Most of this year's new river ships will cruise Europe's well-known waterways – the Danube, Rhone, Rhine, Moselle, Seine and Douro – but there are also some interesting newcomers in America and Asia.
First, to Europe. Viking is launching seven Longships in March, six 190-passenger vessels for the Rhine, Main and Danube and the 106-passenger Viking Helgrim for the Douro. It's not as many as in years gone by but the new arrivals will bring Viking's fleet to 82, by far the largest on the world's rivers.
APT may not have as many ships as Viking but in May it is launching the biggest ship on Europe's rivers, the 196-passenger AmaMagna. Its size is more about width than passenger capacity – 22 metres is nearly twice as twice as wide as regular river ships, which means more space for larger staterooms, five dining venues, a pool and an unusually generous fitness area.
In a first for river cruising, AmaMagna will have an open-water sports platform, complete with zodiacs, canoes and recreational equipment. AmaMagna will sail on the Danube – it's too big to navigate any other rivers – while two more new ships, the 156-passenger AmaMora and 102-passenger AmaDouro also join APT's fleet in 2019.
Avalon Waterways' Avalon Envision will start sailing on the Danube in April. Highlights of the line's latest Suite Ship include two decks of spacious Panorama Suites, which feature window-facing beds. Why don't all ships have these?
America's river-cruising scene is rather more leisurely than Europe's but is an equally enjoyable way to take in local history. This spring, American Cruise Lines is launching American Harmony for its Mississippi River itineraries. The six-deck, 190-passenger American Harmony is huge by European standards and accommodation ranges from the 74-square-metre Grand Suite to 23-square-metre single staterooms (all staterooms have private balconies).
In August, Australian company Evergreen is launching its first Star Ship in Asia. Emerald Harmony will sail four different cruise and cruise-land itineraries on the Mekong between Vietnam and Cambodia, ranging from 8-21 days. The 84-passenger ship is small enough to dock in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, rather than at the more commonly used Phu My 80 kilometres from the city.
Wendy Wu Tours, which has been operating tours and cruises to Asia from Australia since 1994, recently partnered with Vietnamese company Thien Minh Group (TMG) to build its first owner-operated ship, the 70-passenger Victoria Mekong. It is scheduled to set sail in December and will offer three-, four- and seven-night round-trip cruises from Can Tho in southern Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
THE PORT Avignon, France
WHO GOES THERE River cruise lines Amadeus, APT, Avalon, CroisiEurope, Evergreen, Riviera, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld, Viking.
WHY WE LOVE IT Not only is it home to Palais des Papes, the biggest Gothic palace in the world, just about everyone knows the nursery rhyme Sur le pont d'Avignon – written about the now incomplete Pont St Benezet. The medieval fortified city and its famous bridge, charming squares and narrow streets make it one of the most popular stops on Rhone river cruises.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? River ships dock close to Pont St Benezet, about 10 minutes' walk from Avignon's central square, Place de l'Horloge. All the main attractions are inside the city ramparts and walking is the best way to get around. The Palais des Papes was the centre of Roman Catholicism for several decades in the 14th century and a guided tour helps to flesh out the history – there is a lot to take in across the 25 or more rooms open to the public. Avignon is about 25 kilometres from Pont du Gard, a truly impressive Roman aqueduct and is accessible by public bus or on various tours.
MUST SEE Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral, next to the Palais des Papes; Angladon Museum, for its 19th and 20th-century art collection; Museum of the Petit Palais, for pre-renaissance and religious paintings; views from the Parc de Rochers des Doms, above the Palais; Les Halles covered market (open from 6am Tuesdays to Saturdays).
MUST EAT Provencal specialties such as pistou (summer vegetable soup), bouillabaisse, pissaladiere onion tart, ratatouille, salade Nicoise and daube (beef stew) are all delicious, especially when washed down with a local Cote du Rhone wine.
NEED TO KNOW The famous Avignon Festival is held over three weeks every July. Hundreds of theatre companies and musicians stage performances in venues ranging from the courtyard in the Palais des Papes to streets and schools.
Majestic Princess stores 18,000 bottles of wine and champagne in its wine cellars and 20 ice sculptures are created each cruise from three tonnes of ice.
All Shook Up
For Elvis Presley fans who can't make this May's Tribute to the King cruise, P&O has scheduled the third in this popular series next year. Pacific Explorer's four-night round-trip cruise from Sydney to Moreton Island will depart on May 17, 2020. Sture Myrmell, P&O's president, said, "The King's unique showmanship and the power of his music are still alive and well more than 40 years after it was claimed he had left the building. These cruises, with their wall-to-wall tribute artists presenting everything from his best-known hits to his love of gospel music, have become a phenomenon in their own right." P&O's 2019 short-break themed cruises include the Big Laugh Comedy Festival (June and August), Sapphire Coast Food Festival (November) and Country Music (December). See pocruises.com.au
Viking world cruise 2020-21
The 930-passenger, all-balcony Viking Sun will set off on its 161-day cruise from Miami on December 14, 2020, calling at 75 ports in six continents on its way to London. The itinerary will include six new ports of call for Viking, including Honolulu and Nawiliwili in the Hawaiian Islands. A 140-day segment of the cruise will depart from Los Angeles in January 4, 2021, visiting 27 countries and 66 ports. Among the highlights are overnight stays in 30 cities, free shore excursions in every port and Viking's resident historian program. Fares for both the 161- and 140-day cruises include business class airfares, a drinks package, gratuities and more; if you book by February 28, 2019, you'll receive a $US2000 optional shore tour credit and $US1000 shipboard credit. See vikingcruises.com.au