 2009.3




Tauck:
Ships built graph

Build: 2008.5 | Refurbished: - | Total: 2008.5




Uniworld:
Ships built graph

Build: 2002.7 | Refurbished: 2008.1 | Total: 2005.9




Vantage:
Ships built graph

Build: 2004.6 | Refurbished: 2009 | Total: 2006.4




Viking:
Ships built graph

Build: 2005.0 | Refurbished: 2007.6 | Total: 2005.3



The next two years

The shipyards are working at full capacity at the moment. AMA Waterways, Avalon and Vantage are going to have two new ships each in 2013, Viking ordered another 6 of their new longships. Just the name of one ('Skadi') has leaked. As only few technical data of these ships have been published, this will add another est. 2000 beds to the numbers. For 2014 Viking announced another 6 longships with 190 beds each. It is likely that towards the end of this year (before they open the booking for the 2014 season) other companies will follow. So in total we can assume that the capacity of river cruise ships will increase by at least 3000 - 3500 beds until spring / summer 2014.

You might wonder what happens with the older ships. The Amsterdam - Budapest route is the most prestigeous stretch, where we are going to find most of these new ships. Some of the 'older' ships are sold to other companies, but at the moment most of them are transfered to the smaller rivers: the Saone, Rhone or (as Uniworld now offers) the Po river in Italy. That means there is no linear growth of capacities on the rivers. For example, if one of Vikings new longboats cruises the Danube (+190 beds), one of of their smaller ships (- 140 beds) is send to the Rhone instead, resulting in an extra of only 50 beds. That means good news for those interested in a taking a rivercruise in Europe. On the main rivers the capacity grows, but it is not totally overcrowded and new areas are explored and become available for this wonderful type of traveling.