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River cruising an emerging holiday choice

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The explosive growth in river cruising is an amazing one in any industry, let alone one that has the propensity to rise and fall with world economic circumstances.

Double-digit growth has become the norm. New long boats are being introduced regularly with at least one company launching 10 new ships in 2014 after an already heavy series of launches this year.

As major cruise lines announced cutbacks in European and Mediterranean sailings, the river cruise industry added more itineraries on the magnificent waterways that wind their way through the various countries of the European market.

To put this growth in some perspective, with a maximum passenger load of less than 200 people on river ships, it would take approximately 25 ships to equal the capacity of one sailing on the new mega-size ships Celebrity sails. And they, too, have announced additions to their large ship fleet. But clearly, river cruising has caught the imagination of the holiday market.

The reasons are many. There is always a kaleidoscope of evolving scenery unfolding before you as you move from port to port.

Travellers seem to love the idea that, at most ports of call, there is no tender to wait for when leaving or returning from the ship. The closest city is usually minutes, not miles, away.

And being inland, they can visit places not possible during the short port stops cruise vessels make at the closest ocean ports they can use, often more than an hour from the major tourist cities.

Many of the world's rivers are still economic hubs for the countries they wind through. They are the transportation links, they feed the soil of the farms that often lie adjacent to them, and river cities are often the capitals or major financial centres of the countries they are in.

With cruise boats moving into more rivers around the world, and an expanding array of river options available, I am often asked about which river cruises are the best.

Given that the term 'the best' is subjective, I will try to provide a brief overview of at least some of the great rivers around the world, hopefully creating a sense of understanding of why both travellers and river cruise companies are adding more ships to these liquid highways.

For Canadians, the early attraction to river cruising was the two major rivers of Europe.

The Rhine River cruises may still be the most popular. We are often aware of the cities the Rhine passes through because of our own studies in history.

We are familiar with the castles, the cultures and the cities that have become part of our own lexicon over the decades.

Heidelberg, and the invention of the printing press; Cologne, the source of the world's great perfumes; and Amsterdam, the country Canadians are credited with freeing from Nazi occupation during the Second World War. These are all cities we can easily identify with.

Rhine River cruises also present a opportunity to see many of the best castles you will find anywhere

The Danube is always the second choice, if not the first choice, for European River cruisers.

At the core of most of these cruises is the amazing city of Budapest, not well known by North Americans, but a popular vacation city for Europeans even before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Vienna, with its magical history of music and seemingly never-ending series of squares where hundreds laze over coffee for hours on end, is always well received by visitors.

The fact the Rhine and Danube rivers are connected by a series of canal systems has created a plethora of expanded itineraries that can take you through uas many as 12 countries on one cruise.

For those who prefer the exploration of one country at a time, the options available on France's longest river, the Loire, suggest that, with short pre and post tours, you can truly experience the best that France has to offer on one extended journey.

Further beyond, itineraries that leave from outside Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Volga River are gaining enthusiast adherents every year.

Some have suggested that while Egypt is going through its current internal crisis, Nile River cruises offer an enjoyable and safe alternative to a land vacation, while still seeing the major sites people want to visit.

The Nile is the world's longest river and, similar to the Rhine/Danube country options, offers its own series of 10 countries the river traverses.

The great Amazon River has huge appeal to those who want to see wildlife, visit indigenous tribes and have a chance to experience the kind of vacation most people do not take.

The National Geographic Explorer ships are bigger but they offer a very real opportunity to dig deep into the history and current way of life of the peoples who live near its shores.

This column only touches on the river cruise options now open to us.

There are rivers in China that have river cruise ships on them now. And the major cruise lines are following more local companies who have already captured an emerging market on the Rie Futaleufu through Argentina and Chile, the Ganges River through India, the Zambezi through Africa, and the Cario Cristales through Columbia.

River cruising is only on the precipice of even greater expansion.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com and at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 E4

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